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Understanding Your Risks

Preventing Sexually Transmitted Disease

In a society where casual sex is presented as the norm it's easy to forget about the potential consequences of careless behavior. Although STD's may pose a health threat to everyone, be aware that women stand to lose much more from irresponsible sexual behavior than men. STD's wreak havoc on a woman's reproductive organs and may result in permanent infertility or even death. Teenage sexual activity and having multiple sex partners has been strongly linked to cervical cancer — a condition that men don't need to worry about.

Many sexually transmitted diseases can be treated or cured by your doctor. If you notice any vaginal itching, burning, unusual discharge, blisters, or pain, you should visit your gynecologist right away. The symptoms of some STD's, like syphilis or herpes, may come and go. Other STD's, like gonorrhea or chlamydia, may have no noticeable symptoms whatsoever. Symptoms or not, STD's are dangerous if left untreated. Untreated chlamydia or gonorrhea can result in sterility and inflammation, and untreated syphilis can result in death. If you become pregnant, STD's can be passed on to your baby causing infant sickness or death.

Method Comparison

Contraceptive Method Bacterial Infections Viral Infections
Condoms Usually protective Protective, but not for HPV
Spermicides Not Protective Increases risk of HIV
Diaphragm Protective against cervical infection
Can facilitate vaginal bacterial overgrowth
Protective against
cervical tumors
Oral Contraceptives /
Hormonal Methods
Increases risk of chlamydia and gonorrhea Increases risk of HIV
Withdrawal Slightly protective Slightly protective
IUD Increases risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) Not Protective
Fertility Awareness Not Protective Not Protective
Cervical Cap (FemCap) Potentially protective against chlamydia and gonorrhea. Research currently underway. Potentially protective against HIV. Research currently underway.

Some sexually transmitted diseases are incurable. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection will lead to AIDS and death. Human papillomavirus (HPV) can result in pain, genital warts, reproductive cancers, and death. Hepatitis B is also very serious. Herpes, though not fatal, is a lifelong menace.

Condoms made of latex or polyurethane can help reduce the likelihood of most STD's, but even these sometimes allow the transmission of disease; 2-6% of condoms break or fall off during intercourse, and a condom can break even if you use it perfectly. A condom is not protective against human papillomavirus (HPV).

Spermicides containing nonoxynol-9 were once thought to help prevent HIV infection, but newer studies show an increased risk because the chemical can irritate the vagina, facilitating infection. Consequently, spermicides are no longer being recommended for HIV prevention.

Hormonal methods of birth control, such as Depo-Provera (the shot), the patch, and oral contraceptives, can actually increase your chances of getting an STD from your partner if he is infected. Depo-provera will supress the immune system, and hormonal methods can make the reproductive tract more vulnerable to infections like HIV and chlamydia.

Sexual activity can put you at risk. Many sexual activities aside from intercourse can result in infection as well. Know your partner and his sexual history. The only "safe sex" is lifelong monogamy with an uninfected partner. (More on Responsible Sexual Choices.)

R E P R O D U C T I V E   T R A C T   I N F E C T I O N S

If there's any chance that your partner might be infected, suggest that he first be examined by a doctor. If he is unwilling to visit a doctor or discuss his sexual history, maybe you should ask yourself if you really want to have intercourse with him. 20% of men would lie about their HIV positive status just to get sex, so be careful. You have a right to know what you are getting into.

Never allow yourself to be pressured into a sexual relationship. Never let a man coerce or bully you into having intercourse with him. Don't be afraid to say no. If he forces himself on you after you've said no, or if he takes advantage of you while you're intoxicated, it is considered rape.

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