Once upon a time, a student took himself to a festivity, one with plentiful libations and jolly company. There he met a fair maiden, previously unbeknownst to him. He and the maiden shared a flagon, a flask, a carafe and a pitcher. After a merry evening he took her to bed. Upon rising the next day, he smacked himself in his pounding head and stuffed himself with generous servings of guilt and fear. All aquiver, he made for the SHAC posthaste, convinced he had contracted a deadly disease or sired triplets.
Does this tale sound familiar? I have heard it many times. I put the male pronoun in this story because a woman would never make a mistake like that. Right?
Wrong. Party sex with a stranger is an equal-opportunity temptation. The fallout may vary depending on your gender, your orientation and who did what with whom.
If the remorseful reveler is a woman, she is worrying about disease and pregnancy, unless she had sex with a woman, in which case she is still worrying about disease. If it is a man, a sexually transmitted infection is his worst fear, whether he had sex with a woman or a man. He might also be fretting about those triplets.
If you recognize yourself in this little fable, fear not. All is not lost. The alchemists and bloodletters at Ye Olde SHAC are here to cure what ails you.
For pregnancy prevention, come to the SHAC pharmacy for Emergency Contraceptive Pills, or ECP. The sooner you take ECP the better, but it can be effective up to three days after unprotected sex. While you are here, you can get more information about birth control methods.
This is the new and improved acronym, standing for sexually transmitted infections, formerly STD for sexually transmitted diseases. There are several. For practical purposes, I’m going to divide them into two categories, curable and incurable.
These are infections which can be treated with antibiotics, after which they are gone from your body for good, unless you catch them again. Please note that most of these can be ‘silent,’ meaning you can have them and not know it. We can find them for you, though, with blood, urine or swab tests. When they do cause symptoms, they are typically as follows.
Trichomonas, or “trich” (pronounced “trick”) is a parasite that can cause an itchy, smelly, greenish discharge from the penis or vagina.
Chlamydia is a bacterium that can cause burning with urination, a penile or vaginal discharge, painful sex or vaginal bleeding. We see several cases of Chlamydia at Student Health every month.
Gonorrhea (“the drip”) causes a goopy, yellow discharge from the penis or vagina. Pubic lice (“crabs”) cause severe itching and rash in the pubic area. If you look closely, you might be able to see the lice themselves or their egg cases on your pubic hair.
Crabs are treated topically with a cream or liquid.
Molluscum contagiosum virus causes bumps that look and feel like hard pimples. Removing the core of each lesion, which we do in the clinic, helps the infection clear up more quickly.
For this group of infections, modern medicine has no cure. We can give you drugs to make you feel better, or to decrease the intensity and duration of your symptoms, but we can’t kill the viruses.
Herpes causes exquisitely tender sores, in your mouth or on your genitals. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) causes warts on your genitals, and some strains can cause cancer of the cervix. The good news about HPV is that there is now a vaccine that will protect you from the most dangerous strains. If you get genital warts, we’ll freeze them off, but unfortunately that doesn’t get rid of the virus, which usually lives about two more years under your skin.
Hepatitis B, for which there is also a vaccine, can be silent or cause an illness with nausea, fever and body aches. Hepatitis C is usually silent. The CDC is recommending that all adults be tested for Hepatitis C.
And finally, there is HIV, which has a variety of symptom presentations and which has no known cure at this time, although there are excellent drugs that have changed the outcome significantly.
I realize this is quite the parade of scoundrels, and I have probably scared you worse by listing them all. Please understand, it is quite likely that you don’t have any of them. The problem is it can take weeks to months for these infections to show up in your body after you catch them.
So how long should you wait to be seen by a health professional?
If you could be pregnant, don’t wait. Anyone else, make an appointment for an STI Screening at SHAC. We will listen to you, examine you, educate you, and advise you. We might do some bloodletting or other testing to find out if you already have an STI. We can tell you when to come back and get tested the next time. If you develop symptoms at any time, come in right away.
Finally, gentle carouser, a word about guilt-stuffing and head-smacking. I hasten to remind you that everyone makes mistakes. You do not have to swear off sex forever, or take a cat o’ nine tails to your back. You might want to limit the flasks and flagons next time, and in the future, if you choose to have sex with a stranger, please protect yourself and your partying partner.
Dr. Peggy Spencer is a physician at Student Health and Counseling. She is also co-author of the book “50 Ways to Leave Your 40s.” Email your questions directly to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions will be considered, and all questioners will remain anonymous.