5 STD myths busted
Chlamydia. Gonorrhea. Herpes. HIV. For most people, the thought of these sexually transmitted infections and diseases is enough to make their skin crawl.
Yet, widespread myths about these dangerous infections often lead to misinformation and failure to be tested.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that testing rates for sexually transmitted diseases and infections (STDs/STIs) in high-risk populations such as young adults ages 15-25 are significantly lower than recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With countless myths surrounding the prevalence, symptoms and long-term effects of these infections, such individuals need to know the truth surrounding these risks in order to best protect themselves and their partners.
Dr. Rannveig Maria Middleton, an OB/GYN with Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill., breaks down five of the most common STD myths to help remind sexually active individuals of the importance of regular, thorough testing and follow-up treatment, if needed.
1. Myth: STDs and STIs are rare:
The taboo nature of STDs often prevents us from discussing them, leading us to lower our perceived risk. Many individuals dismiss the risk of contracting an STD and getting tested because they assume STDs are relatively uncommon. In fact, these infections are much more common than you may think.
“Our office probably calls someone every week with a new diagnosis of a sexually transmitted infection,” says Dr. Middleton.
One in two sexually active individuals will contract an STD by age 25, and over 20 million new cases are diagnosed each year.
2. Myth: You can’t catch an STD if you use birth control.
Not all birth controls are created equal, and contrary to popular belief, many do not protect from the spread of STDs. While options such as the pill or an IUD prevent pregnancy, these precautions will not prevent STD contraction, as these infections are spread through physical contact and fluid exchange.
Condoms and dental dams are recommended as the most effective form of protection; however, be aware that these barriers still do not guarantee safety.
“Condoms are effective at preventing HIV, gonorrhea and chlamydia infections, but don’t always work against genital warts or herpes,” Dr. Middleton says. “Those occur more on the vulva and the base of the penis, where the condom doesn’t prevent contact.”
3. Myth: Two condoms are better than one.
While this may seem like the best way to protect oneself from both unwanted pregnancy and the spread of disease, don’t be fooled. Using more than one condom actually increases the risk of the condom(s) breaking or tearing due to the increased amount of friction, in turn amplifying the risk of being exposed to potential infection.
4. Myth: Chlorine and heat in a hot tub or pool kill STD germs, so you can’t get infected.
Neither chlorine nor hot water are capable of killing the bacteria or viruses that cause STDs. Chlorine does break down latex, however, meaning that activity in these locations may increase risk due to a broken condom.
5. Myth: If you or your partner had an STD, it would be obvious.
“Most women I diagnose with infections do not have any symptoms,” Dr. Middleton says. Many STDs such as herpes or the human papilloma virus (HPV) can lie dormant for weeks or months before a flare-up. Others, such as chlamydia, can develop slowly with little or even no symptoms. Although symptoms may not be clear, individuals can still transmit the infection to others and may suffer various complications including infertility if not treated in a timely manner.
About the Author
Katie Helander, health enews contributor, is a public affairs and marketing intern for Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill. She is currently pursuing her BA in public relations and minors in international communication and Spanish at Illinois State University, where she also serves as the Chapter President of the Public Relations Student Society of America. In her free time, Katie enjoys theatre, traveling, working out, and learning new things. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career in international relations or with a major public relations agency.