In this second part of a two-part series, our resident sexologist shares more info on an important topic.
Dear Dr Elna
Q: How many infections are there?
A: It doesn’t really matter how many infections are out there. It matters more that as a group, they are really easy to get. Many adults in the South African population have them without knowing it. You almost never know when you’ve been in contact with someone who has an infection (because they don’t have symptoms). Some are completely curable, while all the rest are treatable, but not curable.
The best answer is that there are quite a few STIs – more than you might think, perhaps, but not enough to make touching someone else a bad thing. What’s important is that you have regular infection screenings by a healthcare provider.
Consider this example: Mpho meets Ronnie. They are really attracted to each other and decide to be sexually intimate. They have access to free or reduced-fee infection screening, so they request testing for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomonas, Herpes and HIV. Until they get the results back, they continue to use barriers and safer-sex techniques.
They results reveal that Mpho was positive for chlamydia. She is treated (and cured) by the clinic, and has no other evidence of transmissible infections. Mpho never had any symptoms of an infection, and is pretty surprised by the news.
Ronnie’s blood shows evidence of previous exposure and infection by the herpes virus type 2. Ronnie has no idea how this could be, because Ronnie has never had any sores and has had very few other sexual partners. Ronnie’s healthcare provider explains to Mpho and Ronnie that more than 20 percent of the adult population has Herpes, and most (80 percent) are unaware that they have the infection lingering in their body. The provider also explains that the infection is lifelong, although there is treatment that can help clear an outbreak, as well as suppress future outbreaks. The provider also mentions that Mpho could be infected by Ronnie through intimate contact, even if Ronnie is not experiencing an outbreak of painful sores.
Now, Mpho and Ronnie have some decisions to make. They have various options:
- They decide to use barriers for genital contact, not share sex toys, and be more aware of washing their hands after being intimate.
- Mpho freaks out and ends the relationship. (Ronnie decides that it is just as well, because if Mpho can’t work on being creative about the solutions, Mpho isn’t enough of a partner for Ronnie.)
- You only live once. Barriers be damned, and they slosh their sexual juices with abandon.
It’s all about how you touch, not that you shouldn’t touch. Get yourself tested today for STIs if you have been sexually intimate. Take care and be safe out there.
Elna McIntosh is a sexologist and has for the past 30 years helped couples and individuals to explore their sexuality “outside of the box”. Her greatest claim to fame – surviving breast cancer … twice.