Although we might wish otherwise, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are extremely common. To be clear having an STI won’t make you unique. Keep this in mind when you walk into a health practice or SHINE SA as rest assured, we’ve seen it all.
Basically, anyone who is sexually active can get an STI. It doesn’t matter the amount of sex they have, the sex position or their sexual orientation. Even if you are not engaging in penetrative sex, if you have contact with another person’s bodily fluids or genitals, you are still able to get an STI. This includes oral sex, mutual masturbation or sharing sex toys such as a vibrators.
Having safer sex is the only way to avoid STIs but we know that is not always possible. Getting regular STI checks is the best way to look after your sexual health and is a quick and simple process. Let’s go through the top questions we get about STIs and testing.
How do I know if I have an STI?
Most STIs have no symptoms, so you could have an infection without knowing.
However, some symptoms can include unusual discharge, pain when going to the bathroom, itchy genitals, unusual vaginal bleeding or warts around your genital area. The good thing is most STIs are easy to treat and if detected early can prevent you from passing the infection on to your sexual partner.
How do I avoid STIs?
Your best protection against STIs if you’re having sex is using condoms (internal or external) or a dental dam if you’re giving/receiving oral sex.
Want a deep dive into safer sex? Read our Safer Sex guide.
Can I still get an STI if I have anal sex or oral sex?
Yes! If you’re having unprotected sex, whether that be oral, anal or vaginal sex you’re at risk of an STI.
If you’re having oral sex don’t forget to use dental dams as a protective measure against STIs.
If you’re having anal sex it’s important to know that having unprotected anal sex puts you at higher risk of STIs and HIV than other sex acts. This is because lining of the anus can tear easily making infection more likely. Using lube, ensuring that you use condoms and other simple steps can help protect you and your sexual partner/s. Learn more about anal sex here.
Medications such as PrEP and PEP can significantly reduce the risk of HIV. Visit our HIV Fact Sheet for more information.
What does an STI test involve?
For some people making the appointment and walking in the door can be the most difficult part of a sexual health check.
Here’s a short overview of what it usually involves.
Firstly, you’ll be asked some general questions about your sexual and reproductive health history. This might be a little awkward, but it’s important you’re honest so that your doctor/nurse/health worker can assess your risk of STIs and determine what tests might be needed. Keep in mind that health workers have heard it all before and it’s their role to be non-judgemental.
Here are some questions you might be asked:
- Do you have any symptoms?
- What is the gender identity of the people you have had sex with?
- Do you have oral sex, vaginal sex, anal sex?
- Do you use any contraception/condoms?
Once you’ve answered these questions:
- You may be asked to provide samples for testing, either a urine sample or a swab.
- You might be offered a blood test if testing for blood borne viruses (BBVs) such as HIV, hepatitis or syphilis.
- You’ll then have to wait a few days for results. Your health worker will tell you if you need to make another appointment or if test results will be given over the phone.
- If your test result is positive for an STI, you will need to return to your doctor to discuss treatment. In the case of chlamydia and gonorrhoea, treatment is as simple as using antibiotics. If you do test positive your sexual partners will need to be tested and treated.
Do I have to share STI results with my sexual partner/s?
Your STI test results are always confidential. The results from your STI tests won’t show up on your Medicare records. If you do test positive for an STI you should let your previous sexual partner/s know. If STIs are left untreated it can lead to major health issues in the long run that could have been avoided. You may feel uncomfortable about telling your sexual partners, but it is the right thing to do! There are also apps and websites that can help you notify your partner/s.
In South Australia some STIs are notifiable which means that SA Health will be notified if the result is positive. Sexual contacts of a notifiable infection will need to be contacted for testing and treatment. Your health professional will tell you how far back you need to let previous partners know.
Play Safe provide a few tips on How to Talk About STIs and some conversation starters.
I’m feeling awkward about talking to a doctor…
We get it, talking to your family GP about your sex life is the last thing you want to do. If you’re unsure about seeing your local GP or health service, then consider going to a different practice or a sexual health clinic such as SHINE SA.
Remember STI testing is part of regular health care and your appointments are confidential. Life is too short to be worrying about the unknown status of your sexual health when it can be answered. Remember a routine STI check involves self collection in the bathroom, not an examination. All people under 30 should have and STI test at least once a year and some people might need testing more often.
Book in an STI test or visit SHINE SA for a free sexual health check if you’re under the age of 25. To make an appointment at a SHINE SA clinic you can book online or call 8300 5300.
Have more questions?
You can call the Sexual Healthline for free. This is a confidential service, supported by SHINE SA’s sexual health nurses. The line is open Monday – Friday, 9am – 12pm. Call: 1300 883 793.