Breaking the Stigma: Sexually Transmitted and Blood-Borne Infections (STBBIs)
Reported cases of sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBIs) in Canada are on the rise. The majority of cases affect young adults aged 15-29. However, in 2018, over 60% of Canadians reported that they had never been screened for STBBIs.
It’s the beginning of the semester and you’re excited to get into the swing of McMaster student life. But, you’re noticing some unexpected changes to your genitals- like abnormal discharge and pain when urinating. You’re feeling a bit confused and a little worried. After waiting a couple days to see if anything changes, you decide to google your symptoms. While searching, you find a webpage that talks about your symptoms in relation to something called STBBIs. What are those?! Unsure of who to talk to, you start feeling stressed and embarrassed. You haven’t heard any of your friends talk about genital concerns, and you’re worried your friends and family may not understand or empathize. You’re feeling lost, alone, and like you’re the only person who has experienced these symptoms and stress.
Does this sound familiar? Before reading any further, please know that you are not alone and that sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections are more common than you think.
Continue reading to find out some key information about sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections and how you can help prevent the spread!
What are Sexually Transmitted and Blood-Borne Infections?
Sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBI) are infections that are passed through blood and other bodily fluids. Most often, these infections are passed from an infected person to another during unprotected sexual activities most commonly through oral, vaginal and anal sex (except herpes which can also be transmitted through kissing). There are many different types of STBBIs, all caused by bacteria, parasites, or viruses. Bacterial STBBIs (such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis) can be cured by taking antibiotics, while viral STBBIs (such as HIV, HPV, herpes and genital warts) do not have a cure but can be treated.
Symptoms and Long-Term Effects
Examples of common symptoms of STBBIs include:
- Pain when urinating
- Abnormal discharge
- Bumps, sores, or blisters
- Abdominal pain
However, sometimes you may have an STBBI and not know. This is because some STBBIs may not always show symptoms. This is why it is important to schedule testing after having sex with a new partner- especially if having sex without using barrier protection (i.e. external or internal condoms). If you happen to be asymptomatic and are unaware of your STBBI status, not only will you be able to spread it to someone else, you may experience long-term side effects from the infection. Some long-term effects of not getting tested (and being asymptomatic for STBBIs) include health problems such as pelvic pain, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and a weakened immune system. This is why taking precautions and getting tested is so important.
Risk Factors & Prevention
Some risk factors for STBBIs include:
- Concurrent multiple partners
- Anonymous or casual sex partners
- Sex without the use of barrier protection
- Sex with person(s) with an STBBIs
- Previously diagnosis with STBBIs
- Sharing needles, or engaging in sexual activity while under the influence
Some of the ways in which you can prevent the spread of STBBIs include:
- Getting vaccinated (available for certain STBBIs such as HPV)
- Using barrier protection (e.g. condoms) when engaging in sexual activity
- Monogamy with a partner who was tested and does not have any STBBIs
- Getting tested before engaging in sexual acts with a new partner
- Staying abstinent from sexual activities while treating a confirmed STBBI
- Having open and honest communication with a new partner regarding STBBI status
Prevalence and Barriers to Screening/Testing
STBBIs are more common than you think. From 2009-2018, chlamydia, gonorrhea and infectious syphilis increased in prevalence 40%, 190%, and 259% respectively. Therefore, although you may feel nervous about an STBBI diagnosis, it’s important to remind yourself that they are common. Additionally, it is important to remember that screening and testing for STBBIs is an important part of taking care of your own health, and preventing the spread of infection to others.
Unfortunately, some people may experience barriers to screening and testing, such as underestimated personal or health risk, lack of awareness or knowledge, fear, shame, internalized stigma, and lack of access to healthcare. If you are feeling unsure about getting tested, reach out! Talk to your healthcare provider, or call the Student Wellness Centre to ask questions.
Accessing Screening, Testing and Care at McMaster
Stigma and shame surrounding STBBIs are personal and complex issues. If you are feeling negative emotions around a potential or confirmed STBBI diagnosis, consider reaching out to a counsellor or healthcare professional at the Student Wellness Centre.
To set up an appointment to speak with a counsellor or other healthcare provider, or to set up an STBBI test, call 905-525-9140 ext. 27700.
Have more sexual health questions?
Consider sending in your questions to https://forms.office.com/r/MemeRikE2i, to be answered on Instagram in our #SexTalkTuesday stories and posts.
(* All question submissions will remain anonymous *)