Want to know more about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)?
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Information about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
What is an STI? What is an STD?
STI stands for sexually transmitted infections and STD stands for sexually transmitted disease.
From a science or medical perspective, they describe slightly different things but in everyday life they generally describe illnesses that are passed from one person to another predominantly through sexual activity which can include: Oral sex (mouth to genitals), penis and vagina sex, penis and butt sex.
While there are lots of ways to categorize STIs, and some lists of STIs include illnesses that aren’t always passed during sex, at PPO we know and talk about the illnesses that are mainly passed during sex.
For example, while you can get the flu from someone who has the flu while having sex with them, that doesn’t mean the flu is an STI. In the same line of thinking, a yeast infection can be passed during sexual activity but doesn’t only happen to people who have had sex.
How do I reduce the risk of STIs?
There are many ways to reduce your risk of STIs. If one method doesn’t work for you, there are many other methods you could try.
Here is a detailed list of how to reduce our STI risk, and below is a short list of just a few ways you could reduce your risk of STIs.
- Use safer sex materials
- Use lube
- Get tested for STIs
- Get vaccinated
- Take PrEP
- Communicating with your partner(s)
(See our question below to have some tips on how to do this!)
You know what your comfort level with risk is best! Knowing what tools are available to you will help you make informed decisions about your sexual health.
How common are STIs?
STIs are incredibly common!
The shame and stigma perpetuated around STIs is part of the reason we don’t talk about STI. However, STIs are nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about – especially when you know how many people have them!
Take HPV for example, according to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada 75% of sexually active people will have one form of HPV at some point in their lives. That’s a lot of people who will get HPV, which is only one of the many STIs!
All that to say, if you or someone you know has an STI, you aren’t alone.
All STIs are manageable or curable. People with STIs can live long lives and have satisfying romantic and sexual relationships.
How do I know if I have an STI?
If you are looking for an answer to this question you might feel scared, worried, confused, curious, or totally neutral. We support you however you are feeling right now.
This one is a little tricky, because many STIs don’t show symptoms immediately or at all. In fact, two of the most common STIs among young people in Canada, chlamydia and HPV, are asymptomatic (meaning they don’t show any symptoms).
So, how are you supposed to know if you have one?
If you are really curious about the different symptoms associated with various STIs – you can learn about them here.
One way to be sure of your STI status is to get tested.
Getting regularly tested (meaning every 6 months to a year depending on the sexual activity you have) will be able to determine your status for a variety of STIs. However, there are a few STIs that aren’t easily testable, so you may never know your full STI status.
Not knowing your full STI status (specifically whether or not you have HPV or Herpes) might be alarming, complicated, or you may feel indifferent to the situation.
Know that many people are in the same situation as you.
Many people don’t know whether they have HPV for example, and may never find out for sure whether or not they have HPV.
It’s okay to take your time to process this information but remember that everything in life has risks and you get to decide what your comfort level is around what risks you want to take in your sexual life.
How do I get tested for an STI?
One of the first things to know about getting tested for an STI is when to get tested and how certain STIs are tested.
The window for when to get tested for STIs changes depending on which kind of STI you suspect you’ve been exposed to or want to test for.
Generally, you want to wait more than 24 hours if not longer after an exposure to an STI to get a test to ensure that the test is accurate.
Overall though, first you would make an appointment with a clinic or community health centre.
You would then meet with a doctor or a nurse. Typically they will ask you a few questions regarding your sexual health and what kind of testing you are in need of. Sometimes you may have to advocate for yourself to get tested for certain kinds of STIs – depending on the health care provider.
As mentioned above, these are the main ways to test for STIs: visual inspection, urine test, swab test or blood test.
After the test, the health care provider will contact you to inform you of your test results.
You might have heard “no news is good news” in regards to your status, however every clinic will let you know a bit differently. It’s best to clarify with the healthcare provider on how you will be informed of your results (whether by phone, email or in-person) before leaving the clinic.
We understand that sometimes this process can be stressful or overwhelming.
While we’re not a clinic, we are here to support you through this process.
I found out I have an STI. Now what?
Finding out you have an STI might make you feel lots of mixed emotions.
It might be helpful to know that STIs are super common – lots of people have fulfilling sexual and romantic relationships while living with an STI! (see the above question on how common STIs are).
STIs are not punishments for bad behaviors or ‘bad’ moral character, they are just a part of life – just like any other illness or infection.
To learn more about what it’s like to live with an STI, here are a few stories from people who have STIs:
It might also be helpful to know that all STIs are manageable or treatable.
If you have questions about how to manage or treat your STI, you can talk to a healthcare provider, or call us and we can connect you to a healthcare provider.
Our team is also here for you if you want to talk about your recent STI diagnosis. Call or email us if you want extra support.
How do I tell someone that I have an STI?
