Sexual health is the term used to describe a whole range of sexually transmitted infections. It can also cover the emotional wellbeing of your sexual relationships, especially if you feel you need help because of a tendency to indulge in risky sexual activity which might mean you end up with a serious sexually transmitted infection (STI).
HIV/AIDS is the one sexually transmitted infection which most people used to think of as almost certainly leading to a premature death.
This is not the case any more, as antiretroviral drugs mean HIV/AIDS patients can continue to lead long and healthy lives if they take their antiretroviral drugs regularly and take care of their health generally.
Unfortunately the success of treating HIV/AIDS may have had an impact on how careful people are when sleeping with strangers – and rates of HIV in recent years have been found to be increasing again in the UK and among Brits holidaying abroad.
The sorts of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) you can return home with include:
- Chlamydia – An STI carried by men and transmitted to women which has no symptoms in the early stages but causes block fallopian tubes and stomach pain as the infection progresses – if left untreated, Chlamydia causes infertility in women. A home test kit for Chlamydia is available from chemists for all women over the age of 16.
- Gonorrhoea – A common STI causing a discharge (green, white or yellow) and pain. Men may have a burning sensation when passing urine, but both men and women can have the infection with no symptoms appearing for a while. The gonorrhoea infection has more than one strain and some are becoming antibiotic resistant. Anal gonorrhoea can occur in people who have anal sex, with discharge, itching and anal pain the symptoms.
- Herpes – A common STI which is related to other herpes infections like cold sores and which causes intermittent genital sores – usually when the individual is run down or in poor health. The sores are highly infectious and herpes can be passed on if sexual intercourse takes place while they are present. There is no cure for herpes.
- HIV/AIDS – An STI which attacks the immune system – symptoms include skin lesions, losing weight and generally feeling unwell, plus a tendency to contract infections and illnesses such as flu or pneumonia as the virus takes hold and begins to destroy the body’s immune system. HIV/AIDS needs lifelong treatment with antiretroviral drugs, as there is no cure. HIV/AIDS can be passed on to children born to infected mothers if precautions at birth are not taken. Once you have HIV/AIDS, a condom must be used and any sexual partners must be advised before intercourse.
- NSU (nonspecific urethritis) – An STI causing inflammation of the urinary tract, a discharge and intense pain on passing water in both men and women, which requires antibiotics to clear it up. This is one of the most common STIs among men – not everyone gets symptoms immediately but it is important to seek medical help if you experience soreness, itching or pain when passing urine.
- Syphilis – A serious STI which can be treated with antibiotics if medical help is sought quickly – first signs are fever, a rash and then skin sores. There are three stages to infection and if left untreated the symptoms of syphilis can be fatal.
- Thrush (Vaginal Candidiasis) – A common STI caused by a yeast imbalance in the vagina. Symptoms include itching, internal soreness and an unpleasant smelling, creamy discharge from the vagina. Thrush can also occur after using bubble bath or some soap powders and sometimes men can get it, too.
- Venereal warts (aka genital warts) – A common STI which can infect men and women and is the main cause of cervical cancer in women. The warts appear on the penis in men and inside the vagina and on the exterior of the vagina (eg the labia) in women. There is no cure for genital warts as they are caused by a viral infection and they may appear and re-appear, so using a condom is essential after initial infection. Women diagnosed with the wart virus infection may need more frequent sexual health check-ups and cervical smears for early diagnosis of cervical cancer. Genital warts can also be passed to mouth tissue through oral sex and are a leading cause of mouth, throat and tongue cancer.
Here are some of the best ways of protecting yourself against STIs on holiday:
- Use a condom
- Use a condom for both anal sex and oral sex
- Use a different condom for each partner – even if you are sleeping with more than one partner at the same time
- Don’t have sex when drunk – some females wake up in holiday resorts and find they have been raped or cannot remember what happened, so get your mates to watch out for you
- Don’t take part in sex games in bars – the only person benefiting is the bar owner making money out of you and they won’t end up with oral warts, but you might
- Wash thoroughly between sexual partners, as well as using a condom – use the bidet in the bathroom, as that’s what it’s there for.
- Don’t sleep with people you don’t know, or feel you have to because your friends do it – you are letting strangers into the most intimate parts of your body, and even common STIs like herpes are for life, not just for Magaluf
- Re-assess your holiday behaviour – peer pressure can make you behave in ways you would not normally, so ask yourself why you take risks with your sexual health on holiday and be honest about the reasons.
Suffering a holiday illness on holiday can result in you needing to seek medical attention which may cost.