As tools to reduce risk for STI transmission, dental dams are not to be ignored.
Many consider oral sex to be a safer form of sexual activity compared to vaginal or anal intercourse. For this reason, they might put less emphasis on the use of latex barriers, such as dental dams and condoms, during oral sex. Unfortunately, this idea is misguided and can lead to the transmission of preventable infections.
It is generally true that oral sex presents less of a risk for contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – but this risk is not trivial, especially when people are under the impression that they don’t need to use barrier methods during oral sex. Most sexually transmitted infections can be passed along by oral sex, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis B, herpes (which can be transmitted back and forth from the mouth, as cold sores, to the genital region, as genital herpes), human papillomavirus (HPV), and HIV. Even pubic lice can be transferred from the genital region to eyelashes and eyebrows! Additionally, intestinal parasites are more likely to be transmitted via oral sex than through vaginal sex. A microscopic amount of fecal matter containing parasites can be infectious, and can be unknowingly ingested when present on genitals.
Seventy percent of adolescents who reported engaging in oral sex had never used a barrier to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections during oral sex.
Some bacterial STIs, such as gonorrhea and syphilis, can do permanent damage if not treated in time. Furthermore, gonorrhea of the throat is much more difficult to treat than gonorrhea in the genital or rectal areas. And some viral STIs can’t be cured (such as herpes and HIV), while others can cause chronic infections that have been linked to cancer (such as hepatitis, which is associated with liver cancer, and HPV, which is associated with throat cancer as well as cervical cancer and anal cancer). Continue reading
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Tagged abstinence, abstinence only, AIDS, barrier methods, barriers, cancer, chlamydia, condom, condoms, dental dam, dental dams, gonnorhea, hepatitis, herpes, HIV, HIV/AIDS, HPV, human papillomavirus, intestinal parasites, latex, latex barriers, liver cancer, oral sex, parasites, pubic lice, safe sex, safer sex, sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted disease, sexually transmitted diseases, sexually transmitted infection, sexually transmitted infections, STD, STDs, STI, STIs, syphilis, teenagers, throat cancer, vaginal intercourse, virginity, virginity pledge, virginity pledges
This colorized scanning electron micrograph shows Giardia lamblia reproducing asexually. Image: Stan Erlandsen, CDC’s Public Health Image Library.
Most sexually transmitted infections are caused by bacteria or viruses, but some are caused by organisms that are classified as completely different lifeforms. Trichomoniasis, for example, is caused by a protozoan organism; protozoa occupy their own kingdom, separate from plants, animals, and bacteria. Intestinal parasites are often protozoan organisms, but can also include parasitic worms (which are members of the animal kingdom). They are spread through contact with fecal matter – and as such, they can be transmitted sexually as well as nonsexually. Intestinal parasites are usually transmitted by fecal contamination of food or water, and are most common in areas with insufficient sewage treatment and untreated water in the wilderness. Some pathogens, however, have low infectious doses, making their sexual transmission more likely.
What has eight flagella and can live in your intestines?
Oral contact with the anus, also called anilingus or rimming, is the primary means of the sexual transmission of these pathogens. Putting fingers or hands in your mouth after they have had contact with the anus is also risky. Other modes of transmission include oral sex, as genitals can be contaminated with feces, as well as sharing sex toys and other equipment. For these reasons, it is very important to use dental dams or latex gloves during contact with the anus; to clean the anus before engaging in rimming; to clean or use condoms on shared sex toys; and to use condoms or dental dams during oral sex. Continue reading
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Most sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are caused by microorganisms – lifeforms that are too small to be seen without a microscope. Many STIs, however, are caused by viruses, which technically aren’t even alive. Rather, viruses are pieces of genetic information that are stored in protein capsules. When these capsules come into contact with a host cell, the genetic information is able to enter the cell and hijack its machinery so that the host cell manufactures copies of the virus, as well as potentially harmful viral proteins. Many well-known STIs, such as herpes and HIV/AIDS, are caused by viruses, but this month we will focus on two lesser-known viral STIs, cytomegalovirus and molluscum contagiosum. Your local Planned Parenthood health center, as well as other clinics, health departments, and private health-care providers, can help you get a diagnosis and treatment for these STIs.
Cytomegalovirus leaves granules inside its host cells called inclusion bodies, pictured here. Image: Public Health Image Library, CDC
The bad news is that most people are infected with cytomegalovirus (CMV) at some point in their lives. About 80 percent of the U.S. population is estimated to be carriers, about 4 in 10 Americans are infected with CMV before puberty (usually through contact with saliva), and adults can be reinfected through sexual activity. The good news is that among healthy adults, a CMV infection usually does not have any symptoms, though if they do they could seem like a mild case of mono. Being reinfected with the virus later in life also carries with it only a small risk for symptoms in healthy adults.
