You know the
feeling, if you're sexually active.
It starts as
a vague unease, then rises to a crescendo of fear and dread as
you encounter each new itch, blister, or drip.
Even news reports
have been known to inspire terror in some, as evidence mounts
about the terrible reach and toll of AIDS, and the HIV virus
that causes it. And HIV is something we all have to consider
these days as we choose our sexual lifestyles.
not the only factor, not by a long shot. A herd, brood, or gaggle
of other bugs, microbes, and viruses is out there, too, waiting
to hit us right where it hurts most: in the bedroom.
Call the swarm
of sexually-transmitted diseases VD, call them STD's, call 'em
whatever you like -- just call a doctor or a clinic if you
suspect you have one.
the Big Two of VD fame, syphilis and gonorrhea, are still in
business, a group of once-obscure love bugs are jumping into
the sexual spotlight.
More and more of us are discovering we have things in common
that we never wanted to have in common-everything from chancroid
and chlamydia to genital warts.
we've put together this pamphlet.
In it, we'll
be checking out some of the main sexual bugs making the rounds
today. We'll also review their symptoms and possible complications
and list the best prospects for treating them -- or beating them
before they get started.
the fear of AIDS is at the top of everybody's sex-fear agenda
these days, non-HIV STD's are as bad as they've ever been. And
in some cases, they're getting worse.
Just how bad have things gotten?
Bad enough-way bad enough. In fact, each year, more than 13 million
Americans quietly pass along sexual diseases.
And the numbers
are up sharply. By the mid-'90s, a once-rare bacterial infection
called chlamydia had become the most common STD in America.
In fact, reported
cases of chlamydia exploded during the preceding decade by 5800
percent (from 3.2 to 188.4 cases per 100,000 population).
not all. At last count, 28 different viruses, bacteria, fungi,
and parasites were being shared with awesome frequency.
And while some
STD's cause more embarrassment than serious illness, others can
be downright treacherous. Consider:
STD's are a
major cause of sterility. In women, chlamydia and gonorrhea account
for 20 percent of all cases of infertility. Simple treatment
can reduce the damage -- if given promptly. Too often, it's not.
Genital sores and ulcers -- caused by syphilis, herpes, and chancroid
-- are a contributing "co-factor" in the spread of
The list of STD's tied to cancer is long and growing. Examples?
Genital warts are linked with cervical cancer, and hepatitis
B -- often spread through sexual contact -- is a cause of liver
And if that's
not bad enough, STD's affect more than the afflicted. Infected
women pass them to their children, before birth or during delivery,
with consequences that can be disastrous: from blindness and
eye damage (chlamydia, herpes) to miscarriage and premature birth
be the most serious. It's linked to retardation, blindness, and
death in 60-70 percent of infected newborns. Doctors now promote
Caesarian delivery in actively infected mothers to avoid passing
herpes to children at birth.
STD's can be
bad, disastrous even. Still, there are ways to get around what's
lovers should look before they leap into a new intimate relationship.
Any obvious sore, growth, or discharge in a partner should instantly
Both men and
women can improve their odds of avoiding STD's by urinating within
a few minutes after intercourse. Urine washes away many germs.
So can soap and water. But douching is debatable. It may force
organisms up into the cervix, or mask STD symptoms.
practices can increase risk. Oral-anal contact transmits hepatitis
A and other intestinal infections.
contact or anal intercourse can also spread disease to other
parts of the body, including the throat and anal canal. One hint
here: A physician isn't likely to test those sites without a
tip from the patient.
Short of abandoning
sex altogether, the next best bet in beating STD's is to use
condoms religiously. (That means regularly -- not with
a TV evangelist.) Because the one time you do without protection
may be the only time you need their protection at all.
Adding a spermicidal
jelly (including nonoxynol-9) is now officially overkill, though,
after research proved that it doesn't kill HIV on contact, as
had been rumored.
If you choose
to use a condom, be sure you know how, why, and when. (See "Basic
Condom Sense," below.) Using a condom the wrong way can
be as bad as not using one at all.
If you're not
already one of the 20-million-plus Americans with genital herpes,
you'll know it if you become one.
the first attack of herpes usually causes a flu-like illness
with swollen glands in the groin.
Until a vaccine
or a real cure is developed, the best news about herpes is that
it tends to ease over time, with most sufferers reporting fewer
recurrences of symptoms during the second year.
As few as 14
percent may wind up with chronic herpes. For them, the drug acyclovir
can relieve symptoms and shorten the duration of each bout.
is one thing, and prevention is quite another.
But what increases
the need for prevention is the fact that the herpes virus, which
remains in the body permanently, can be spread without open sores
"silent" infections only reinforce the need for the
type of protection that condoms provide.
Even more common
than herpes today are genital warts, caused by the papilloma
virus. These little buggers can take the form of flat or cauliflower-like
growths that hide in the vaginal walls, cervix, or anus.
rare, genital warts have become one of the fastest-growing STD's
in the United States today.
The good news
about genital warts? Sometimes they go away.
The bad news?
More often, they spread and become uncomfortable and disfiguring.
include surgery, burning, freezing, or chemical removal. (Ouch!)
..Kiss & Tell
to chlamydia and back, it's important to remember with all STD's
that treatment is necessary for both (or all) partners.
infections can hit anybody. Don't assume that infected partners
will recognize their problem, sooner or later. It really is up
to you to pass the glum word, if you find out first.
on how to do it, try the American Social Health Association's
toll-free national STD hotline: 1-800-227-8922.
If herpes is
a problem, call ASHA's Herpes Resource Center at 1-919-361-2120.
If you're worried about AIDS, call the national AIDS Hotline
latest word in sexual etiquette is to pass up the chance for
staying monogamous, if you're already monogamous. It means being
careful and smart, if you're not.
use a condom every time you make love. Staying STD-free can be
as simple as that.
though the fear of sex -- and STD's -- is shaping up as the leading
indoor game of the early 21st Century, it's not the only game
In fact, it's
a game you don't even have to play at all.
..Sidebar | Splotch
is better than treatment, and caution is better than cure. Yadda-yadda-yadda.
But no matter
what anyone says, millions of people (Not you, of course, but
others) who either don't practice safe sex or don't do it well,
might be wondering how to recognize an STD if and when they get
is: Very carefully.
fall into one of two groups. The first (which includes herpes,
syphilis, chancroid, and genital warts) produces blisters, growths,
or sores on or near the sex organs.
is marked by a discharge or "drip" from the urethra
in men or from the cervix in women, often with urinary discomfort.
Gonorrhea is a classic example.
and drips alone do not a diagnosis make.
some STD's can overlap with others, making accurate ID difficult
-- and a trip to the doctor crucial, if you suspect an infection.
How tough does
it get? Tough enough. Chancroid, for example, is often misdiagnosed
as syphilis, while chlamydia can cause gonorrhea-like symptoms.
And other STD's produce no symptoms at all.
All of which
brings us to one key point: Since STD signs and symptoms can
be indistinct or just plain fail to appear, identification is
a job for a doctor or a lab.
Your job is
to get yourself to one or the other if you think you may be infected.
..Sidebar | Basic
The logic of
latex may seem slippery, but condom care is as easy as 1-2-3.
Just keep these points in mind:
- Roll the condom all
the way down before any sexual contact, not just ejaculation.
- Use water-based, non-greasy
lubricants. Oily lubes (like baby oil or Vaseline) can
make condoms stretch or break.
- Hold onto the condom at the
base of the penis during withdrawal to prevent spills and keep
the condom from slipping off.