Engaging in safe sex can help you and your partner(s) enjoy your sexual life more, and it also prevents you from contracting any sexually transmitted infections (STIs). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), STIs are spread predominantly through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Some STIs can also be spread through non-sexual means such as via blood or blood products.

In 2016, WHO estimated 376 million new infections worldwide, which means more than 1 million new infections per day, with one of four STIs: chlamydia (127 million), gonorrhea (87 million), syphilis (6.3 million), and trichomoniasis (156 million). 

From the moment you become sexually active, it is recommended to have regular tests to detect any sexually transmitted infections. STIs are common and in most cases, there are multiple ways to treat them.There are five major STIs and they are listed here, as well as some of their myths and facts.

Myths and facts

Here are some of the most common STIs along with some of the myths and facts behind them.



A common sexually transmitted disease (STD), an infection caused by bacteria. Chlamydia is also the most frequently reported bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the United States. However, a large number of cases aren’t reported because most people who have it don’t have symptoms and do not seek testing for it. This is why it’s important for you to know, in case you contract it, how to treat it. Chlamydia is transmitted by the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus of an infected partner.

Myths and facts


A common sexually transmitted infection that especially affects 15-24 year olds, although all age groups and genders may be infected. In some cases, gonorrhea doesn’t cause symptoms. But when it does, it can be painful. The main symptoms for people with a penis are the following: pain when urinating, a pus-like discharge from the tip of the penis, and pain or swelling in one testicle.

For persons with a uterus, symptoms include (but aren’t limited to): increased vaginal discharge, painful urination, vaginal bleeding between periods (such as after vaginal intercourse), and abdominal or pelvic pain. Rectal infections may either cause no symptoms or cause symptoms that may include discharge, anal itching, soreness, bleeding, and painful bowel movements.

Gonorrhea can be cured with the right treatment. It’s important that you take all the medication your doctor prescribes to cure the infection. Medication for gonorrhea should not be shared with anyone. Although medication will stop the infection, it won’t undo any permanent damage caused by the disease. It’s becoming harder to treat some types of gonorrhea, as drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea are increasing. If your symptoms continue for more than a few days after receiving treatment, you should return to a health care provider to be checked again.

Myths and facts


A chronic infectious disease usually transmitted by sexual contact, by blood transfusion, or from mother to baby in the utero. Additionally, there’s evidence that syphilis is transmitted through non-sexual contact in communities with poor hygiene conditions.

Acquired syphilis is divided into early and late syphilis. Early syphilis can be divided into primary, secondary, and latent. The primary stage begins with the appearance of sores at the original site of infection. The secondary stage may include symptoms such as a rash, swollen lymph nodes, and fever. Signs and symptoms of primary and secondary syphilis may be mild and go unnoticed.

During the latent phase, there are no signs or symptoms. Late syphilis is associated with serious medical problems and is usually diagnosed by a doctor. It can affect certain areas of the body such as the heart, brain, and other vital organs.

If syphilis isn’t detected in time, it can cause neurosyphilis and even ocular syphilis, which can affect your brain and vision.

Myths and facts


They are spread by two types of virus, which are common and can cause sores on your genitals and/or mouth. Herpes infections are mostly asymptomatic or unrecognized, but they can be uncomfortable and painful. There are two types of herpes — genital, or HSV-2, and oral, HSV-1. Transmission can occur during vaginal, oral, or anal sex, and kissing. Sores do disappear from your skin, but they can come back and most oral and genital herpes infections are asymptomatic.

Myths and facts

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

In most cases, it’s asymptomatic and disappears without treatment. However, some types can cause genital warts or cancer. Genital warts are uncomfortable but don’t cause cancer or other serious health problems. According to WHO, there are more than 100 types of HPV, of which at least 14 are cancer-causing (also known as high-risk type).

Because it’s a silent disease in most cases, it’s very important that you get tested frequently so you can act early if you’re infected and not infect others.

Myths and facts

Hepatitis B

An infection that damages the liver and can cause hepatic (liver) disease. If it’s not detected in time, it can develop into chronic hepatitis B for which there is no cure. The virus is most commonly transmitted from mother to child during birth and delivery, as well as through contact with blood or other body fluids, including sex with an infected partner, injection-drug use that involves sharing needles, syringes, or drug-preparation equipment and needle sticks, or exposure to sharp instruments.Vaccination during childhood could build lasting immunity to hepatitis B.

There are five main types of hepatitis, A, B, C, D, and E, and while the sources of infection vary (through contaminated food and water or infected body fluids, for example), prevention and treatment are important to halt outbreaks or epidemic spreads. 

According to WHO, hepatitis B prevalence is highest in the WHO Western Pacific Region and the WHO African Region, where 6.2% and 6.1% of the adult population is infected respectively. In the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, the WHO South-East Asia Region, and the WHO European Region, an estimated 3.3%, 2.0%, and 1.6% of the general population is infected, respectively. 

There’s no specific treatment for acute hepatitis B. Therefore, care is aimed at maintaining comfort and adequate nutritional balance, including replacement of fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhea. Chronic hepatitis B infection can be treated with medicines, including oral antiviral agents. Treatment can slow the progression of cirrhosis, reduce the incidence of liver cancer, and improve long-term survival.

Myths and facts


The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks and destroys your cells and immune system. Since HIV impairs the immune system, it makes it easier for you to get very sick and even die from infections that your body could normally fight back. At the end of 2019, there were an estimated 38.0 million people living with HIV.

The most advanced stage of HIV infection is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which can take many years to develop if not treated, depending on the individual. AIDS is linked to the development of certain cancers, infections, or other severe long-term clinical manifestations.

HIV is carried in semen, vaginal secretions, anal mucus, blood (including menstrual blood), and breast milk. The virus enters the body through cuts or sores on the skin and through mucous membranes, such as the inside of the vagina, rectum, and opening of the penis.

Eventually, HIV destroys an important type of immune system cell known as CD4 cells or T-cells, which protect us from infections. When you don’t have enough CD4 cells, your body can’t fight infections as it normally would.

A person has AIDS when he, she, or they get dangerous infections or have an extremely low number of CD4 cells. AIDS is the most severe stage of HIV infection and eventually leads to death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should get tested for HIV at least once a year. 

There’s no cure for an HIV infection. However, effective prevention interventions are available: preventing mother-to-child-transmission, male and female condom use, harm-reduction interventions, pre-exposure prophylaxis, post-exposure prophylaxis, voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC), and antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), which can control the virus and help prevent onward transmission to other people.

Myths and Facts


How do I protect myself from STIs?

There are multiple ways in which you can take care of yourself and enjoy safe sex. Here are some tips you should consider:

The frequency of testing depends on your personal situation and health. For these reasons, it’s recommended that you consult your doctor to see how often you should be tested.

Remember: be honest with your doctor or nurse about your sex life (they’re not there to judge you), so they can properly diagnose and treat you (if necessary). 


What to do when you have STIs

The news that you have a STD can be shocking. At first, you may feel angry, embarrassed, or upset. Try to take it in stride: it’s important to know that you’re not alone.

The best thing to do when you learn you have an STD is to follow your doctor’s instructions for treating it. It’s also very important to communicate with previous or present sexual partners so they can get tested and treated. It’s not an easy conversation to have, but it’s important. Don’t be ashamed; be responsible and protect yourself and others.