Sexually Transmitted Infections: What Are the Risks?

STIs (STDs) aren’t just for kids

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs, which we used to know as STDs) aren’t just for teenagers and 20-somethings. While STI rates in the 40+ population aren’t as high as in those aged 15-24, women over 40 are by no means protected by our age.


You might not know you have an STI –
Your partner might not know they have an STI

You might think you wouldn’t have sex with someone who has an STI (someone “like that”). Really though, there’s no special moral or class designation to protect people from STIs. Anyone – including professionals like lawyers, managers and accountants- can get an STI, and you can’t tell by looking at someone whether they have one. Some STIs can be asymptomatic (lacking obvious symptoms). Don’t be the one who ends up infected because you thought your sex partner would be okay because they’re a teacher /financial planner/ computer analyst….

STIs can be viral, bacterial, or parasitic. Some STIs don’t produce obvious symptoms, or may not produce symptoms until years later, like HPV or HIV. A common STI is chlamydia, which may go undetected. Another potentially asymptomatic and very common STI is herpes. It’s also an infection you’ll live with for life, and if you’re having an outbreak, it can be easier to get other STIs as well. Undiagnosed infections can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), so all this to say that even if you haven’t been sexually active for some time, getting tested for STIs should be part of your health care plan when you launch back into the dating scene. (That annual Pap smear tests for the effects of HPV infection, which can take years to develop after infection.) Talk to your sex partner about safer sex and getting tested. Starting with the knowledge about where you both are at can prevent unhappiness later on.


Get tested and advocate for the tests you need

Talk with your doctor honestly about whether or not you’ve had safer sex and what other risks for transmission might exist – a history of STIs, or partners with unknown sexual histories. STIs without obvious symptoms are still readily transmitted from person to person.

Comprehensive STI testing includes HIV testing, but women who ask for STI testing might not always be tested for HIV because their doctors presume they haven’t been exposed. Don’t let your doctor’s presumptions rule. More than one woman has had to advocate for testing against her doctor’s presumptions. STIs can be curable (treatable) or incurable (yet treatable), so if you have one, it’s good to know and get treatment.


I have an STI- how do I tell my partner?

If you have an STI, you owe it to your partner to tell them. If it’s a lifelong virus like herpes or HIV, being honest is even more important. In the case of HIV, you can be criminally charged if you don’t disclose your status to sex partners.


Safer sex can reduce the risk of STIs

Safer sex decreases the risk of STI transmission, but can’t rule it out completely unless you’re not touching each other at all. Use condoms for vaginal and anal penetration, If you’re doing both, always use a fresh condom if you go from anal to vaginal to avoid bacterial infection. This also applies to sex toys: new partner, new condom and anal to vaginal penetration, use a new condom. For oral sex, use condoms and dental dams which cover the anus or vagina. Our safer sex page  offers more detail on transmission and prevention. The BC Centre for Disease Control can give you info on specifc STIs as well as testing and treatment.


More information: Sexual health science, culture and news for women edging to middle age, parents and educators. Info on sexually transmitted infections, relationship dynamics, aging and sexual health, and sex education.

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