When some brave person decides to take their life in their hands, and go to their GP for a sexual health check, these are the things I think about and will consider testing. Obviously this needs to be tailored to your circumstances, and it’s more complicated than an anecdote about a guy with an unfortunate name. But see your doctor – if they’re anything like me they can talk STI’s all day.
Chlamydia. Highly successful real estate portfolio. It’s sneaky, it’s everywhere, and it’s seriously colonising the country. Most women who get it don’t feel a thing and neither do half of men. Can live in bums and throats, as well as vaginas and penises. Occasionally detected in swabs of people’s eyes. No, I don’t know either. Pretty cooperative once apprehended – easy to treat. Save yourself a lifetime of pelvic pain and infertility with two tablets! Tell your friends. And don’t have sex for seven days after the treatment, or else it just Tarzans from person to person, always one step ahead of us (see cat). Eventually it could come back round to you, so really, the testicle/uterus you save could be your own. Don’t freak out, it’s just a pee in a pot test. Come on in!
Gonorrhoea. Party animal. Likes to make a mess, i.e. pus. It can even spread to your brain – seriously, brain clap. (Ok, that’s pretty rare.) Often goes around holding hands with chlamydia, and they can co-habitate – vagina, penis, bum and throat. Because we’re handing out antibiotics like lolly-water, which is the equivalent of sending bacteria to ninja school, this bug has been getting a work out. This means it can fight back a little when you spray it with antibiotics, so make sure you get a follow up test to make sure we got it.
Human papilloma virus. A large, dysfunctional family who exhibit varying degrees of toxic behaviour. Almost all of us will meet at least one or two of them in our sexual journey and often our immune system deals with it without bothering to send us a memo. But not always. Sometimes a HPV builds little houses for itself, also called genital warts. Sometimes it does nasty things like cause cancer of the penis, anus, throat, and of the cervix, which is particularly sensitive to its nefarious effects. It burrows into the cervix and makes lots of cells angry, and when it does this we can pick that up on a pap smear, and then we can keep our stern eye on it. This is a good thing because while most of the time the cervix consumes the virus like the fires of Mt Doom, sometimes it slips through, and that’s when you’re into cervical cancer territory.
What am I saying? Didn’t some genius come up with a vaccine that will reduce both unsightly warts on the privates and the chance of needlessly dying from cancer? Party on! But you still need to get your checks because some of the 150 HPV family members aren’t covered in the vaccine (talk to the scienc-y people).
Syphilis. Just in 18th century London sailors’ dens or saloons of the American frontier, right? Nay. In fact it’s making a come-back, much like the bum-bag. They call it the great imitator, because famously in medicine, if you don’t know what someone’s weird problem is, it could be syphilis. As in, “Oh, you have a sore ear. Could be syphilis.” Shot down with penicillin like a hair on fire, but you need the right formulation.
Starts off with a funny little spot on the privates, called a chancre. Pronounced shankar, which, curiously, was the name of a lovely guy with whom I went to uni. He was great. Every time a lecturer said something like, “Here we see an example of a syphilitic chancre on the penile shaft,” everyone turned in their seats to stare at him gleefully. He’d bow, smiling graciously, and the lecturer would pause in uneasy confusion until some helpful person yelled out, “His name is Shankar!” And then we all got to behave like fifteen year olds for a moment. Good times.
HIV. We all get the gist on this one, right? Virus. Mean. Thanks to the virus wranglers it’s slowly being tamed – i.e. drugs can suppress it with variable degrees of success. Hetero cases are increasing. If you’re a dude having sex with other dudes, you probably know about PrEP, but if you don’t, ask someone who would, such as myself.
Hepatitis B. Makes your liver angry and can give you liver cancer. You don’t want it. You probably got vaccinated against it as a kid, but your antibodies can forget about it. Sober them up with a booster and you’ll be able to (slightly more) confidently save the life of a person having seizures in a burger house.
But wait, I hear you cry. What about herpes? Stay tuned.