Myths or falsehoods tend to circulate when stigma surrounds a topic. Sexually transmitted infections are one of those subjects. The private nature of physical intimacy might be one reason myths about STIs persist.
Unfortunately, myths about STIs can undermine prevention methods and add to the shame people who get them may feel. Some of the misconceptions deal with how STIs spread. Other falsehoods can impact whether someone gets tested and effectively treated for existing infections. That’s why it’s important to look at these five myths about STIs you shouldn’t believe.
Myth #1: When You Don’t Have Symptoms, You Don’t Need To Be Tested
If you don’t have any symptoms of an STI, you might falsely believe you’re free and clear. However, not everyone who becomes infected displays symptoms. Some STIs produce subtle signs of infection if any at all. You could easily mistake those elusive signs for something else. The only way to know whether you have an STI is to get tested.
Those concerned about privacy or without access to a primary care physician can get at-home STI testing kits. These kits test for the most common sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Once you receive your kit and collect your samples, you send them back to a lab for testing.
When your results are in, you can access them online and speak with a medical professional about any concerns. A few at-home testing services will even prescribe medication if you need treatment for an STI. In other cases, you’ll get a referral to a local doctor or clinic for further care. At-home test kits are a convenient way to know for sure whether you’re infected so you can seek necessary treatment.
Myth #2: People With One Partner Don’t Get STIs
Monogamous relationships may be the mainstream ideal. However, monogamy alone does not prevent STIs. You only need to be physically intimate with one person once to become infected. While limiting sexual partners can certainly reduce your risk of contracting an STI, it doesn’t guarantee it.
Research from the World Health Organization estimates there are 374 million new STI infections each year. About one-fourth of those new infections are linked to gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis. The truth is that STIs are really common. Even abstinence from certain sexual behaviors does not guarantee you won’t get an STI. All it takes is a kiss to transmit some types of infections, such as herpes.
Therefore, contracting an STI doesn’t mean you made poor or risky choices. STIs spread just like other infections and viruses, such as the flu. As long as humans are around each other, the transmission will happen. The only difference with STIs is that transmission tends to be more intimate in nature.
Myth #3: Birth Control Is Enough to Prevent Infection
Another persistent myth is the idea that being on birth control prevents STIs. But the truth is that only condoms or dental dams can help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections. Other forms of birth control, including the pill, do not stop the spread of STIs like chlamydia and HIV.
You can still get STIs if you’re on birth control and have sex without a barrier contraceptive. Other more “permanent” birth control methods, such as vasectomies and tubal litigations, don’t guard against STIs either. Most forms of birth control are meant to do just that — prevent pregnancy. If you’re sexually active, you need to take precautions to reduce the chance of pregnancy and STIs.
That means having protected sex each time. Another related myth about protected sex and STIs is that doubling up on condoms provides more protection. However, this practice can actually increase the risk of getting an STI. Condoms are more likely to break or slip off when you use two of them together.
Myth #4: STIs Will Go Away Without Treatment
This myth may stem from human papillomavirus infections. Many people’s systems will clear the HPV virus without medication or intervention. In fact, some people will never know that they had HPV without symptoms or testing. That being said, not everyone’s body clears the HPV virus naturally. Furthermore, most STIs do not go away without medication.
Certain viral STIs, such as herpes and HIV, do not go away at all. Currently, people can only manage these conditions with treatment methods. When STIs aren’t dealt with, these infections can cause further complications. Among these complications are pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.
This underscores the importance of regular testing and treatment. It’s better to know whether you have an STI than it is to ignore the possibility. Getting prompt treatment can help prevent the infection from getting worse. Treatment can also help stop the spread of STIs to others.
Myth #5: You Can Only Get Infected Once
While you can only get infected with STIs like HIV once, you can get reinfected with others multiple times. Think of bacterial infections like chlamydia that you can clear with a round of antibiotics. The truth is you can continue to contract these STIs as long as you’re sexually active. You can be asymptomatic with each infection or experience different levels or severities of symptoms.
Sexually active people can also contract more than one STI at the same time. You can think of many STIs like the common cold. Just because you caught a cold once doesn’t mean you won’t come down with one again. Plus, it’s possible to have a cold and contract other viruses.
Continuing to use protection after you’ve gone through treatment is the only way to prevent recurrences of most STIs. Prior infection does not build immunity or “natural protection.” Low viral loads or an absence of symptoms with incurable STIs does not mean they can’t spread to others. Using protection is even more important in these cases to reduce the risk of infecting any partners.
The Truth About STIs
Even though sexually transmitted infections are fairly common, embarrassment and stigma still surround them. Feeling uncomfortable about something can cause people to sweep it under the rug, which can lead to misunderstandings and untruths. Overcoming feelings of awkwardness can help dispel many myths and uncover the realities about STIs.