The ABCs of STIs - your guide to safe summer lovin'

Photo: Koldunova_Anna/Getty Images
  • Summer is about having fun, but make sure you do it safely.
  • Sexually transmitted infections are still very prevalent, and if you're having unprotected sex, you are putting yourself and your partner at risk. 
  • It doesn't matter if you're on the pill; condoms are the only way to stop the spread of STIs. 
  • Familiarise yourself with some of the most prevalent sexually transmitted diseases and their common symptoms.

Summer is here! And with that comes parties, drinks and holiday flings.

But before you get stuck into the non-cocktail version of Sex on the Beach, hold up. Whether you're in a bed, on a couch, in a hammock or miles away from the beach, do you or your partner have a condom?

If you plan on turning it up in the romance department this summer, make sure you do it the safe way. According to a study published in 2020, South Africa had the highest burden of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) globally.

The evidence also suggested that "STI-related morbidities are still severely affecting young South Africans and contributing to high healthcare costs nationwide."

It doesn't matter if you're on the pill or use other contraception to prevent pregnancy - only condoms stop the spread of STIs. So, take some time to familiarise yourself with some of the most prevalent sexually transmitted diseases and their common symptoms. 

READ MORE | Programme provides HIV prevention pills in schools

The STI alphabet

Meet the STIs that you need to avoid this summer.

C is for chlamydia

Spread vaginally, anally and orally, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility if left untreated. 

Symptoms: Often little to none. If you notice pain during intercourse or irregular bleeding, see your doctor. 

Treatment: Course of antibiotics. And tell any sexual partners from the past six months - they may have it, too.

H is for herpes

Spread through oral sex, skin-to-skin contact, and anal and vaginal sex, there are two types of the herpes virus: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) usually causes cold sores, and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) usually causes genital herpes. 

Symptoms: Since oral sex is on the rise, genital herpes is now caused by both HSV-1 and HSV-2. Symptoms include painful blisters in the genital region, but it's common for the virus to lay dormant before surfacing down the track. 

Treatment: Once it's in your system, you'll always have the herpes virus, but with appropriate treatment, it's manageable. Antiviral therapy is used to stop the virus from worsening.

G is for gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection that can be spread through vaginal, oral or anal sex. Like chlamydia, there can often be no symptoms. If in doubt, see your doctor, so you don't develop pelvic inflammatory disease and possibly become infertile. 

Symptoms: A burning sensation during urination, unusual vaginal discharge or pain during intercourse. 

Treatment: Your doctor will prescribe you a course of antibiotics.

READ MORE | SA study shows need for integrated STI services for both HIV-positive and HIV-negative people

HPV is for human papillomavirus

HPV causes genital warts and is spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex. If left untreated, HPV can cause cervical cancer, so if you're under 25, make sure you get your cervical cancer vaccine to prevent this. 

Symptoms: Warts (painless or itchy) in the genital or anal region that come in a range of shapes and sizes. It's possible to have HPV without displaying any visible signs, so it's important to have sexual health check-ups regularly. 

Treatment: You can remove the warts with nitrogen or other creams prescribed by your doctor, but once you get the virus, you'll always have it, and it is possible that the warts will return.


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