WHAT IS SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH

Good sexual and reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system. It implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life, the capability to reproduce, and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so. (UNFPA)

Every Individual has the right to make their own choices about their sexual and reproductive health.  They are therefore entitled to a good health care, to protect himself and be protected, has the right to know about sexually transmitted diseases/infections (STDs/STIs).

WHAT IS SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES/INFECTIONS AND HOW THEY ARE TRANSMITTED 

More than 30 different bacteria, viruses and parasites are known to be transmitted through sexual contact. Eight of these pathogens are linked to the greatest incidence of sexually transmitted disease. Of these 8 infections, 4 are currently curable: syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis. The other 4 are viral infections and are incurable: hepatitis B, herpes simplex virus (HSV or herpes), HIV, and human papillomavirus (HPV). Symptoms or disease due to the incurable viral infections can be reduced or modified through treatment.

STIs are spread predominantly by 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. Many STIs—including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, primarily hepatitis B, HIV, and syphilis—can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth. (WHO)

A person can have an STI without having obvious symptoms of a disease. Common symptoms of STIs include vaginal discharge, urethral discharge or burning in men, genital ulcers, and abdominal pain. (WHO)

SOME OF THE MOST COMMON STIs/STDs

SYPHILIS

This is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases.  It is passed from one person to another through sexual contact.  Both men and women can get it and pass it on without knowing as the symptoms can be mild and you may not notice it.  The symptoms are the same for men and women. The symptoms of syphilis are sores, usually painless and on average, it will be two to three weeks after coming into contact with the infection.  The sores will appear on the genital, anus, mouth, tonsils and fingers. For men, they appear mainly on the penis and around the anus. This is the first stage of the infection.  If left untreated, rashes will appear on either all over the body, appear patches, on the palms or the soles of the feet. Also, flat warty-looking growth on the genitals and anus will appear on both men and women.  A flu-like illness, tiredness, loss of appetite and swollen glands.  This is the second stage.  If it remains untreated after many years may cause very serious damage to the heart, brain, eyes, nervous system, bones and other internal organs.  At this stage, syphilis can lead to death.

GONORRHOEA

Gonorrhoea is caused by bacteria which are mainly in the semen and vaginal fluids of men and women who have the infection. It is passed from one person to another through sexual contact. It is most commonly spread through unprotected vaginal, anal, oral sex, sharing sex toys if they are not washed them or cover them with a condom each time they are used.  It can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby.  The symptoms of gonorrhoea on a woman are unusual vaginal discharge which may be thin or watery, yellow or green.  Pain when passing urine. Lower abdominal pain or tenderness.  Symptoms in men are yellow or green discharge. pain when passing urine, infection in the throat and eyes.

CHLAMYDIA

Chlamydia is caused by a bacteria which is found in the semen and vaginal fluids of men and women who have the infection.  The infection is most commonly spread through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex, sharing sex toys if they are not washed or covered with a new condom each time they are used.  The symptoms of chlamydia may be so mild they are not noticed.  In women, there will be bleeding between periods or heavier periods, bleeding after sex, pain or bleeding when you have sex, lower abdominal pain, unusual vaginal discharge and pain when passing urine.  In men, a white cloudy or watery discharge from the tip of the penis, pain when passing urine and possible pain in the testicles

GENITAL HERPES 

This is caused by the virus, herpes simplex.  There are two types, HSV-I and HSV-2.  Both types can infect the genital and anal areas (genital herpes) and also the mouth and nose (cold sores) and fingers and hands (whitlows). Genital herpes can be passed from one person to another during sexualcontact.  Both men and women can have genital herpes.  It can be passed on during vaginal, anal sex or by sharing sex toys, by skin contact during sex,by close genital contact ( you do not need to have penetrative sex to be passed on), if you receive oral sex from someone who has herpes in the mouth (cold sores) and if a person with herpes on the hand or finger touches a partner's vagina, genitals or anal area. it is also possible for a pregnant woman to pass the virus on to their baby if they have an outbreak during birth.  Symptoms include fever, tiredness, headaches, swollen glands, aches and painsin the lower back and the legs or groin, stinging, tingling or itching in the genital or anal area, small fluid blisters anywhere in the genital or anal area, on the bottom and the top of the thighs.  These burst within a day or two leaving small, red sores which can be very painful especially when passing urine.  The herpes virus remains dormant in the body.  In some people, the virus can become active again from time to time and cause further outbreaks of genital herpes.

ORAL SEX

Oral sex involves a person using their mouth, tongue and lips to stimulate a partner's genitals.  There is no risk of pregnancy from having oral sex but some sexually transmitted infections can be passed on this way as some infections are spread more easily through oral sex than others.  The main infections which can be passed on through oral sex are herpes, gonorrhoea and syphilis.

HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF FROM STIs/STDs

Many people think safer sex is just about preventing pregnancy.  That is important, but safer sex also mean having sex where there is less risk of  STIs/STDs.  STI/STD can have serious consequences on a person's body.  It is, therefore, important to practice safe sex.  It helps you avoid getting STI/STD from a sexual partner, as well as passing it on to them.  sexually transmitted infections are highly preventable. The only method guaranteed to prevent STIs is to avoid any kind of sexual contact, but this is not practical for most people. There are things you can do to limit the risk of exposureto infections while still enjoying an active sex life. It is, therefore, important to use condoms at all times during penetrative and oral sex especially with new partners.  There are some other things you can do to reduce the chances of catching an STI. These include: limiting the number of people you have sex with, talking honestly with potential partners about your sexual history, getting tested, along with your partner, before having sex, avoiding sex when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. People who are drunk or using drugs, often fail to have safe sex. The only time unprotected sex is completely safe from infection is if you and your partner have sex only with each other, and each of you tested negative for STIs at least three months after you had sex with any other partners.