A joke I recently heard made me laugh.
Two people are having sex and one person asks the other to wear a condom. The person replies, “I don’t wear condoms, they irritate my sores?” I like how the joke implies that not wearing a condom can lead to an STI infection, however, the problem is that many STIs do not show any symptoms and therefore there would be no sores.
Many people still think they can tell if someone has an STI just by looking at them. However, many people have sex in the dark, without communicating and without taking a look below the belt. And even on close inspection many vulvas, penises, vaginas and testicles will look healthy even if the person has an STI. This can be problematic as many people do not get tested and treated and they pass the infection on to others unknowingly.
It is a good idea to get tested on a regular basis (every 3-6 months) if you are sexually active. Even if you think you are in a monogamous relationship, it can’t hurt to get tested. Especially now that testing for the most common STIs consists of peeing in a cup.
Gonorrhea, one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs), has been on the rise in Waterloo Region since 2013. The Waterloo Region Public Health Infectious Diseases Surveillance Report shows a significant increase in the rates of gonorrhea between 2012 and 2013. The gonorrhea rate, previously much lower than the provincial average, is now almost the same as the province. There are no differences between genders and it is the most common in individuals 20-24 year olds, followed by 25-29 year olds.
In the past, gonorrhea could be cured with antibiotics. This is still the case; however, the bacteria are becoming resistant to medications, meaning that some people will not be able to cure gonorrhea once they contract it. This could lead to increased cases of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (inflammation and infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes and/or ovaries) and epididymitis (inflammation and infection of the epididymis which is the tube at the back of the testicles in which sperm matures and is stored). Both of these can lead to discomfort, pain and fertility issues. If gonorrhea shows symptoms they could include: painful urination, vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding after intercourse or between periods, testicular pain or swelling and of course the thick, yellowish-green discharge from the penis. Of the 2013 Waterloo Region gonorrhea cases that reported risk factor information, the most common reported risk factor was not using a condom. So what does all this mean? It means have safer sex. Wear a condom. Get tested. Get treated. Ask your partner(s) to get tested and treated. And don’t forget about safer anal and oral sex. You can contract gonorrhea in your anus and in your throat. That’s what flavoured condoms are for – oral sex. No need to decide to spit or swallow, just use a condom.
Stacey Jacobs is the Community Sexual Health Educator at Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, ppwr.on.ca, and has taught sexuality classes at the University of Waterloo.