It’s easy to assume that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) only affect the genital area. But when it comes to how STIs can affect the body, you may be to surprised to find that symptoms can show up in other places as well. Because of that, doctors says it’s super important to always practice safe sex and stay on top of your sexual health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are nearly 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections that occur each year. So if you find yourself displaying symptoms of an STI, rest assured that you certainly aren’t the only one, and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Instead, take the initiative to speak with your doctor, and take care of this aspect of your health just like you would any other. And to do that, it’s important to understand some common misconceptions. According to Dr. Bobby Lazzara, in-house physician at STDAware, one of the biggest misconceptions people have about STIs is that you can only get it from intercourse. If you’re not careful, you actually can get an STI without having PIV sex. In fact, the risk of getting an STI extends to any sexual activity including make out session, “heavy petting,” fingering, oral sex, sharing sex toys, and anal sex.
“Transmission of infected bodily fluids from hands to other parts of the body is common and proper hygiene plays a significant factor in prevention,” Dr. Lazzara says. Sometimes symptoms may not show up for some time, so people can still get STIs when they’re in a long-term, monogamous relationship.
Practicing safe sex is important. But it’s just as important to be aware of what can happen if you do get an STI so that you feel comfortable and empowered to speak with a doctor about your symptoms. Here are some surprising places STIs can show up on your body, according to experts.
The trio of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes can also cause white or red patches on the roof of the mouth or tonsils, as well as swelling of the tongue. According to Dr. Lazzara, oral sex can lead to cases of HSV-2 (genital herpes) that show as sores around the mouth.
Herpes can affect your eyes by causing swelling, watery discharge, a “feeling that a foreign body is in the eye,” redness and sensitivity to light. According to Dr. Angela Jones, resident sexual health advisor at Astroglide, it can also cause lesions on the eyelids as well as the cornea. Both chlamydia and gonorrhea can also cause redness, swelling, and strange eye discharge, which are fortunately all treatable.
Gonorhea and chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This can result in a dull pain in the stomach and pelvic area. If left untreated PID can lead to chronic infections and even infertility. Although rare, Dr. Lazzara says HPV can also cause abnormal cell growth in other parts of the body like “warts in your intestines.”
Research has found links between herpes, hepatitis, and HIV to confusion, forgetfulness, and even brain fog. “Herpes encephalitis can spontaneously occur with the HSV-1 (oral herpes virus),” Dr. Lazzara says. “It moves into the central nervous system and inflames the brain resulting in fever, headache, confusion, seizures, impaired speech and body function, and muscle pain or weakness.” Chlamydia and gonorrhea can also cause fever, headache, and nausea.
6Anus And Rectum
As Dr. Jones says, you can contract syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia either inside or outside of the anus/rectum. “Typical presentation may be abnormal bleeding, discharge, [and] fissures, pain,” she says. In addition to that, HPV can also cause lesions, warts, and sores around that area.
7Skin (Almost Anywhere On The Body)
“This is a common one,” Dr. Jones says. That’s because herpes can pretty much show up anywhere on your body. “It can oftentimes present itself as a cluster of sores around your mouth or skin. The typical presentation is much like it’s genital counterpart; i.e, numbness, tingling, and sores that scar all over.” HSV-1 is generally responsible for sores around the mouth and lips, while HSV-2 is usually responsible for sores found around the genital area.
STIs are pretty common. In fact, research shows that one in two sexually active people will get an STI by the time they hit 25. Unfortunately, there’s still a huge stigma around STIs. Consequently, it makes more people less open to discussing it with their sex partners. But having an STI is nothing to be ashamed of.
Talking about it, asking questions, and just staying informed can help you stay on top of your sexual health. According to Dr. Jones, knowing all the different places where STIs can show on your body reinforces the need to practice safe sex. That means proper condom use, communicating with your sex partners about STIs and safety, and getting tested regularly. So be mindful to do what you can to limit your risks of getting an STI. When it comes to your sexual health, be safe and proactive.