I don’t know about all of you, but I grew up fearing sexually transmitted infections and diseases with every fiber of my pimply, adolescent being. Maybe it’s because I was an impressionable kid during the AIDS epidemic, and I watched many great artists I had admired from afar die from the virus way too young. (This was before the amazing medical advances we’ve made now.)
When I was in the third grade, I even convinced myself that I had AIDS from masturbating. I had this idea that anything sexual — even if it was something I did alone —would surely come with a terrible disease in tow.
Now, I’m older and I know better, but sometimes the fear of STDs is so pressing, I would rather just avoid the whole topic entirely.
But I’ve come to realize that’s a stupid way to live your life, especially when it comes to STDs, where knowledge is fucking power, honey. The truth will set you ~free~, babes (and keep you healthy).
The STDs I’ve avoided confronting the most are chlamydia and gonorrhea. Herpes has so many visible symptoms, it’s impossible not to think about, and HIV/AIDS had such a devastating impact on our culture, it’s been lingering in my brain forever.
I never really heard a ton about chlamydia or gonorrhea, though, so I didn’t seek out the knowledge often. In high school, it was like these were feared, elusive and quiet diseases.
Naturally, I heard about people getting it, but I was never really sure how I could get it or what the symptoms were. I assumed as long as I felt (and looked) OK, then I was totally fine.
It turns out, a lot of millennials have the same apathy toward chlamydia and gonorrhea I once had.
According to Elite Daily’s very own Sex Ed survey, the top three STDs millennial women are worried about getting are HIV/AIDS (50 percent), herpes (24 percent) and HPV (13 percent). The top three STDs millennial men are worried about getting are HIV/AIDS (55 percent), herpes (24 percent) and genital warts/syphilis (both 7 percent).
Chlamydia and gonorrhea were nowhere in sight.
So I decided it was time to break the chlamydia and gonorrhea silence and get some expert advice, and thank goodness I did, babes, because I learned a LOT.
I spoke with OB/GYN Dr. Katharine O’Connell White, MD, MPH, and asked her to tell me exactly what the ever-mysterious gonorrhea and chlamydia feel like.
Here is Dr. White’s sobering truth: 90 percent of STI cases are asymptomatic, meaning they have no physical symptoms whatsoever.
Dr. White explained both gonorrhea and chlamydia “don’t usually feel like anything.” “A lot of people think just because they feel fine, they are fine. And that simply isn’t true,” she says.
She also explains that STIs are notoriously “biologically against women.” This means women under 25 years old are in the majority of people who have both chlamydia and gonorrhea.
However, kittens, don’t think for a minute that just because both chlamydia and gonorrhea don’t have symptoms we should just ignore them and toss them aside like yesterday’s People Magazine.
If chlamydia and gonorrhea go untreated, they are likely to have extremely serious ramifications, which may be even more dire in women than in men.
According to Dr. White, some of the symptoms women can experience when they have chlamydia and gonorrhea are “yellow-green discharge, light bleeding between your periods and an occasional burning sensation while urinating.”
The trouble with most of these symptoms is that, even if you do have them, they can seem not-so-serious.
I mean, who the hell makes it to 25 without a yeast infection? Let’s be real: What girl survives a summer without at least two yeast infections in three months? And what girl creature hasn’t ever experienced the occasional, extra vaginal discharge?
I know I’ve had a slew of yeast infections, lots of bizarre bouts of discharge AND spotting between my periods in my 30 years of surviving planet earth. But I never once thought I had gonorrhea or chlamydia.
Instead, I just blindly chalked it up to unbalanced hormones and a humid climate. And the truth is, it probably is just that. Once again, these two STIs are usually devoid of visible symptoms.
Dr. White also says that, although these STIs are usually more asymptomatic in women than they are in men, women are more likely to develop more serious complications from untreated chlamydia and gonorrhea. In fact, if both infections go untreated, there’s a higher risk for “pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, chronic pelvic pain and cervical cancer.”
And don’t worry, boys, I didn’t neglect you. Dr. White told me if men do have physical symptoms of gonorrhea and chlamydia, they’re typically urine-related, like a burning sensation while peeing, frequent urination or a yellow-green discharge.
But like in women, the symptoms in men aren’t always visible. They don’t present themselves as lesions on the skin, so it’s impossible to know if your sex partner has either chlamydia and gonorrhea, if they don’t tell you.
Dr. White even suggests having “sex with the lights on” occasionally and that you should abstain from sex if you see lesions on the skin.
Lucky for all of us, Dr. White assures us chlamydia and gonorrhea can be cured! Chlamydia requires a dose of antibiotics, and gonorrhea can be gone with just a simple shot.
So how often should we head to the clinic for testing? Dr. White says we should be getting tested at least once a year or more, depending on how many sexual partners you have or how high-risk your sexual partner is (i.e. sleeping with a lot of people or having an ex that was an intravenous drug user).
In short, use a condom, kittens. Condoms are 98 percent effective at preventing STDs. So wrap it up, get tested, enjoy the bloom of your youth and stay healthy.
Dr. White concludes by dropping this pearl of wisdom: “There are so many things we can’t control in the universe, and this is not one of them.”
Dr. White is a member of the National Coalition for Sexual Health and has provided us with more information on all things related to sexual health. For a deeper glance, click here.
New Guide Helps Primary Care Providers Discuss STDs with Patients
This article features the NCSH's new guide, "Sexual Health and Your Patients: A Provider's Guide," and extensively quotes NCSH member Dr. Michael Horberg, Director of HIV/AIDS, Kaiser Permanente.
This Is How Often You Need To Get Tested For STDs, Based On Your Relationship Status
It's not always easy to know how often to get tested for STDs. NCSH member and spokesperson Dr. Edward Hook III outlines in this article how often people in different types of relationships should get tested.
This Is Exactly What Chlamydia And Gonorrhea Feel Like
NCSH member and spokesperson Dr. Katharine O'Connell White shares what chlamydia and gonorrhea feel like for most people, which is nothing because they are mostly asymptomatic infections.
Why We’re All So Afraid Of Herpes, Even Though It’s Actually Not The Worst STD
In this article, NCSH members Dr. Edward Hook and Jenelle Marie Davis aim to reassure that herpes can be effectively managed, and that you can still have relationships and sex.
10 Things To Know If You Want To Stop Using Condoms
Are you and your partner considering ditching condoms? Here's 10 things you should know, according to Amber Madison, who wrote this in-depth story on behalf of the coalition.
Mixed Status Couples: Ways To Have A Healthy Relationship When Your Partner Has HIV & You Don’t
NCSH's Adam McCord of Project Inform was interviewed for this article that shares practical and effective strategies to help mixed status couples have happy and healthy relationships.