Telling someone you have an STI can feel scary, which is completely understandable.
We live in a world that doesn’t always talk about STIs, how to manage STIs, or how common STIs are. You aren’t the first person to talk about having an STI, and you won’t be the last.
See our questions above on how common STIs are and hear some stories from people who have STIs.
No matter what kind of STI you have here are a few things to keep in mind when talking to a sexual partner about that STI:
Get a little more information about the STI you have and how your partner can protect themselves.
Whether you are telling a sexual partner before sex that you have herpes, or you are telling a previous sexual partner that you just found out you have Chyamydia, they are probably going to have some questions. While you don’t need to be an expert, knowing where your partner could get tested or how they can protect themselves might put the person at ease.
Choose a space that is most comfortable for you to have the conversation.
Maybe you want to choose a public setting in the event that the person doesn’t respond as you would hope for them too. Maybe you want to pick a private location so that this person can ask you lots of questions. Wherever you feel most comfortable, is the space to have the conversation.
Consider the best and worst possible outcome of this conversation, and be prepared for both.
While this person might decide after hearing this information they don’t want to have sex with you anymore, many many many people will still want to have sex with you. Many people will still care for you, find you attractive, and love you. If this person isn’t that person who still wants to have sex with you, someone else absolutely will.
If you feel that sharing this information might put you in danger, consider an anonymous STI notification service for a recent STI diagnosis.
Sometimes healthcare centres are willing to make anonymous phone calls to previous sexual partners on your behalf that say something along the lines of “One of your previous sexual partners has tested positive for an STI at our clinic, please connect with a healthcare provider to get tested yourself”. There are also a few online anonymous STI notification services that you can use to notify recent sexual partners that they could be at risk of an STI and should get tested. Keep in mind that if you are the only person they have had sex with in the last year, they will probably know the person is you.
HIV has a long history of being stigmatized.
As such, there are laws that require that you disclose your HIV status in certain circumstances before engaging in sexual activity with a new partner. CATIE, HALCO, and WHAI are good resources for further details about HIV and Disclosure requirements.
Take your time with the conversation.
You can write down what you want to say and share that message with the person, or you practice saying what you would like to say in advance. Here are a few ideas for what to say:
Sooo… I just found out I have Gonorrhea. It sucks, but it’s an STI that is curable. It’s possible that you have it too since we had sex last month, so I’m letting you know so that you can get tested and treated if need be.
I really want to have sex with you, but I also respect that everyone is comfortable with different stuff, so I just wanted to let you know I have herpes. I don’t have an active outbreak right now, and if we use a dental dam there is a lower chance of passing herpes on, but I just wanted to let you know so that you could make the best decision for you.
My partner told me they have/had an STI. Now what?
That conversation might have been confusing, no big deal, worrying, or so many other feelings.
If you’ve never had a partner tell you that they have/had an STI, it’s actually super common (see our question above about how common STIs are for reference).
However, you may have a ton of questions. Questions like:
Do I now have an STI? How do I find out if I have an STI?
This is a great question. The short answer is mostly: go get tested for STI, but there are a few exceptions to that. See the above question on “how do I know if I have an STI?” for details.
If I don’t already have an STI, how do I reduce my risk of getting an STI?
The short answer? There are so many options to reduce your risk, see our question above on “How do I reduce the risk of STIs?” for details.
Will this impact my relationship with my partner?
It doesn’t have to change your relationship with your partner. While you may want to do a few extra steps to reduce your STI risk (like using dental dams, getting on PrEP, not having sex during an active STI outbreak), your partner is still the same person. The parts of your relationship that you enjoyed are still there, your partner just also has an STI.
How do I bring up STIs with a sexual partner?
Broaching the topic of STIs with a sexual partner can be a nerve wracking or daunting thing.
Picking a place in which you feel most comfortable can be helpful for when you start the conversation.
Otherwise, there isn’t necessarily a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to bring it up – but here are a few suggestions of phrases that might help inspire you:
“Wait… when was the last time you got tested?”
“Heyyyyy! We should get tested together before we have sex! What do you think?”
“I’ve been taking PrEP for x months – how about you?”
“Let’s get tested together so we are both safe.”
“The last time I got tested was x date and the results came back negative. What about you?”
“I don’t always use dental dams, but I have one if we need it. Should I use a dental dam?”
“You’re really cute. I wanna hook up with you. What’s your STI status?”
“I have a few condoms if you’d like to use them, but I am also okay not using them if you have recently been tested. What’s your STI status?”
Planned Parenthood Ottawa offers free, pro-choice, all-options counselling
We believe that you have the right to receive accurate, unbiased information about all of your options so you can make confident and well-informed decisions. You can talk to us about any thoughts, feelings, concerns and questions, and we’ll do our best to provide you with the support and information you’re looking for.