Federated Health Charities’ mission is to improve the health and quality of life of all Ontarians by supporting 21 different health charities providing critical services to those experiencing, or affected by, illness. We believe education and prevention are key parts of supporting the health of our communities so our weekly Health Hint series strives to provide tangible and easy to implement hints and tips on how to maintain your health, prevent disease, and enjoy increased quality of life. Check out our latest Health Hint on maintaining sexual health. We hope you find it helpful. If you would like to join our efforts to support the health of Ontario please consider a donation to Federated Health Charities.
What is an STI
STI stands for sexually transmitted infection and includes several bacterial and viral infections which are commonly, but not always, transmitted through various forms of sexual contact. Bacterial STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis can almost always be cured with a short course of antibiotics. Viral STIs such as Hepatitis A, B, C, Herpes, HPV, and HIV cannot be cured with antibiotics but can be successfully managed when discovered early.
The chances or getting or transmitting an STI depend on the type of STI, the sexual contact, and if preventive measures, such as condoms, were used during sexual contact. Risk increases when there is an exchange of bodily fluids or discharges including faeces, urine, semen, and blood. Not all STIs are transferred through sexual contact; some are transmitted through sharing needles and drug paraphernalia or through contact with open cuts and sores.
It’s important to note that not all STIs will manifest themselves in visible symptoms. This means that you could have an STI and not even know it! If you are sexually active it is important to get tested regularly since leaving STIs untreated can lead to life threatening complications and even infertility. There are many resources available to learn more about STIs; the Government of Ontario has several resources you can access here and here. To learn more about STIs you can visit this site and also CATIE’s (Canada’s source for HIV and Hep C Info) site here.
What is HIV and AIDS?
HIV, human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system making it more vulnerable to other infections and diseases. If left untreated, HIV can progress to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). At this stage opportunistic infections and cancers attack the body and the weakened immune system cannot effectively fight them off. An incredible amount of progress has been made in the study and treatment of HIV and AIDS. At present, HIV is a very manageable condition that rarely progresses to AIDS if treated properly.
Regarding HIV transmission, there are five bodily fluids which can contain enough HIV to infect someone – blood, semen (including pre-cum), rectal fluid, vaginal fluid, and breast milk. In order for there to be a transmission of HIV, one of the aforementioned fluids needs to enter the bloodstream of an HIV negative person. To learn more about HIV transmission, take a look at this resource. It’s important to note that STIs can increase the chance of HIV infection. To learn more, you can visit CATIE’s webpage on this topic here.
Tips for Preventing STIs and Maintaining Good Sexual Health
The Ontario AIDS Network is comprised of over 40 charities which focus on sexual health education, outreach, prevention, and community building. Since STIs are on the rise its important to protect yourself and your partners by following safe sex practices. Here are some common practices to prevent the transmission of STIs:
1. Use a barrier during sex such as a male condom, female condom, or oral dam for oral sexual activities. Do not use an oil based lubricant with condoms as they tend to degrade the material the condom is made of; use water or silicone-based lubricants instead. Here is a guide to using condoms.
2. Get tested regularly. STIs are effectively treatable and manageable when detected early. Testing is easy and free of charge. You can visit a sexual health clinic or your health care provider to get tested.
3. Always be honest with current partner(s) about any STIs you have. If you have an STI, its especially important to use barrier protection methods to protect your partner(s) from getting infected.
4. Inform past partners if you receive a positive STI result. It’s important for them to get tested and treated as well.
5. Always talk to your partner(s) about any sexual activities you wish to engage in and make sure you both consent beforehand.
6. As per CATIE’s safer sex guide, “If you are HIV positive, take your HIV treatment. People who are HIV positive, engaged in care, consistently take their HIV treatment and attain low levels of HIV in their blood (also known as undetectable viral load) do not pass on HIV to their sexual partners”. To read the entire safer sex guide, you can download a free PDF here.
7. If you are using drugs, do not share needles, pipes, or other drug paraphernalia.
Remember, it can take courage to practice safe sex. Do your best to protect yourself and your loved ones to avoid the physical and emotional stress that can come with STIs and their symptoms.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our latest Health Hint!
Written by Jennifer Nemcik
NOTE: This article is intended to provide general health tips based on available research. You should consult with a health care professional for specific medical and dietary instructions that are right for you.