We have heard one too many times that the only way to be completely free from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is to abstain from any sexual contact. The truth is, STDs are much trickier than we would like to admit. One of the ways in which STDs can be transmitted is through skin-to-skin contact and this signifies that STDs can be spread without intercourse. Although there are available methods to reduce the risk of transmission, infections stemming from skin contact are much harder to prevent than those transmitted through blood or bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids, breast milk and saliva.
Several STDs that can spread through skin-to-skin contact include oral and genital herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV) and syphilis. If you are wondering whether these infections can only spread when an uninfected person has an opening in the skin for transmission to happen, the answer will be no. In fact, transmission is possible through mucous membranes. Infections can occur when there is direct contact with infected skin. To make it more clear, transmission through skin contact is only possible when mucous membranes, bodily fluids, open lesions and infected skin cells of an infected person come into contact with an uninfected person’s mucous membranes or open lesions. In this article, we will be discussing several STDs that can spread through skin contact.
Genital and oral herpes
As we have learned, herpes is currently incurable. Herpes is one STD most people fear of contracting because when you have it, you will have it for life. To date, there is also no preventive treatment for the disease. This STD is caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV). Despite being incurable, there are medicines that can prevent or reduce outbreaks. Most people infected with herpes are not aware of it. The World Health Organization (WHO) approximates that around 500 million people are living with genital herpes. As for oral herpes, it is estimated that several billion people are suffering from it.
Direct contact with these infectious sores can pass the virus on from person to person. One interesting fact would be that oral herpes is commonly found in kids. That being said, oral herpes often starts from childhood due to contact with family members or relatives. Oral herpes is caused by HSV-1 and genital herpes is caused by HSV-2. One telltale sign of a person with herpes is sores around the genitals and on the mouth. What is even trickier, transmission of this disease can also take place with skin that does not appear to have sores.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
When people think of STDs, the very first diseases that usually pop into mind are HIV/AIDS, syphilis or gonorrhea. While that may be true, HPV is actually one of the most common STDs in the world. As with other STDs, people may be having HPV without knowing it. 90% of HPV cases normally clear up on their own within 2 years. Even if a person does not have any symptoms, this disease can still be spread. Unlike herpes that is incurable and only has medications to reduce outbreaks, HPV can be prevented by vaccination. Despite being preventable, HPV is not curable but can be treated.
There are HPV strains that merely cause genital warts but some HPV varieties do lead to cancers. 9 out of 10 cases of cervical cancers are caused by HPV. Vaccinations should be administered as early as possible to both females and males before they become sexually active. However, a person who is sexually active and is between the age of 27 to 45 may consider getting vaccinated after consulting their respective doctors.
In Singapore, according to data released in 2018 by the Department of STI Control (DSC), syphilis is the third most transmitted sexual disease. People can let out a sigh of relief when it comes to syphilis because instead of a viral infection, this disease is caused by bacteria. What is more, this disease can be cured with the help of antibiotics. Syphilis, when treated as soon as possible, is not hazardous. However, when left untreated, it can lead up to a series of complications such as brain, heart and eye damages because it stays in the body if you do not get that penicillin shot. Bear in mind that unlike HPV that can go away on its own in most cases, syphilis will not clear up unless it is treated.
Over the years, however, there has been a rising concern about syphilis being transmitted through mouth sores during oral sex. Syphilis can be tricky to navigate and prevent. Sexually active people can use condoms to cover sores. The problem is the fact that sores are not just located on the genitals and sores in the mouth or other areas may go unnoticed.
Molluscum contagiosum can and at the same time cannot be categorized as a sexual disease. Rather than an STD, molluscum contagiosum is more of a childhood disease because around 9 out of 10 cases occur in children according to the NHS. Molluscum contagiosum is generally not hazardous, but this disease can spread during sex as well. This condition is normally painless, but if sores are wide open, bacteria can enter. The usual symptoms of molluscum contagiosum is a group of tiny, firm, red protruding spots on the skin. The main characteristic of molluscum contagiosum is the dimples in the middle of the spots or papules. Although not painful, these papules can be itchy. Some locations in which the papules may develop include the armpit, behind the knees or on the groin.
There are always consequences when we decide to be sexually active. What we can do is make sure that we take necessary steps to avoid STDs:
- Get tested with your partner and come clean about each other’s history. These conversations do not have to be awkward
- Use condoms and dental dams to prevent skin-to-skin transmission
- Consider getting vaccinated for HPV. For women, this vaccination greatly reduces the risk for cervical cancer
- Herpes can spread through childbirth, so it would be wise for women with genital herpes to consume antiviral medication from the 36th week of pregnancy up to delivery
Never put off STD testing because the sooner you get the full update of your sexual health status, the better. Shim Clinic is always ready to assist you with the most accurate examinations and diagnosis. We are a STD clinic that specialise in STD prevention and STD treatment.