And back to the bad news: While an infection with cytomegalovirus usually does not have symptoms, if someone is infected while pregnant it can harm the fetus. About 1 in 100 U.S. babies is infected with CMV, but usually doesn’t show symptoms. Every year in the United States, around 5,500 babies are born with symptomatic cytomegalic inclusion disease (CID). Symptoms of CID vary, but the most severe include mental retardation and hearing loss. If the mother was already infected before conception, there is a 2 percent chance the virus will be transmitted to the fetus; however, if the infection occurs during pregnancy, this risk jumps into the 40 to 50 percent range. Continue reading
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Tagged CID, CMV, condom, condoms, cytomegalic inclusion disease, cytomegalovirus, cytomegalovirus retinitis, dental dam, dental dams, fetus, HCMV, Herpesviridae, herpesvirus, herpesviruses, HHV-5, HIV/AIDS, human cytomegalovirus, human herpesvirus-5, immune system, inclusion bodies, latex barriers, lesion, lesions, molluscum contagiousum virus, Poxviridae, pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, sexually transmitted diseases, sexually transmitted infection, sexually transmitted infections, STD, STDs, STI, STIs, virus, wart, warts
Trichomonas vaginalis, normally pear-shaped, flattens itself out after attaching to vaginal epithelial cells, maximizing surface area between parasite and host. The purple rod-shaped organisms are bacteria. Image courtesy of Antonio Pereira-Neves and Marlene Benchimol, Santa Ursula University, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Most sexually transmitted infections are caused by viruses or bacteria. STIs caused by viruses include herpes and genital warts, and the viruses that cause them aren’t even technically living organisms – they are pieces of genetic information that are able to infect a host cell. STIs caused by bacteria include gonorrhea and syphilis; bacteria are microscopic, single-celled organisms with relatively simple cell structures.
But some STIs are caused by other types of living organisms. Protozoan organisms are microscopic and unicellular, like bacteria; unlike bacteria, their cell structures more closely resemble that of the so-called “higher” life forms such as animals and plants. While protozoa are considered to be “animal-like,” they are not animals at all – they are single-celled organisms that reproduce asexually. When certain types of protozoans get into your body, they can cause infections – such as trichomoniasis, the most common curable STI among young females (as well as more females over 40 than previously thought). It is estimated that 7.4 million new cases of trichomoniasis occur annually in the United States; worldwide, there are about 170 million cases each year.
Trichomoniasis, colloquially known as trich, is spread by vaginal or anal intercourse, direct vulva-to-vulva contact, and other activities that involve passing secretions from one partner to another (e.g., sharing sex toys or mutual masturbation). Sexually active people can reduce the risk of contracting trichomoniasis by using latex barriers, such as condoms. Continue reading
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Tagged bacteria, discharge, flagella, flagellum, HIV, immune system, latex barriers, metronidazole, parasite, parasites, protozoa, protozoans, sexually transmitted disease, sexually transmitted diseases, sexually transmitted infection, sexually transmitted infections, STD, STDs, STI, STIs, T. vaginalis, tinidazole, trich, Trichomonas vaginalis, trichomoniasis, trichomonosis, urogenital tract, vaginal discharge
Latex barriers, such as condoms and dental dams, offer fantastic protection against most sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They are not 100 percent effective, however, and there are even some STIs for which latex poses no obstacle. Because barriers only cover a portion of the genital area, they do not offer sufficient protection against scabies or pubic lice, both of which are caused by infestations of tiny arthropods.
Both scabies and pubic lice are treated with topical medications. A Planned Parenthood health center, as well as other health care providers, clinics, and health departments, can provide testing and treatment. Follow treatment instructions to the letter to ensure success. During this time, you can take actions to prevent reinfection, including vacuuming floors and cleaning rooms, and thoroughly washing all clothing, towels, and bedding in hot water. Your sexual partner(s) might also need to receive treatment.
Now let’s learn more about both specific STIs.
Sarcoptes scabiei, the mite that causes scabies. Image from the Public Health Image Library.
Three-hundred million people carry the eight-legged mite that causes scabies, Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis. While it’s so small that you need a microscope to see it, it causes an itchy condition that you can definitely feel. The female mite burrows under the skin, usually starting between the fingers and then spreading to the rest of the body, digging until she dies and laying eggs along the way. When the eggs hatch, the nymphs travel to the surface of the skin, where they may transfer to another host or reinfect the original host. Continue reading
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Tagged barrier methods, condoms, conscientious objectors, dental dams, evolution, head lice, itch mite, latex barriers, lice, louse, mite, mites, Phthirus pubis, Pthirus pubis, pubic lice, pubic louse, Sarcoptes scabiei, scabies, sexually transmitted infections, STD, STDs, STI, STIs, World War I, WWI