How to play safe between the sheets

As World AIDS Day approaches, it’s time to protect yourself against these five sexually transmitted infections
November 28, 2013
By J. Latimer

Image courtesy of Health Services at Concordia University

World AIDS Day on December 1 is a great time to have a clear-headed conversation about sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Think of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, whose charitable foundation just granted $100,000 to the research and development of an atom-thick graphene “super-condom.” He’s certainly doing his part to keep human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and its related condition, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), in the news. And with good reason: an estimated 2.3 million people contracted HIV in 2012.

But World AIDS Day is also a great time to remember that other STIs merit our attention. A new study by Quebec’s public health board (INSQP) reported a resurgence of gonorrhea. The number of provincial cases has nearly doubled in the past six years, jumping from 1,300 to 2,500; health practitioners suspect that the infection is becoming resistant to antibiotics.

Here’s how to avoid the five most common STIs.

Bacterial infections


“The most common symptom of chlamydia? Nothing!” says Gaby Szabo, a health promotion specialist at Concordia’s Health Services. “There are usually no signs. It’s the same for many STIs, including HIV. You cannot tell by looking at someone or by looking at yourself.”

However, people infected with chlamydia may experience vaginal or penile discharge, a burning sensation when urinating, and pain in the lower abdomen. If treatment is sought too late, the infection can cause pelvic inflammation and spread, resulting in sterility.

Szabo recommends limiting skin-to-skin sexual contact by using condoms and dental dams. Chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics.


Syphilis has not been beaten and left behind in the pages of Victorian novels. Like gonorrhea and HIV, it’s on the rise.

“In its early stages, syphilis shows almost no signs,” says Szabo. “But the later stages are devastating, affecting eyesight, the mind and the heart.” In between, patients often experience fatigue and painful genital lesions.

Szabo recommends condoms and dental dams to avoid contracting syphilis. Strong antibiotics are required to treat later stages of the infection.


“If a body part suddenly starts to hurt or itch, or starts leaking, you could have gonorrhea or another STI,” notes Szabo. “But an infected person doesn’t always have symptoms”.

Patients might experience fever, abdominal pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding, discharge or a burning sensation while urinating. If left untreated by antibiotics, infertility can result for both men and women.

Szabo says that gonorrhea is often contracted alongside chlamydia during unprotected sexual contact, and can be avoided the same way — with condoms and caution. Effective antibiotics exist, for now.

Viral infections

Genital herpes (simplex virus type 2, or HSV-2)

According to a Canadian Health Measures survey performed between 2009 and 2011, 13.6 per cent of people aged 14 to 59 have genital herpes. They  The virus isare  transmitted through unprotected sexual contact (anal, vaginal or oral), and the risks of contracting them it are greatly reduced by avoiding these risky encounters.

According to Health and Social Services Quebec, antiviral treatments will only slow down the virus and lessen outbreaks of lesions.

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

Transmitted by skin-to-skin sexual contact, HPV is one of the world’s most common STIs. It can show up as genital warts, but the majority of infected people show no symptoms.

“Some types of HPV viruses can cause cancer,” say Szabo, who espouses the HPV vaccine, along with condoms and dental dams.

The bottom line? “Just get tested.”

Questions? Concerns? Book an appointment by calling Health Services at
514-848-2424, ext. 3565.

The Health Services Annual Condom Giveaway takes place on Thursday, November 28, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. in the Atrium of the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex (EV Building, 1515 Ste-Catherine St. W.) on the Sir George Williams Campus.


Back to top

© Concordia University