Q&A: Women

  1. How do I know if my partner or I have HIV or an STD?
  2. Can HIV or STD cause problems for me or my fetus if I am pregnant?
  3. Can having HIV or an STD cause problems for me in the future?
  4. I had a Pap smear done at my doctor’s office. Did they test me for HIV and STDs then?
  5. If I am on the pill, can I still get HIV or an STD?
  6. Can I get an STD more than once?
  7. Will douching or washing right after I have sex keep me from getting HIV and STDs?
  8. How long do I need to have HIV or STD before it shows up on a test?
  9. My partner hates condoms. How do I get him to use one when we have sex?
  10. Can I get HIV or an STD by sharing sex toys with my partner?
  11. What are the health risks associated with HIV and STDs for lesbians?

Many sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) don’t have symptoms women or men can see or feel.  The only way to know for sure if you have HIV or an STD is to get tested regularly.

Still, it is important to learn what is normal for your body or your partner’s body.  Get things checked out when something changes, like a new or unusual discharge (yellow or white fluid) coming out of your vagina.

Other signs of concern in women include:

  • Unusual bleeding that is different from your period
  • Pain when you have sex or when you urinate
  • Bumps or sores around your vulva, or in your vagina, anus, or mouth
  • Fever and pain in your belly
  • Rashes on your body

Signs of concerns in men include:

  • Discharge from his penis or anus
  • Pain when he has sex or pees
  • Bumps or sores around his penis, anus, or mouth
  • Pain in his testicles
  • Rashes on his body

Yes.  If you are HIV-positive your baby can be born with HIV.  Some STDs can put your baby at risk of being born too early or being born with blindness, breathing problems, or in rare cases, even death.  Because of these risks to you and your fetus, if you are pregnant, it is important to consider getting tested for HIV and all STDs.  If test positive, there are medications that you can take to keep you and your fetus healthy.  Be sure to speak with your OB/GYN about STD and HIV testing.

Yes. Having HIV and some STDs (like herpes) are with you for the rest of your life and can cause many health problems.  Additionally, if you have HIV and get pregnant, you can pass it onto your fetus.   Some STDs can cause health problems that cause infertility (not being able to get pregnant or have a baby).  Medications are available to help prevent some of the health problems caused by HIV and STDs.

Not necessarily. A Pap smear is a test that checks for signs of cancer of the cervix.  Although you go through a pelvic exam to get a Pap smear done, the doctor or nurse doing the exam may not automatically do STD or HIV testing at the same time.  Be sure to ask about HIV and STD testing during your check-up.  In Rhode Island, in most cases, you need to give your permission (either verbally or in writing) to have an HIV test done.

Yes. Birth control pills, and other birth control methods like the shot (Depo-Provera), the patch (OrthoEvra), and the ring (Nuvaring) are hormones designed to prevent pregnancy.  These hormones don’t protect against HIV or STDS.  Women using the pill or other hormone birth control should still use condoms to protect themselves against infections.

Yes. Bacterial STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea are curable.  However, if you cure an STD, and then have sex with a partner who is infected, you can get it again.

No. Unfortunately, you can not prevent HIV and STDs by douching or washing.  Douching changes the normal balance in the body by washing away the good bacteria that live in the vagina, so if you douche you might be increasing your chances of getting an STD or other infection.

It depends. Some STDs, like gonorrhea or chlamydia, may take just a few days to show up on a test. HIV and other STDs, like syphilis or herpes, may take a few weeks to several months to show up on a test.  This is why it is important to get regular testing for STDs.  Talk to a doctor or nurse about how often you should get tested.

It might be hard, but try to talk to your partner about STDs. Ask him to get specific about why he hates condoms.  Depending upon his response, there are a number of things you can do to make condom use more enjoyable for both you and him.  Try different brands of condoms.  Another option is to use some lubrication when having sex.  Extra lubricant can help keep a condom from breaking and can increase the pleasure for both partners.

No matter what, no one should pressure you to have sex without protection, or to force you to have sex if you don’t want to.

Although it is possible to get HIV or an STD by sharing sex toys with your partner, there are ways to cut down on this possibility.  Washing the sex toys in hot soapy water before sharing (then rinse well with plain water), or using fresh condoms over them for each partner can decrease the chance of contact with menstrual blood, vaginal fluids, semen, or other body fluids that might transmit HIV and STDs.

Sexual transmission of many diseases has been reported between lesbians, including HIV. This is likely due to the sharing of sex toys and/or intimate genital contact.  Women who report same-sex behavior should be screened periodically for HIV and other STDs. Please contact your doctor for more information.