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Sexually transmitted infections

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I guess many of us men have been there. You meet a new woman, feel instantly attracted to her, and wonder what - if anything - will happen. As you spend more time together, you feel there is some attraction reciprocated, and your excitement mounts.

At some point, perhaps after a few drinks, perhaps over dinner, one of you makes a suggestion to test the possibility of getting it together. The other accepts, and before you know it, you're kissing, and well on the way to having sex. (Everything you read from now on applies equally whether you're a man or a woman reading this - if you're a woman, just reverse the sex roles and language.)

So what happens at the moment when you're about to put your penis into her vagina? Do you stop and get the condoms out? Do you wait for her to tell you to wear one, in the hope that she might not and you can enjoy a skin-to-skin session of sex? Or do you take responsibility and insist on using a condom? 

These are questions that matter a great deal, especially if you happen to be in another relationship already. Actually, come to think of it, they matter whether you are or not: the difference is that in one case you might have to explain the spots on your penis to your partner and in the other you won't. And it might be something more than spots you're explaining, especially if you pick up hepatitis or HIV.

The problem, of course, with unprotected sex with a partner whose sexual history you don't know is that you simply have no idea what sexually transmitted infections they might be carrying. And you can't necessarily believe them if they tell you that they are clear - many people carry sexually transmitted infections without showing any symptoms.

The difficulty - and I speak from personal experience - is that sex with a new partner is so exciting, and the anticipation so great, that using a condom is likely to be the last thing on your mind when you're about to get into bed with someone.

You might think that you're clear of infection, so the chances are she will be too: but she's getting into bed with you, so how do you know she hasn't been in bed with lots of other partners, one of whom was carrying an infection and has passed it on to her? The problem is that promises and assurances are not worth much when the possibility of an exciting fuck for a horny man or woman is involved.

My own experience was gained in picking up what my doctor described as a "nasty infection", which was never diagnosed, but which I believe in retrospect to have been hepatitis. I think I acquired it through a misplaced bout of analingus (mouth-anal contact) with a new sexual partner.

But wherever I got it from, this infection made me seriously ill for several months - I couldn't drink even the smallest amount of alcohol, and I had to cancel my vacation, which made it seem even more serious! But please don't think my facile tone is making light of it - hepatitis can kill, in a particularly nasty way, by damaging your liver. I got away with it, though even now I have to watch how much I drink, but many others are not so lucky. 

I'm not moralizing, because I like sex as much as anybody. In fact, I think sex is great, but there's a real risk to unprotected sex. And guess what? Even knowing this, I still went on to have unprotected sex some years later with another new partner.

How come? Because I thought she seemed decent, trustworthy, and self-protective - just the kind of woman who wouldn't have any STI's. As our lovemaking progressed to the point of penile-vaginal contact, she never mentioned condoms, just expressed an urgent desire to feel my penis inside her, which, in my excitement, I willingly fulfilled.

Yet neither of us knew much about the other's sexual history. As it happens, our judgment about each other was right - we were both disease-free - but the point is there was no way of knowing that was so. Choosing not to use a condom because it was more exciting not to, and because we were carried away in the heat of the moment with passion and desire was a gamble, with no way of knowing the odds of coming out healthy.

So I do know, as well as anybody, the risks and rewards of such behavior. All I can do is to urge you not to do what I did: instead, plan ahead, take the condoms, and enjoy using them as part of your sexual play. And to encourage you to do so, here's some brief information about the potential consequences of not using a condom.

Sexually transmitted infections, aka venereal diseases, or sexually transmitted diseases, come in many forms and flavors. Those old favorites the pox and the clap (syphilis and gonorrhea) have been updated for our times by herpes, hepatitis and HIV. Scabies and crabs (parasitic lice, basically) are also old-timers which continue to flourish in our era.

There's a brief summary of each below, but if you want more information than is provided here, this is a great place to go: UK Health Protection Agency - comprehensive information on all STDs

Genital warts

Most people with the virus that causes genital warts will show no symptoms. That's just as well, really, because 3 out of 4 people will get it at some point in their sex lives. And if you do develop genital warts, they may come long after you picked up the virus. In that time, of course, you may well have spread the infection to many other people. Fortunately, although genital warts look horrible, they can be removed. Much more serious is that the same virus can cause cervical cancer in women: a good reason to get regular smear tests. 


