Health conditions

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

What are STIs?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections or diseases that are passed on during unprotected sex with an infected partner. This includes vaginal, anal or oral sex. Some STIs can be passed on by just skin-to-skin contact.

Common STIs include:

Other less common STIs include:

Who is most at risk?

You are at risk of getting an STI if:

  • you don’t use condoms during sex or dental dams (a thin latex square held over the vaginal or anal area during oral sex)
  • you have changed sex partners or had more than one sex partner in the last 12 months
  • you or your partner share injecting equipment such as a syringes and needles
  • you or your sex partner has another STI.

Signs and symptoms

When you get an STI you may not have any obvious symptoms. You can feel perfectly okay and not realise you have an infection. But even if you don’t notice any signs the STI could still be making you sick.

Some STI symptoms could include:

  • unusual discharge from your vagina or penis
  • difficulty or pain when you urinate and have sex
  • blisters, warts, lumps, bumps or sores on your genitals
  • rash, cracked skin, itchy or irritated skin on or around your genital region.

How do I know if I have an STI?

If you notice any of the above symptoms, or if you had sex without a condom or a dental dam, you and your sex partner(s) should see a doctor for an STI check. Depending on your particular circumstances, this may involve a urine sample, swab and/or blood test.  

The earlier you are diagnosed with an STI, the easier it is to treat which also reduces the chances of you developing further health complications.

Treatment

Many STIs are successfully treated with antibiotics. Others can be managed with medication.

What if I don’t get treated?

If you have an untreated STI it can cause a range of mild to severe health complications and also create other health conditions.

For example, some STIs can damage men and women’s reproductive systems. Men could get painful swollen testes (testicles) and women could get pelvic inflammatory disease. This means they could have problems having children in the future or be left infertile (unable to have children).

If you don’t get treated the infection will keep damaging your body, and you can pass it to your sex partners.

Do I need to tell anyone?

If you have been treated for an STI, it is important to let your sex partner(s) know so they can get tested and treated too. If your sex partners are not treated, you could end up with the STI again.

If you want your doctor or clinic can tell your partner or former partners for you, without telling them your name. They can help you inform everyone that might need to know. This is known as contact tracing.

What if I am pregnant?

If you are pregnant it is very important to protect yourself and your unborn baby from STIs. Having an STI in pregnancy could make your unborn baby get very sick and even die.

You can prevent this from happening by having safe sex and by having an STI check, and getting treatment if needed, so your baby is born healthy.

How can STIs be prevented?

You can reduce the risk of getting an STI by following this advice:

  • Have regular STI checks.
  • Limit your sex partners. The fewer people you have sex with, the less chance you have of having sex with someone who has a STI.
  • Always use condoms or dental dams and water-based lubricant.
  • Condoms are the best way to protect you both from STIs.

Where to get help

Remember

  • You may not have any obvious symptoms if you have an STI.
  • Left untreated, some STIs can make you infertile.
  • Always use condoms and dental dams when having sex.
  • If you have unprotected sex you should be tested for STIs.

Acknowledgements
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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