STIs have a habit of suddenly popping into our lives, unexpected and many times unannounced.
For many guys, their first STI may leave them WTFing (yep, it’s an adverb now!) – but perhaps that doesn’t need to be their experience. Let’s go on a whirlwind tour of common STIs gay/bi guys might encounter on their travels so that the next time you get an STI, you can be less WTF and more A-OK.
Chlamydia or ‘the clam’ is one of the most common STIs you will encounter and is caused by the bacteria, chlamydia trachomatis. The bacteria are easily transmitted from sticky bit to sticky bit (cum, pre-cum, anal, vaginal and front hole fluids and the throat) through sucking, fucking, eating, licking, fingering and touching holes, and can also be passed on by sharing toys. You can get chlamydia in your arse, your urethra (penis or front hole) and your throat.
It’s often asymptomatic which means you may not have any symptoms if you have contracted it. If and/or once symptoms do become apparent it can be a few weeks since exposure.
Some symptoms can include discharge from the penis or arse, a ‘burning sensation’ when urinating, or pain and swelling in the infected area.
The good news is that chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics, usually oral medication, and if taken as prescribed can clear up in one to two weeks.
Famously known as ‘the clap’ (a theory for the name referring to how it was once treated: by clapping hard on the penis so that the discharge would come out – ouch!) gonorrhoea is another common bacterial STI.
Caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae, in many ways it is very similar to chlamydia such as incubation period (a couple weeks), the areas of the body it can affect, symptoms and the way it is treated.
It can also be asymptomatic, so although symptoms may not be present if you unknowingly have it you are still contagious.
You may have heard of antibiotic-resistant strains making news in recent times, sometimes referred to as “super gonorrhoea”. While the sound of a ‘super STI-bug’ may seem alarming, it’s really not a threat to be losing sleep over once you learn the facts.
Syphilis, also known as ‘the great imitator’ or ‘great pretender’ (as symptoms can look like a number of other infections), is less common compared to chlamydia and gonorrhoea yet it still affects gay and bisexual men in Australia at a higher rate than the general population.
Syphilis is transferred through skin-to-skin contact and symptoms generally appear in three stages: primary, secondary and latent.
In the primary stage, a sore will form at the site where the bacterium enters the body. It doesn’t always cause pain but can be discomforting and will usually clear up on its own after three to six weeks.
Moving into the secondary stage, symptoms including a rash often on the palms of hands and soles of feet, headache and swollen lymph glands can occur. Most will find the symptoms go away without treatment however if not treated can develop to latent stage whereby it can affect your heart, brain, nerves and bones.
When diagnosed early, treatment is usually in the form of an injection and/or a course of antibiotic tablets. However if the infection has progressed to the brain, more complex treatment is required.
Genital herpes (HSV-2)
Ah, genital herpes. Not to be confused with cold sores (HSV-1), genital herpes is a common viral STI that affects the areas of the groin. It is spread by intercourse where skin-to-skin contact is made and the most noticeable of symptoms are the sores or blisters that form.
Having genital herpes can present an increased risk of acquiring HIV. When a sore develops, your immune system responds naturally to heal it which generates a high concentration of immune cells in that area. These immune cells are what HIV infects, so if HIV from semen or blood comes in contact with the sore, the risk for infection is high.
While there is no cure for herpes, there are treatments that can reduce the severity of symptoms and speed up recovery. Symptoms may also reappear during times of stress or when the immune system is low, however can become less frequent over time. Sustaining a healthy diet and resting well can avoid outbreaks.
LGV, the acronym for the clinical name Lymphogranuloma venereum is a rare STI caused by the same bacterium that causes chlamydia, Chlamydia trachomatis. It can be transmitted through unprotected anal or oral sex and for many, can also be asymptomatic.
In the primary stage of the infection a small pimple, ulcer or nodule will form on your cock/front hole or arse, but then clear up in a few days. In fact, most people don’t notice this at all.
Following this, the infection spreads to your lymph glands which can cause you to experience a range of other symptoms such as inflammation in the arse, bleeding, pain, cramping or discharge.
Left untreated, it can cause lasting damage that may even require surgery, so if you do experience symptoms and are diagnosed with LGV you’d want to get treated with a course of antibiotics immediately.
Last but not least is shigella, the poo-powered, highly infectious bacterial bowel infection. Shigella is found in faecal matter of an infected person, and the bacteria can be passed when contaminated faeces enter someone else’s mouth.
This can often happen during sex when rimming, fingering, fisting, handling used condoms, handling used sex toys and getting shit on your fingers and then touching your mouth.
Common symptoms for shigella can show up anywhere inside of one to four days from exposure and can include vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, fever and nausea. You can get tested for shigella by taking a stool sample and while in most cases it will clear without the need for antibiotic treatment, it’s recommended that you drink lots of fluids and rest.
Reduce your risk of contracting shigella and being the butt of all jokes by using a dam for rimming, wearing gloves during ass play, and washing your hands after handling condoms, sex toys and after sex.
Be a good sport
When it comes to preventing the spread of STIs, the answer is an obvious one: using condoms diligently as well as adopting a frequent testing pattern.
If an STI does make an unwelcome cameo, it’s also a good idea to let your previous sex partners know, which you can do discreetly and anonymously with our handy ‘let them know‘ tool. Take the course of treatment and take a break before getting back in the game.