STI Mythbusting

Despite all the coverage, there are still many common misconceptions.

(Image: Deificis Art)

I have taught SRE (Sex and Relationships Education) for the past few years and have heard some wild misconceptions when it comes to contracting STIs.

Netflix’s Sex Education, The Guilty Feminist podcast, The Sex Clinic programme on Channel 4, and the ‘Unexpected Fluids’ podcast have all helped open a dialogue on STIs. But despite all this coverage, there are still many common misconceptions. 

Myth no.1: STI tests hurt. 

The test consists of a swab around the genitals, a urine sample, and a blood test. The blood test only feels like a small scratch. The results are usually sent to you electronically within two weeks and if any further treatment is required, the prescription can be sent to your local pharmacy. 

Myth no.2: It’s embarrassing and the staff are judgemental. 

The staff testing you have been trained to give you the best possible treatment and to tailor the appointment to your individual needs; they are there to help and not judge. A typical appointment lasts for 20 minutes, so it’s all over very quickly. The nurse/ sexual health practitioner will ask a variety of questions to help give you the best possible treatment. They may offer alternatives to the contraceptive you had in mind, or may advise starting PreP. You may even get some free lube or condoms. 

Myth no.3: Only straight people get STI’s, except for HIV which only gay men get. 

STIs are non-discriminatory when it comes to age, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Although some types of unprotected sex can increase your risk, anyone can get an STI. HIV, like many other STIs, is often stigmatised and misconceptions have arisen as a result. Be safe, use protection, and book a test every time you change sexual partners. 

Myth no.4: You can contract an STI from surfaces, e.g. by sitting on a toilet seat. 

STIs can not live for long outside the human body, so even if the bacteria/virus got onto the surface, it is practically impossible for you to contract the STI. STIs cannot be transmitted by casual contact like kissing, sharing towels, or toilet seats. 

Myth no.5: You can’t contract STIs from sex toys 

STIs can be transmitted by sharing sex toys, so it is vital sex toys are thoroughly cleaned after every use. If multiple people are using the same toy, a different condom must be used each time. If a sex toy is damaged or there are breaks in the surfaces, it is no longer safe to use. 

For free advice, contraception, and tests, head to YorSexualHealth’s website or York MESMAC’s website. YUSU’s page on sexual health details the weekly on campus sexual health services. STI tests are continuing throughout COVID-19, along with free emergency contraception. However, walk-in appointments are limited so make sure to book in advance by phone or online.