If you’re sexually active, you can get a sexually transmissible infection (STI) – even if you practice safe sex most of the time. It’s estimated that around one in every six people will get an STI in their lifetime.
There are many different STIs – including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, Mycoplasma genitalium, genital herpes, scabies, pubic lice (crabs), shigellosis, some types of hepatitis and HIV – and not all of them have obvious symptoms, so there is a chance that you or your partner could have an STI without knowing it.
The good news is, most STI are curable and all are treatable. But if left untreated, STI can have long-term effects on your body.
STI Testing Week is a timely reminder for anyone who is sexually active to take action and look after their sexual health.
This year more than ever, as we emerge from our various stages of pandemic lockdown, is a great opportunity to get tested and treated before getting back out on the social circuit. We can break the chain of STI transmission by talking with our doctor, testing and treating, and restarting looking after our sexual health and wellbeing.
The last decade has seen record increases in STI such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis, here in Victoria and across Australia. Over the past four years, we have also seen the re-emergence of congenital syphilis, including three foetal deaths.
STI don’t discriminate by age, location, gender, sexuality or lifestyle. Anyone who is having sex can get an STI. Many STI have no symptoms, so there is a chance that you or your partner could be infected without knowing it.
It's important to let your sexual partner or partners know if you have an STI so that they too can be treated. By doing this we can reduce the spread of STI and ensure that we all stay healthy.
Talking about sex and about your sexual health is important – talk to your friends, your partner, your doctor or anyone you feel comfortable talking to. By talking about sex, sexual health and STI, it can help you know what steps you can take to have a healthy sex life.
If you’re sexually active, you need to get an STI test at least once every 12 months.
If you are planning or you're having a baby, it is also important that you and your partner have an STI test to prevent any infections being passed onto your baby.
If you think you have been exposed to an STI, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or sexual health service about having a check-up, even if you do not have any signs or symptoms of an STI. Don’t try to diagnose your symptoms yourself, and remember that not all genital signs and symptoms are caused by an STI.
If you notice symptoms after having sex without a condom or dental dam; if the condom broke or slipped off during sex; or when you start a new relationship – get tested.
Some people have different testing needs so it’s important to talk to your doctor about how regularly you should be getting tested. If you are a gay man or a man who has sex with other men, it is important to get regular check-ups for STIs, including HIV and syphilis, at least once every year. Have more frequent (three-monthly) check-ups if you have an increased number of sexual partners (for example, more than 10 partners in three months).
In most cases, a simple blood or urine sample is all that's needed.
Okay, so where do I get tested?
STI testing is available from GPs, family planning clinics, community health centres, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and sexual health clinics.
Need to find your nearest health service? Click on the various types of services above, visit StaySTIfree or 1800MyOptions to find a service near you or use the 'find a health service' search on this page.
For people aged 25 and under living in a regional or rural location in Victoria, TESTme is a free service for ordering home test kits for chlamydia and gonorrhoea. It's also available to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Had a test and found you’ve got an STI? No drama. All STI are easily treatable once they’re diagnosed and most are curable.
Your doctor will be able to talk you through what treatment you’ll need which might include antibiotics (particularly for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, Mycoplasma genitalium and syphilis) or medicated shampoos (for pubic lice and scabies).
For viruses such as genital herpes, HIV, hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV), treatments will control the virus, help prevent symptoms, and prevent them from being transmitted.
The best way to avoid needing treatment is to take proactive steps to avoid getting STI. That means condoms. Condoms are the easiest, and most effective way, to protect yourself from STI.
How to reduce your risk of STI
You can prevent most STI by using barrier protection such as condoms. Condoms help protect you and your partner from STI.
Condoms are recommended every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex. However, condoms do not protect against all STI – that’s why it is important to have regular STI tests.
Condoms are available from supermarkets, pharmacies/chemists, sexual health clinics and family planning clinics.