One of the worst calls I could receive plagued my missed calls a few weeks ago. The return phone call was nerve-wracking. A cheerful office assistant asking how I could be helped didn’t negate the fear and the time waiting for my transfer to be completed felt thrice as long as normal. The resolved voice on the other line was lined with sympathy as the results were read:
The breath caught in my chest as the Laboratory Technician read her spiel, giving the details and next steps to resolving the diagnosis. “What’s trich?” The Technician expanded on the disease I’d just been told I was carrying.
Trichomoniasis, or trich, is a parasitic sexually transmissible infectious disease (STID) that results in painful intercourse and urination, foul-smelling vaginal or penile discharge, and itching or irritation in the genitals.
I was given a couple antibiotics to rid the disease, a date for a follow-up test, and released from the phone call.
What in the actual fuck!? I was always, always more than careful with partners. New partners were tested before intercourse and I was tested every few months when I was actively dating. None of it made sense. I didn’t even have any partners besides Bougie…who has a partner other than me with whom he’d had sex. But he used a condom!
Regardless, the CDC and NIH both inform on their websites that the only way to prevent trich is to not have sex. The preventative measures taken just weren’t enough for my partner and me; anyone who engages in sexual activities exposes themselves to the potential for infection and disease despite prevention.
STD or STI?
So, to what the fuck are we sexually active people exposing ourselves?! The terms sexually transmitted disease (STD) or sexually transmitted infection (STI) are both used to describe the cooties passed between persons through sexually content, but which is a proper term and what do they actually mean? The medical field knows about as much as we do. In some sources, STD and STI are interchangeable and described as an infection caused by bacteria, parasites, and/or viruses. Other sources separate the two by indicating STI as the initial infection and STD the development of the disease.
In an effort to get everyone on the same page, Dr. Janet Byron Anderson, PhD wrote the article STD (sexually transmitted disease) or STI (sexually transmitted infection): Should we choose? where she proposes the all-inclusive term ‘sexually transmissible infectious disease (STID).’ I’m on board with Dr. Anderson, let’s get an umbrella term.
Every time you hop in the sack with your boo, you’re at risk of infection from over 20 different STIDs. For the sake of my sanity and you’re let’s take a look at the most common:
- Chlamydia ⬆ 19% increase since 2014
- Gonorrhea ⬆ 63% increase since 2014
- Syphilis ⬆ 71% increase since 2014
In October 2019, the CDC released its Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2018 which discusses in detail the statistics of STIDs for that calendar year. The report focuses in-depth on chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis; it also touches on HPV, herpes, and trichomonas. While only 1/3 of young people (15- to 24-years old) are sexually active, half of the STDs reported are amongst this age group. The other half is reflected in persons over the age of 25-years-old. Between men and women, the data is nearly even with men populating 49% of the reported infections and women populating the remaining 51% of the reported infections.
Infection, symptoms, treatment
Gonorrhea and chlamydia are both spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the disease. The symptoms include painful or burning urination, genital discharge, and bleeding between periods (women) or painful testicles (men). Both infections are treated with antibiotics and through the medication are able to be cured.
Syphilis is contracted through direct contact with a syphilis sore — located on or around the penis, vagina, or anus, or in the rectum, on the lips, or in the mouth — during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. There are four stages of syphilis and the symptoms range from a single sore to fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue. Through antibiotics, syphilis can be cured.
Trichomoniasis (trich) is spread from a penis to a vagina, from a vagina to a penis, or from a vagina to a vagina. The symptoms are similar to that of bacterial vaginitis, including itching in the genitals, pain urinating, and genital discharge. Through antibiotics this STID can be cured, however, 20% of previously infected individuals have a relapse within 3 months.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STID with most infected persons not displaying symptoms and the disease going away on its own. It is also spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected individual. It’s recommended that vaccines for the virus should be given to those ages 11- to 26-years-old. This vaccine helps prevent health problems caused by the virus such as genital warts and cervical cancer!
Of the six previously discussed infections, there is one with no cure. Yikes! Herpes can either be of the genital or oral variety and is spread not only through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected, but also through contact with sores, saliva, or skin infection. Most infected persons do not have symptoms, but those who do will experience one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum, or mouth. Even though there isn’t a cure there are daily medications that help prevent flare-ups.
Stay Cootie Free
There is only one way to completely prevent STIDs…abstinence. This isn’t just abstinence from vaginal penetration, it is from anal, vaginal, or oral sex.
I don’t know about you, but abstinence 😱 just isn’t happening for me. Fortunately, there are other ways to help limit exposure to STIDs. During your teens and 20s, get the vaccines for HPV and hepatitis B. Shit, if you didn’t get them then, through 45-years-old, you can speak with your doctor about getting the vaccine!
Being in a mutually monogamous relationship with someone uninfected is also an option. Bougie and I are ethically nonmonogamous though. Anyone who does have an alternative relationship style and still be preventative by limiting the number of sexual partners and ensuring those partners have STID testing completed prior to any sexual interactions. And even though they are not 100% effective, condoms are still highly effective in reducing the transmission of these infections. Just make sure you put the condom on right…The CDC has a nifty little how-to guide, so go grab a banana and practice. 🍌
On a positive note, I received a call from that very Laboratory Technician who gave me one of the worst pieces of news. My follow-up test results returned and they were