Your Handy Guide To STIs

Everything you wanted to know about preventing STIs and how to know if you have one.

Everything you wanted to know about preventing STIs and how to know if you have one.

Since the most mainstream understanding of sex is defined by cis-heteronormative norms, penis-in-vagina is widely equated with the entirety of sexual intercourse. By extension, there is also a widespread misconception that penetrative sex is the only way that an STI can be transmitted.

One of the earliest such claims that I came across as an adolescent was by Sharon Stone, who, besides her mesmerizing on-screen persona, is also a well-known HIV awareness advocate in the limelight.

Thanks to a lack of sex-ed in our education system, I was well into my 20s before I could even consider that various non-penetrative ways of showing affection or desire could also fall under the umbrella of sexual intercourse.

“Oral sex can also spread STIs like herpes. STIs can spread if you have engaged in oral, vaginal,  or anal sex, or genital touching,” says Dr. Pragati, who practices at Proactive for Her.

Sharing sex toys (or any massagers/thingamajigs that you may use to stimulate erogenous zones, that have been used directly on the skin) carry the risk of transmitting STIs as well. They must be properly sterilized and can also be used with barrier protections.

The 3 common types of barrier protection are provided by:

– external condoms (often used to cover the shaft of the penis)

– internal condoms (often inserted into the vagina a.k.a. front hole)

– dental dams (sheets used as a barrier between the mouth and the front or back holes a.k.a. butt-hole)

Setting a boundary with a sexual partner to limit transmission of STIs can sound like:

“Hey, I’m really enjoying this and want to keep going. But before we go any further, could we make sure that we grab a condom/dental dam. I want to make sure that we explore each other’s bodies mindfully and safely.”

“Babe, I find myself wanting to make out with you, but before we go there, how do you feel about getting tested for STDs together? That way we could also get a couple’s discount on the STI test at Proactive for Her!”

[TW: sexual abuse, sexual trauma, violation of consent]

“My previous partner and I would often engage in unprotected sex with me. They would often take advantage about my lack of knowledge about STIs and sex in general. I’m concerned that I may have contracted an STI from them and do not want to expose you to it without seeking treatment and medical advice on how we can ensure each other’s safety. I’m going to get tested this weekend. It’s a simple test and they’ll send someone home to collect our blood samples. Will you give me moral support and get tested along with me?”

Preventing sexually-transmitted infections is closely linked to harm reduction methods.

Harm reduction is a public health strategy used  to reduce the negative physical and emotional consequences of substance use.

“Sharing needles or any other kinds of injection equipment can put you at the risk of STI,” cautions Dr. Pragati.

Besides certain narcotic drugs (which are widely banned for recreational use), other usage of injection equipment include:

– Getting vaccinated

– Getting permanent tattoos

Ensure that new and disposable injections are used for every sitting, in these circumstances.

The most common symptom of STIs is no external symptom at all!

Having said that, they sometimes manifest as:

  • Foul-smelling or bloody discharge
  • Excessive itchiness in the groin region that doesn’t go away with a shower or change of underwear
  • Lower belly pain
  • Pain during penetrative sex
  • Pain or burning sensation while passing urine
  • Spotting or bleeding that is not coinciding with/unlike menstrual cycle
  • Testicular or scrotal pain
  • Swollen or painful lymph nodes in the groin area
  • Sudden warts on or around the genitals


1 It is an act of sexual abuse if you do not share any STIs you may have, or suspect, or whose symptoms you may be experiencing, to a potential sexual partner.

2. It is valid to set boundaries around sex due to concerns about transmission of STIs. These boundaries can be with respect to using protective equipment, contraceptives, certain acts of intercourse/positions, and asking to be tested. If somebody violates or tries to persuade you to forego these boundaries, it is a violation of your consent to the interaction. Tricking someone into having sex is not ok.

3. Most STIs can be cured.

The right medication/medical treatment can clear up many common STIs, including:

  • Chlamydia in 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Gonorrhea in 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Syphillis, which can be treated with an anti-biotic course lasting anywhere between 14 to 28 days, depending on how long it has been left untreated in your system. 1-3 penicillin shots, can also help treat it, and must be accessed under medical supervision.

You can seek help with testing, diagnosis, and treatment at Proactive For Her >>>

Proactive For Her is a digital platform for women’s health, offering accessible, personalized and confidential healthcare solutions.

Proactive for Her helps people of all genders with STI Testing, so you can take charge of your sexual health!

The platform offers a free consultation with a Sexual Health specialist or Gynaecologist, before you book the STI test. Get your sample collected at home or visit a collection centre. The results are shared in easy-to-understand reports with actionable information.

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Tejaswi is journalist and researcher whose attention is captured by post-colonial human relationships at a time of the Internet of Things. She can't wait to become a full-time potter soon, though!

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