The Truth About STDs: Myth vs. Fact

“Get an STD Test!” written in magic marker on a white board to encourage STD testing.

When you hear the acronyms STD and STI, a small shiver might run down the back of your spine, or perhaps, your heart drops into your stomach and sends your mind into utter panic. We get so uncomfortable talking about sexually transmitted diseases and infections because there is a lot of stigma and misinformation around the topic.

The hard truth of the matter is that STDs are common. According to the CDC, the United States has the highest STD rates in the developed world. After hearing this, one would assume the U.S. would do everything in its power to provide accurate information on how STDs appear and prevention methods, but that is not the case. Instead, people shy away from the subject and leave the infected feeling ashamed and misinformed.

Common STD Myths Debunked

Myth: Using condoms protects against all sexually transmitted diseases.

FACT: Condoms are not 100% effective in preventing STDs or pregnancy. Herpes and genital warts can be spread by skin-to-skin contact. If a condom does not cover an infected area or sore, these STDs can be transmitted from one partner to another.

Condoms can be highly effective in preventing the transmission of STDs when used the right way every time. If you are sexually active, correctly use a new male latex condom every time you have sex for protection against STDs. Female condoms provide comparable STD protection to male condoms when used for vaginal sex. Do not use male and female condoms at the same time.

Myth: There is no need to worry about STDs unless you have sex with multiple partners.

FACT: STDs are a risk to anyone who engages in sexual activity, even if you only have one partner. If you have sex just once, whether vaginal, oral, or anal, you can still get an STD from an infected partner.

Myth: Teens are less likely to have an STD than sexually active adults

FACT: Teens and young adults are at higher risk of contracting STDs for various reasons. They may be more likely to have unprotected sex and less likely to seek healthcare or talk openly about their sexual activity with their healthcare professionals. Young women’s bodies are also more biologically susceptible to STDs.

Myth: You can’t get an STD from giving or receiving oral sex.

FACT: STDs such as gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, and HPV can be spread through oral sex. Infections can occur in the throat, on the lips, or in the mouth and the genital area. An HPV infection in the genital area can cause genital warts and cancers of the cervix, vagina, penis, and anus. HPV transmitted to the mouth through oral sex can lead to warts in the throat and can cause cancers in the head and neck.

Myth: Having sex in a hot tub minimizes your risk of contracting an STD

FACT: Some people believe that the chlorine in hot tubs can kill the bacteria that cause STDs. Having sex in a hot tub doesn’t change your chances of contracting an STD and can put women at risk for other vaginal infections.

Myth: You can tell when you or someone else has an STD

FACT: Some diseases like chlamydia and herpes often have hidden symptoms or none at all. With herpes, you may have cold sores, but you think you are in the clear when they go away. You could even have a second outbreak and not show any signs at all. As for chlamydia, you might not have any symptoms, and you can pass along the infection without knowing it. The only way to know for sure if you’ve been infected with a disease is to get tested by a healthcare professional.  

Myth: Once you’ve been treated for an STD, you are immune to the disease.

FACT: Although you’ve been treated for an STD, you can still get the infection again.

How to Prevent STDs

The only certain way to completely avoid STDs is to practice abstinence, including contact with genitalia and exchange of body fluids. If you choose to be sexually active, using condoms, limiting your number of sexual partners, and avoiding substance abuse can help reduce the risk of contracting an STD.

If you suspect you may have been exposed to an STD or have symptoms such as burning or itching in the vagina, an unusual discharge or odor, pain around the pelvis, bleeding from the vagina that is not normal, pain during sex, sores, bumps or blisters in the vagina, anus, or mouth or burning and pain with urination contact a medical professional right away.  

If you are or have been sexually active, it is important to get tested regularly. At South Avenue Women’s Services, we provide confidential STD/STI testing to women throughout Rochester and Western N.Y. We will treat you with the care and confidentiality you deserve.

Call (585)271-3850 to schedule an appointment with us today and take control of your sexual health.