With fall semester in full swing and many possibilities on the horizon, it’s important to remember a few things to keep you and your partner in optimal sexual health.

Practicing safe sex is part of obtaining enthusiastic consent as communication is vital to any sexual encounter. Discussing sexual and testing history promotes more enjoyable experiences and healthier relationships.

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Basics

Sexually transmitted infections are only transmitted through sexual contact, meaning you can only get them from someone who has them. Sexual contact encompasses vaginal, oral and anal sex as well as contact, like rubbing, among genitals. You cannot get an STI from a toilet seat or from contact such as hugging.

Several types of STIs exist with two distinctions, bacterial and viral. Common bacterial STIs include chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis. Common viral STIs include herpes, HIV, HPV and Hepatitis B. While bacterial STIs are curable if caught early with a round of antibiotics for 7 to 10 days, viral STIs are incurable — only treatable with antibiotics or vaccinations. While there are many types, the most common symptoms are painful urination, lower abdominal pain, abnormal discharge and much more. But most people with STIs don’t present any symptoms and can still pass them on to others.

Having an STI also isn’t the end of the world. It’s comparable to an ear infection: People are supposed to get check-ups for their physical health at least once a year, the same is true for maintaining sexual health. They’re more common than people think. In the U.S., there were 1.59 million cases of chlamydia, according to the Center for Disease Control. Incidentally, chlamydia is the most common STI at the University of Wisconsin. So if you have an STI, or suspect you have one, don’t freak out!

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Get Tested!

As a sexually active individual, getting tested every few months is ideal. While some are curable, STIs left untreated can lead to detrimental health effects such as infertility or even increase your risk of contracting another STI. Though the safest practice to prevent STIs is abstinence, there are several ways to stay healthy and safe while sexually active. Barrier methods such as condoms and female condoms are a surefire way to prevent STIs as well as pregnancy. Be responsible for your own protection and don’t assume your partner will have protection on hand!

Communication is key to any sexual encounter. For STI prevention, talk to your partner about the last time they got tested. Be open with your sexual history and refrain from judgment if and when they tell you theirs. It is also your responsibility to tell your partner the last time you got tested. Without discussing these details before a sexual encounter, you are putting yourself at risk for an STI. Maintaining healthy communication throughout is a necessary component of safe sex. If you’re worried it’ll kill the mood, imagine the possibility of the symptoms mentioned above! Now that’s a mood killer for 7 to 10 days.

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Resources

Sex Out Loud has a bucket of condoms right outside their office! They also have large bins full of condoms at the Student Activity Fair each year, so stock up!

UHS has a Sexual Health Clinic that provides screening, diagnosis and treatment for most STIs.