If you want to stay on top of your sexual health, getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) should be happening regularly. That shouldn't change just because you're now in an exclusive, committed relationship. While sexual monogamy can limit your risk of getting an STI, it can't really guarantee that you won't get anything. In fact, there are several STIs you can still get when you're in an faithful relationship, so it's important to be aware.
According to the World Health Organization, there are an estimated 357 million new cases of infections each year and over 30 different types of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can be spread through sexual contact. Although having sex with just one person can be helpful, Dr. Tami Prince, M.D., OB/GYN and Medical Director with U.S. Health Works, tells Bustle, "STIs can remain dormant for months and years before detection. Many can go undetected, especially in women."
There's still a huge stigma around STIs, and some people would rather live their lives in not knowing rather than get tested to know for sure. When several major STIs are asymptomatic or have very subtle symptoms, it's pretty easy to ignore. But not getting tested out of fear or thinking you can't possibly get an STI because you've been safe, can have consequences for not only you but your partner as well.
"As a general rule of thumb, you should not have sex with anyone who has a rash, genital sores, abnormal discharge or abnormal symptoms, even if it is your significant other," Dr. NitaLandry, OB/GYN and co-host of The Doctors, tells Bustle. "With that said, there are still multiple STIs that are known to not show symptoms you should get tested for."
So here some STIs you can still get even when you're in a committed relationship, according to experts.
Women made up nearly 20 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Early stages of HIV can include fever, chills, rash, night sweats, and swollen lymph nodes.
One of the most common ways to get HIV is through unprotected sex. "After an initial flu-like reaction, HIV also often lays dormant and inactive for an extended length of time," Dr. Nita says. So your partner may have had unprotected sex with a previous partner and contracted HIV without being aware. That's why Dr. Nita says getting tested will ensure both you and your partner are safe and in control of your health. If left untreated, HIV can make that natural progression to AIDS, but this can be managed if you speak to your doctor early.
Human papillomavirus or HPV is the most common STI in the United States and can be passed through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Symptoms of HPV don’t always develop until years after infection, Dr. Nita says, so it’s possible to be in a very long-term relationship or even married before discovering it. Although some people with HPV may not have physical symptoms until it progresses, some noticeable ones include bumps around your genital area or anus, mouth sores, and difficulty swallowing.
According to CDC, some men who have certain types of HPV can get genital warts and other physical symptoms. However, most men who get any type of HPV will never develop any symptoms at all. There are currently not approved HPV tests for men, so many won't know they have it unless it develops into something more. Even if your partner is completely faithful to you, they can still unknowingly give you HPV from a previous sexual partner. That is why it's important to keep on top of your health and schedule a Pap smear with your OB/GYN at the frequency your doctor prescribes.
Chlamydia is usually spread through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex. So if your partner had unprotected sex with a previous partner, they may have contracted it from them. Chlamydia is known as "the silent STI" because most infected people don’t have symptoms, Dr. Nita says. Those who do, may end up developing symptoms several weeks or months later. According to Planned Parenthood, some noticeable, though less common, symptoms include pain during urination, abnormal vaginal discharge, pain during sex, and bleeding in between periods. "Even if you don’t have any symptoms, Chlamydia can still lead to long-term consequences such as infertility or chronic pelvic pain," Dr. Nita says. So it's important to be proactive and get yourself tested for this and other STIs.
Molluscum Contagiosum is a common skin disease that's caused by a virus that can be easily spread from one person to the next. When you're in a relationship you can get it by sharing clothing or just making skin-to-skin contact. A 2013 study published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections found that waxing your pubic area can up your risk of getting the virus, so you can give it to your partner through sexual contact. The virus often shows up as pink or flesh-colored bumps on your skin. Unless you have a weak immune system, most people only get about 10 to 20 bumps. It is contagious but can go away through physical removal, oral therapy, or topical therapy.
According to Planned Parenthood, 70 percent of people with trichomoniasis have no symptoms at all. It usually comes and goes, so most people won't even know they have it. But it's still important to get tested for it. Trichomoniasis is likely to cause vaginitis, which can cause odd looking and smelling vaginal discharge, itching and irritation around the vagina, and pain during sex. If left untreated, Prince says there's an increased risk for infertility due to scarring of the pelvic organs.
Similar to other STIs, you can contract this through sexual contact. Since trichomoniasis is a parasite, it can live outside of the body for up to 45 minutes. It loves damp items so you easily get this illness by sharing a towel with your partner.
Syphilis can have noticeable symptoms in the primary and secondary stages, which include skin rashes, sores, and lesions. However, if someone is in the latent stage, they may not have any visible signs or symptoms for years. Your partner may have had unprotected sex with a previous partner and contracted syphilis without having any noticeable symptoms at all. If you and your partner don't openly discuss your sexual health history, it's very possible that you can get syphilis from them.
"Like trichomoniasis and chlamydia, some women may be unaware of gonorrhea due to being asymptomatic," Prince says. Typical symptoms include painful or frequent urination, abnormal discharge, irregular periods, and fatigue. Even within the context of a faithful relationship, if your partner previously had unprotected sex, it can still be passed on to you. Like other STIs, gonorrhea can put you at a greater risk for infertility if left untreated. Gonorrhea and chlamydia can also put women at risk for pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID.
Herpes is fairly common in the U.S. and one out of every six people between 14 and 49 years-old have it. You can easily get herpes from a partner who has it even if they don't have any visible symptoms. The good news is, herpes can be suppressed with maintenance medication such as acyclovir or valacyclovir, Prince says.
Even if you're in a long-term, monogamous relationship, Prince says yearly testing should be done. Using a condom, although not 100 percent effective, can also be helpful in STI prevention.
But if you really want to stay on top of your sexual health, discuss it with your partner. "Even though it may be uncomfortable, it is so important to talk to your partner," Dr. Nita says.
There's really no shame in having an STI and many are manageable if caught and treated early. Having that open communication about your sexual health will give you and your partner peace of mind so you're both on the same page.
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