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April was STI Awareness Month, and throughout this month (and every day), sex educators have been focused on empowering people to take control of their sexual health. During STI Awareness Month, we shared a lot of information about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and reminded you to get tested. This work is extra important to combat misinformation and shame around STIs. 

On that note, here are five STI facts sex educators want you to know:

STIs can happen to anybody and are very common.

People of all genders, sexual orientations, relationship statuses, races, religions, nationalities, economic classes, and ages get STIs. At any given time, 1 in 5 people has an STI, and most of us get one at some point in our lives.

Some people have tons of sexual partners and never get an STI. Some people have sex only one time with only one person and get an STI. Some people get STIs from a partner who cheated on them, were dishonest about their STI status, or had an STI for years and didn’t know it. 

There are a ton of factors that come into play with STIs, but the bottom line is they’re very common and if you do have one, you’re not alone.

Having an STI doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.

Unfortunately, STIs often come with a side dish of shame and embarrassment that other infections don’t, just because you can get them from sex. 

Think about this: if someone told you they had an ear infection, would you react differently than if they told you they had an STI? Both are typically bacterial infections that go away after taking antibiotics. We live in a sex-negative world that shames people for having sex, and therefore for having STIs.

But the reality is that STIs are a normal part of life, and people get all kinds of infections from all kinds of everyday human activities, like breathing, eating, drinking, touching things, and yes, from sex too.

STIs don’t define you. The stigma surrounding STIs is super harmful to everyone, whether or not you have an STI. Stigma doesn’t make people more careful or responsible — in fact, it does the opposite. Stigma makes it harder to do the very things that can prevent STIs: getting tested, using protection, and talking openly with partners. Being more honest and less judgmental about STIs is one of the best ways we can help keep ourselves and the people we know healthy.

Most people don’t show symptoms.

Repeat after me: the most common STI symptom is no symptom at all! 

Most people with STIs don’t even know they have them. You can’t tell if someone has an STI by looking at them or their genitals. The only way to tell for sure if you or a partner has an STI is to get tested. And the best way to avoid STIs is to use protection every time you have sex.  

Of course, some people with STIs will show symptoms, and some symptoms are more obvious than others. But it’s also common for people with STIs to not notice symptoms, or think symptoms are caused by something else. 

STIs are spread through lots of different types of sexual activity. 

STIs, depending on the type, can be spread through semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, pre-cum, and skin-to-skin contact. This means any sexy stuff that exposes you and your partner to each other’s genital fluids and/or skin puts you at risk for STIs. This includes (but isn’t limited to): oral sex, vaginal sex, anal sex, sharing sex toys, touching your genitals after touching your partner’s genitals, and dry humping without underwear. 

Testing is easy (we promise)!

For most STI tests, all you need to do is pee in a cup. Sometimes a nurse or doctor will do a visual exam, or screen discharge from your vagina, penis, or any sores on or around your genitals and/or mouth. Some STIs (like herpes and syphilis) can be detected with a finger-prick rapid test (with 15-minute results!), but doctors usually just give a diagnosis by looking at or swabbing fluids from sores that these infections sometimes cause.

Through education and sharing accurate information about STIs, we can all engage in safer sex practices. Our sex educators are always here to answer your questions about how to prevent STIs, what to do if you or someone you know has one, and how to support people with STIs. 

During and beyond STI Awareness Month, we’re here for you, no matter what.



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