Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of contracting some kind of sexually transmitted infection (STI) at least once in their life. The important thing is to treat STIs immediately. Testing regularly for STIs is crucial – especially when you have sex with different partners without using condoms. If STIs stay untreated they can lead to serious health implications.
STIs and HIV
When you’re living with HIV, there can be some extra health risks if you contract a STI. The symptoms of some STIs can be more serious if your immune system is already challenged with another infection. For people living with HIV, sometimes STIs show up differently and the treatment can be different. For example, with syphilis, you may get more complications like neurosyphilis. If left untreated, neurosyphilis can involve significant brain damage. There is also evidence that a person with an untreated STI is much more likely to pass on or contract HIV during sex.
Typical symptoms of having an STI
- pain passing urine
- itchiness or soreness of your penis or vagina
- abdominal pain
- sores, warts, rashes or blisters on your penis, vagina or anus
- unusual discharge from your penis or vagina
- painful or swollen testicles
Where should I go to get tested?
You can just go to your regular GP or visit a NSW Health sexual health centre. Most STI tests are very simple to do with a urine sample or swab, while some need a blood test. NSW sexual health centres are free and confidential. You don’t need to give your real name and you don’t need a Medicare card.
What types of STIs are there?
The NSW STI Programs Unit or STIPU have a range of up-to-date factsheets about STIs (many are also in community languages).
Chlamydia is a sexually transmissible infection caused by bacteria. Most people do not have symptoms but can still transmit the infection.
Crabs are small insects called lice that grip onto the hair in the genital area. They are shaped like tiny crabs. They usually live in pubic hair, but can also be found in chest hair, armpit hair, beards and eyelashes. Pubic lice are not the same as head lice.
Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a bacterial which can infect the throat, anus, urethra (urine passage), cervix (neck of the womb) and eyes.
Herpes is a sexually transmissible infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV: HSV1 and HSV2. Both types of herpes can occur on the lips, mouth, genital or anal areas, and one person can be infected by both HSV1 and HSV2. HSV on the lips and mouth is known as cold sores and HSV on the genital and anal areas is known as genital and anal herpes.
Shigellosis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the Shigella bacteria. It causes diarrhoea and is easily spread among people. It can cause serious damage to the body if not treated.
Syphilis is a sexually transmissible infection caused by bacteria. If it is not treated, syphilis can cause serious, irreversible damage.
If you are diagnosed with an STI, depending on the infection you’ll need to let any other sexual partners know about your diagnosis so they can also get tested. Telling sexual partners about your own STI diagnosis, means they can also get tested and if necessary treated as a way of reducing the STI transmission to other people.
Tell your recent sexual partners anonymously
Positive Life can also help you tell a partner about your own STI diagnosis. Learn more about our peer-led partner notification service. If you are concerned or afraid that the person you want to notify may become violent or they could put you in an unsafe situation – remember your personal safety comes first. It may be safer to contact them anonymously. Call Positive Life to speak with a peer to support you to anonymously notify your partner.
Telling your partners about an STI diagnosis– some suggestions when you’re ready to take action