Sex can be pretty great. But unfortunately, as long as you’re sexually active, you’re at risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Read on to find out why and how often you should get tested.
Who should take a test?
If you have multiple partners and/or aren’t in the habit of using condoms, you should take an STI test regularly as you’re especially at risk. But even if you always practise safe sex, it’s advisable to get tested at least once a year because some STIs can be transmitted via saliva and skin contact.
While your odds of catching an STI are relatively low if you have just one partner, you should still get tested to make sure the both of you don’t already have an infection from previous partners. This allows the two of you to carry on with the sexual relationship safely.
And of course, you should get yourself checked if you or your partner suffer from STI symptoms. Not sure what they are? Dr Chong Kian Tai, a urologist at PanAsia Surgery, tells us more.
The common signs
According to a 2016 report from the Department of Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Clinic, more popularly known as the DSC Clinic, the five most common STDs in Singapore are chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital warts, and genital herpes. Here are their common symptoms according to Dr Chong:
Chlamydia: Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, and painful urination or pelvic discomfort.
Gonorrhoea: Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, painful urination, pelvic discomfort or sore throat.
Syphilis: Sores around the genital area at first; skin rashes and a mild fever at a later stage.
Genital warts: Lumps on the external surface of the vulva or anal region.
Genital herpes: Painful blisters around the genital area.
But here’s the thing: Dr Chong warns that many people show no symptoms even when they have an STI – so just because nothing is out of the ordinary doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. At the end of the day, only an STI test can let you know if there’s anything you should be worried about.
Also, you should go for a repeat test if your results come back negative but you have some of the above symptoms and suspect you have an STI.
“Some infections, like AIDS (HIV), can only be detected three months later. So if you think you have an STI, you should go for a test every three months,” says Dr Christopher Chong, a urogynaecologist, obstetrician and gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital.
What happens if you have an STI?
Most STIs aren’t life-threatening – at least not when they’re discovered early. But while many of them can be treated with antibiotics, some of them are incurable.
“Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis may go away for good if the bacteria is treated,” says Dr Christopher Chong. However, there is no treatment for genital warts and genital herpes and the virus can remain dormant before resurfacing again.
Also, it’s never OK to leave an STI untreated, even if you aren’t exhibiting symptoms. According to Dr Chong Kian Tai, these are the things that can happen if you do.
Chlamydia: Infection of the uterus and damage of the fallopian tubes, which can lead to infertility. It can also result in an ectopic pregnancy (where the embryo attaches outside the uterus).
Gonorrhoea: Infection of the uterus and damage of the fallopian tubes, which can lead to infertility. It can also result in an ectopic pregnancy.
Syphilis: After the latent stage, which can last anywhere from a few to 25 years, this STI can progress to the fourth and final stage, causing damage to the brain, eyes and internal organs, which can result in death.
Genital warts: The warts may stay the same, become larger and/or grow in number.
Genital herpes: It can cause a miscarriage if you’re pregnant. The virus may also spread to your unborn baby.
What does an STI test involve?
An STI test usually involves blood and swab tests. The latter involves inserting a cotton swab into the vagina to obtain a sample of discharge. You can get an STI test at sexual health clinics such as the DSC Clinic.
Many people avoid going for an STI test because they feel embarrassed or just think they’re in the clear because they show no symptoms. But whatever the excuse, you should get tested as long as you’re sexually active. Better to be safe than sorry, right?
An earlier version of this article first appeared in the July 2018 issue of CLEO magazine.
Image: Pipatpong Kraitip/123RF.com