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STI Awareness Week Reminds Us to Prioritize Sexual Health

Last updated: April 9, 2024

For many people, the idea of discussing sexual health might feel uncomfortable. However, it’s important to remember that anyone who is sexually active can get a sexually transmitted infection (STI). We can all take steps minimize exposure to STIs and care for our sexual health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, STI Awareness Week, observed the second full week in April, provides an opportunity to raise awareness about STIs and how they impact our lives. It aims to reduce STI-related stigma, fear, and discrimination, and ensure people have the tools and knowledge for prevention, testing, and treatment.

The CDC estimates that about 20% of the U.S. population had an STI on any given day in 2018. STIs acquired that year cost the American health care system nearly $16 billion in health care costs alone.

A syphilis epidemic is of particular concern. According to the CDC, syphilis cases increased by nearly 80% to more than 207,000 between 2018 and 2022. The CDC also has found that STI rates are increasing in adults ages 55 and older.

‘Talk. Test. Treat.’

The CDC created the ‘Talk. Test. Treat.’ framework to highlight the steps people should take to protect their sexual health.

  • Talk: Talk openly and honestly to your partners and your health care provider about sexual health and STIs. Discuss STIs with partners before having sex. Speak with health care providers about your sex life as it relates to your health.
  • Test: Get tested. It’s the only way to know for sure if you have an STI. Many STIs don’t cause any symptoms, so you could have one and not know. If you’re having sex, getting tested is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health.
  • Treat: If you test positive for an STI, work with your health care provider to get the correct treatment. Some STIs can be cured with the right medicine, and all STIs are treatable.

Common STIs

Here’s a look at some common STIs and who should get tested.

Syphilis

Syphilis is a bacterial STI that can cause a skin rash, sores, headaches, fatigue, and fever in early stages — and then go symptom-free for months or years.

  • Possible effects: It can cause dementia, paralysis, and death. In pregnant women, it can increase the risk for stillbirth or the baby’s early death after birth.
  • Who should get tested:
  • Those who have symptoms or a sexual partner who has been diagnosed with syphilis
  • Pregnant women
  • Men who have sex with other men, have HIV and are sexually active, or are taking PrEP for HIV prevention
  • Talk with your health care provider if you have concerns about your risk

Chlamydia

This bacterial infection causes no symptoms in up to 95% of women and 90% of men.

  • Possible effects: In women, it can lead to painful, fertility-threatening pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). In pregnant women, it can cause early delivery and pneumonia in babies. Men can have painful inflammation of the urethra and testicles. 
  • Who should get tested:
    • All sexually active women younger than age 25
    • Women ages 25 and older with new or multiple sexual partners (or with a partner who has an STI)
    • Certain pregnant women
    • Men who are sexually active should discuss testing with their provider 

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is caused by a bacterium that infects the lining of the reproductive tract. Many cases are asymptomatic, making this very common disease difficult to identify. 

  • Possible effects: Gonorrhea can cause PID in women. A pregnant woman can pass the disease to her baby during delivery, which could cause blindness or a life-threatening blood infection. Rarely, gonorrhea can cause male infertility.
  • Who should get tested:
    • Sexually active women younger than age 25
    • Women ages 25 and older with new or multiple partners (or with a partner who has an STI)
    • Men who are sexually active should discuss testing with their provider

Discuss sexual health concerns and testing needs with your primary care provider.

Tags: chlamydia gonorrhea sexual health STI syphilis

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