After 2 years of lockdowns, we are ready for a Summer of Love! We hope this year you can get back out there, have some fun and express your sexuality freely. But, whoever you’re loving this summer, make sure you’re doing it safely. Here’s our advice on combining free love with safe sex.
Difference between STIs and STDs
Firstly, let’s get something cleared up (no pun intended!) The phrases STD and STI are often used interchangeably, but there are some subtle and important differences. STI stands for ‘Sexually Transmitted Infection’ and STD means ‘Sexually Transmitted Disease’. The main difference between the two is that an infection occurs when you have been exposed to a virus or illness, whereas a ‘disease’ implies that there are symptoms occurring that are impacting your health.
As many sexually transmitted infections can remain completely symptomless, STI is probably a better catch-all phrase for the health concerns we’re discussing. It’s also a phrase that the medical profession hope will reduce the stigma around sex-related conditions - so that’s the phrase we’ll be using in this blog. We’re all for ending shame around STIs!
An STI is any kind of health concern that can be passed on through sexual intercourse - whatever that looks like for you. There’s an expansive list of STIs - and new ones are sometimes discovered (Monkeypox is the latest condition to be in the spotlight) - but here are some of the common ones to watch out for.
- Chlamydia - probably the most common STI. Often symptomless but can cause pain when peeing and unusual discharge from the penis or vagina.
- Gonorrhea - Again, often symptomless but you might notice a green or yellow discharge or bleeding between periods.
- Genital warts - Painful lumps growing on your vagina, penis or anus.
- Genital herpes - Small blisters that leave red, open sores around your genitals, anus, thighs or bottom.
- Pubic lice - Like lice on your head, but around your genitals - you might notice a lot of itchiness.
- Syphilis - Rash, sores or lumps growing around your intimate area - you might also get flu like symptoms.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) - Often symptomless but can make you more susceptible to cancers including cervical cancer.
- HIV - Not as common nowadays - and thankfully not the death sentence it once was - but still a serious condition that can impact your immune system.
The impact of STIs
The vast majority of STIs can be cleared up with a course of antibiotics and even conditions like herpes and HIV - which don’t have a cure as such - can be managed with medication. Early detection is always so important for getting you the help you need, so make sure to get tested regularly!
However, if left untreated, they can have a big impact on your life and health.
Pain and discomfort
Many STIs are symptomless, but when they do have symptoms they can be pretty uncomfortable. Pain during sex and whilst peeing are common with many STIs and when left to their own devices they can lead to chronic pain or even pelvic inflammatory disease.
If you’re struggling with warts or herpes, this can also lead to painful flare ups - which can be triggered by stress, lack of sleep or even your periods. There’s currently no overall cure for herpes, but your doctor can help you keep these symptoms under control!
Affect your fertility
Whether you’ve got a penis or a vulva, if left untreated many STIs can impact your fertility. What starts off as a low key infection can be spread into your reproductive organs - from your womb and ovaries to your testicles - causing scarring and inflammation that might alter how they function.
Even if having children isn’t on your to do list, anything that affects your fertility can have an impact on your overall health - so don’t sleep on getting those STIs tested and treated!
More serious health conditions
Whilst rare, some STIs can lead to serious conditions that might limit your quality of life - and even life expectancy. Whilst HPV itself can be fairly harmless, research has shown that around 10% of people with the HPV infection on their cervix will develop long-lasting HPV infections that put them at risk for cervical cancer. It can also impact people with penises too.
HIV is an infection that can develop into AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) which can lead to a whole bunch of life threatening conditions. Thankfully, with advances in medicine, it is now possible to control the HIV virus and not only stop it developing into AIDS but also make people carrying the virus completely undetectable (which means they can’t pass it on!)
How to have safe sex - whoever you’re loving
Many people in heterosexual relationships are often so concerned with preventing pregnancy that worries around STIs take a back seat. However, even if you are on birth control - like the pill, coil or implant - it’s really important that you still protect your sexual health, especially if you are having sex with multiple partners.
For penatrative sex, condoms are the best way to protect you from STIs and pregnancy alike. People often worry that using condoms will affect sensitivity and lead to bad sex - but that’s certainly not the case! Our condoms are ultra-thin and lightly lubricated so you can catch all the feels - and created with ingredients that are kind to your intimate areas and the planet (hello coming consciously!).
And remember, STIs are not only an issue affecting young people! A 2019 study found that the number of cases of gonorrhea rose 164% among Americans aged 55 and older between 2014 and 2018! Feeling sexual and having fun in the bedroom is something that should be embraced and celebrated at all stages of life - but so should playing it safe.
If both of you have a penis, then sure - you don’t need to worry about pregnancy. But you still need to protect yourself from STIs. Again condoms are a must for pentatrative sex, and can also be used during oral to protect yourself from conditions like herpes.
Another thing to consider is getting lubed up. Whilst lubricant itself can’t protect you from STIs (and don’t believe anyone that tells you it can) it can help to reduce tearing and skin damage - especially common with anal sex. STIs are more likely to be passed on if you have exposed cuts or tears as they can get directly into your bloodstream, so using lubricant is always a good idea.
Our lube is totally natural and totally vegan and the best part is it can be used with condoms without impacting their effectiveness.
But if there are no penises involved…
If there are no penises at play when it comes to your sex life, you might think that you are off the STI/pregnancy hook and don’t need to worry about using protection - but that’s not the case!
Many STIs can be passed through genital contact, so even if you’re not having penetrative sex, it’s important to get regularly tested and follow safe sex practices. As well as STIs, bacterial vaginosis is also a condition that can be spread through sex (although it’s technically not classed as an STI).
Regular testing, washing hands before sex and avoiding oral sex if you have any cuts on sores on your mouth can all help keep your sex life healthy! It might also be worth investigating dental dams - a very thin latex square that can be placed over the vagina or anus during oral play. They kind of act like a condom, protecting you from STIs.
If you’re using sex toys in your partner play, it’s a good idea to use a new condom for each person. It’s also really important to keep your toys clean, but make sure you’re using a cleanser that is vagina friendly! Our Menstrual Cup Cleanser is actually perfect for this as it’s created for use with silicone and is also free from harmful chemicals and fragrances that could mess with your vagina’s pH balance.
So, whoever you’re getting it on with, we believe there’s nothing sexier than safe sex! Ready to have a Summer of (safe, healthy and consensual) Love? Check out our sexual wellness products!