That kind of misguided information should come with a government health warning. It’s true that a couple of the symptoms of some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) do include itchiness and a reddening of the skin. However, other STIs have very different symptoms and often there are no symptoms at all, which can make unprotected sex seem riskier than a game of Russian roulette.
Most common STIs
Before you take any unnecessary risks with your health, and the health of your sexual partners, you really need to know the facts. Let’s take a look at some of the most common STIs knocking around today:
Around 50% of men and 70% of women who have chlamydia don’t experience any symptoms at all.¹ When there are symptoms, they usually appear 1-3 weeks after infection but sometimes it can take longer. Women need to look out for pelvic pain, pain when peeing, vaginal bleeding between periods or after sex and possibly a discharge. Men need to be aware of painful balls, pain when peeing or a discharge from the willy.¹ The good news is, chlamydia is easy to treat with antibiotics. Catch it early, before it can do any damage, and you’ll be completely cured.²
Most people who have herpes don’t have any symptoms when they’re first infected. After 4-7 days, you may notice itchiness and small painful blisters on your private parts, as well a painful sensation when peeing. However, these symptoms may not appear for months or even years after infection.¹ While herpes is easiest to catch during an active breakout, it can still be spread when there are no sores or other visible signs. Even though there is no cure for herpes, it’s not all doom and gloom as there’s effective treatment around that means the symptoms can be managed.³
Most people with the virus that causes genital warts don’t develop warts. If you do notice small, fleshy itchy bumps on your intimate areas, they’ll usually appear 2-3 months after you’ve been infected. These symptoms can appear after just a fortnight but, on the other hand, they might not show themselves for years. It may take weeks or months for treatment to work, and the warts may come back one day. There’s no cure for genital warts, but it is possible for your body to rid itself of the virus over time.
Around 10% of men and 50% of women with gonorrhoea don’t have any symptoms at all. (Beginning to notice a running theme here?) And while symptoms usually appear within 10 days, they might not be noticeable until much later. Both men and women should look out for pain when peeing and a green or yellow discharge from the private parts. If gonorrhoea goes unnoticed and untreated for too long, it can lead to a range of more serious problems and it could stop you having a baby.⁵ The good news is this infection is curable with antibiotics; the bad news is you need to know you have it first.⁶
Trichomoniasis, or trich as it is sometimes known for short, is a little-known but common STI that’s caused by a parasite. Around 50% of men and women who have this infection don’t have any symptoms at all.¹ If you do get symptoms, they’ll usually appear within four weeks although you might not notice anything for months. Women should look out for pain when peeing, a discharge from the vagina as well as a little discomfort down there. For men, symptoms include pain when peeing and a discharge from the willy.¹ Trichomoniasis is usually treated quickly and easily with antibiotics. It does very occasionally cure itself, but you risk passing the infection on if you don’t get it properly taken care of.
The symptoms of syphilis aren’t obvious and they may come and go. They usually appear 2-3 weeks after infection, but it could be earlier or much later. Look out for one or more painless sores on your private parts or a blotchy rash and flu-like symptoms that may hit you a few weeks later.¹ Syphilis can be treated with a course of antibiotics.⁸
The first symptoms may appear 2-6 weeks after infection, but not everyone who catches HIV will experience them. You might notice a red rash on your body and flu-like symptoms, but this will probably only last for a week or two.¹ Once everything’s cleared up, you may not have any more symptoms for years, even though the infection will still be in your body. While there’s no cure for HIV, there are very effective treatments that enable most people with the virus to live long and healthy lives.⁹
Now you know how many of the most common STIs come without symptoms, you’ll understand that it can often be impossible to tell whether a new partner is ‘clean’. Of course, that applies to you too. Instead of taking unnecessary risks, take condoms with you wherever you go.
Durex have all kinds of different condoms to choose from and they provide information on which are the safest condoms, how to put a condom on and which condom size is right for you. Durex also make a range of lubes, gels and sex toys, but that’s a story for another day.
Get yourself tested
Now you know it can be impossible to tell who has an STI and who hasn’t, you might want to get yourself and your current partner checked out pretty sharpish. After all, that’s the only way of knowing for sure how healthy you both are. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for you!