If you've had shingles, you'll recognize the tingling sensation on the skin that heralds the outbreak of an attack of herpes.

It's basically caused by a similar virus to the chickenpox virus, though this one spreads via sexual contact - and that includes kissing, intercourse, and even, sadly, skin to skin contact, which means condoms don't offer complete protection against herpes. Up to one person in ten has the virus, though many will never show any symptoms. The outbreaks of blisters and herpes rash are extremely irritating and painful; and although they clear up in a few weeks, you keep the virus for life, and you can experience a new outbreak ant any time. 

Stress is a key factor in how often viral outbreaks develop, and how serious they are when they do, so you may want to consider some stress-reducing relaxation therapy and a good diet with lots of supplements (that's vitamins and minerals, in case you don't know!)

Get much more information here:

Yeast infection

Probably the most common STI in women, but less so in men because the genital area is not as warm and moist, conditions ideal for the growth of the yeast fungus, Candida albicans, yeast is nonetheless and annoying and problematic condition which can be treated din many ways - unfortunately, mostly with anti-fungals from the doctor or pharmacy, which tend to only suppress the symptoms.


The panic around HIV (the virus) and AIDS (the resulting disease) of the late eighties was justified, for although the disease can now be controlled (at least for Westerners who can afford the cost of the drugs), it still kills people. And it is spreading. The only way to be sure if you have it is to get tested: any exchange of bodily fluid can potentially pass it on.


There are several varieties of hepatitis, which are spread variously through the exchange of bodily fluids, through contact with traces of the shit of an infected person, or through sharing contaminated needles. Once infected, you may be one of the lucky ones who recovers completely, or you may die. It's a bit of a lottery which group you happen to fall into, but the good news is that you do stand a reasonable chance of recovering completely from the debilitating illnesses that hepatitis can cause. The bad news is you may never be able to drink again. Read more at 

Gonorrhea (aka gonorrhea, aka the clap)

Gonorrhea is the most common and oldest STD, and it's not going away: in fact, it's getting much more common with each succeeding year.

Although it often produces a whitish-yellow discharge which drips from your penis or vagina, and a searing pain when you piss, it can also affect your urethra, genitals, rectum, eyes, mouth and throat, leading to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, menstrual problems, eye infections, arthritis, inflammation and infection.

It's especially unpleasant if you happen to be a woman, and even more so if you're pregnant. Unfortunately, a huge majority of the women who contract gonorrhea will show no symptoms, at least to start with. In men, it causes prostatitis, sterility, inflammation of the inner bits of the testicles and scarring of the penile urethra. There are more effects, but you get the picture. And guess what? While 1 man in 10 infected with gonorrhea won't show any symptoms, he can still pass it on. More information here. And here.


A bacterial infection, particularly nasty in women, where it can cause smelly vaginal discharge and/or bleeding, painful periods, fever, painful peeing, inflammation, painful sex and sterility. However, as so often with STI's, many women display no symptoms, and only find out they've had it when they discover they're infertile. If you're a man and you find that you have a discharge from your penis, it's painful to pee, your balls are swollen, and your genitals itch, you may have gonorrhea or chlamydia. More information here.


Ulcers on your penis are not a good sign. That's not to say that they are a good sign anywhere on your body, but on your penis (or vulva, for that matter) they are a pretty good indication you have syphilis. Left untreated, syphilis means you'll die a nasty lingering death, often going mad, blind or deaf before you eventually die. Need I say more? Oh yes - syphilis is currently on the increase in the UK, and has reached epidemic proportions in some parts of the US. Check it out here.

Pubic Lice and Scabies

You'll know if you have these little critters on your person, because of the intense itching they cause. They leap from person to person during intimate contact, like head lice, but they are easily killed by the right lotions and shampoos. What might not be so easy is explaining to your partner how you got them. 

More information from two reliable websites:

Bupa - STI  The  

Other pages on the penis and sex

My penis is too large / too small
My foreskin is too tight
Problems with arousal
I can't get an erection
Urethral opening abnormal
Torn frenulum - breve
My penis is twisted
Erectile dysfunction
Penis problems solved!
Andropause & mid-life crisis
Penile problems & injuries
Yeast Infections
Sex addiction & obsession
Sexually transmitted infections
Testosterone declines with age

Other sections on the site

The penis, masculinity and sex
A Cultural History Of The Penis
Penile & Other Problems