Most probably, the majority of you have heard about STDs but have you heard about STIs before? Do you know what the differences are between STDs and STIs?
Simply, STIs or sexually transmitted infections are infections that pass from one person to another as certain parasites, bacteria, or viruses enter the body by sexual or nonsexual activities. When that happens, the person is told to have STI. Based on Tulane University, people with STIs can infect someone else by having sex with them or by exchanging bodily fluids like blood, urine, virginal fluids, and so on. Another way would be by touching the person with STI on a spot of their skin where the infection is active.
Having multiple partners and/or not using protection can highly increase the risk of STIs so keep in mind that educating yourself helps you and your partner/s avoid many health issues. Plus getting the proper medical help allows you, in case you have the infection already, to lower the chance of dealing with serious health problems in the future.
HIV, hepatitis, Gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia are all examples of possible STIs that someone could get. Some of these STIs could be transmitted only by sexual interaction while others could be transmitted by both sexual and nonsexual interactions.
STIs can frequently have no symptoms or have symptoms that are vague and not specific, therefore unrecognizable. That’s why you need to keep in mind that just because someone’s body is working normally while having STI, doesn’t mean there will not be any future health problems. STIs should be taken seriously because they might develop into STDs. For that we can say that STDs are a late stage of STIs that develop as the person with STI doesn’t get the proper medical care at the right time.
Last but not least, you have probably heard people or read articles that use the terms STI and STD interchangeably. Using these terms interchangeably may cause confusion since an STI may or may not lead to an STD.
As Iraqi queers, it seems dangerous and sometimes impossible to visit clinics to have the necessary tests. That’s why you should educate yourself about all these possible infections and learn how to protect yourself. And if you feel the need to have the tests, ask for help from the ones you know and fully trust.
Redin, who is a gay man from Sulaymaniyah city, talks about his personal experience with STI and says, “I got Gonorrhea about a year ago just before lockdown. I found out mainly through the symptoms I was having which were mainly pain in my testicles. It was an uncomfortable situation because I felt reluctant to seek treatment and medical advice from doctors. That’s why I reached out to a friend of mine who was a doctor and who was also gay. He was not judgmental so he helped me without making me feel uncomfortable. Other than this friend, I only told the sexual partner I had while I kept it a secret from everybody else.
My friend tried to help by diagnosing my symptoms, and after he determined that I most probably got Gonorrhea, he told me which treatments to get without doing a test and visiting a doctor. He told me that even though testing is crucial to the diagnoses, it might not be a nice experience to be judged by the lab operators, therefore he recommended an empirical treatment.
he treatment that my friend gave me resolved my symptoms very quickly. Still, I would have liked to get tested in a Lab but I didn't do it due to my fear of stigma because I have had friends, not just gay but also heterosexuals, who had bad experiences in Iraq while seeking treatment for STDs.
I frequently get tested for viral illnesses like HIV and HBs and HCV since those are more standardized tests. But I wouldn't feel comfortable doing more specific tests like chlamydia or Gonorrhea for example.
My advice to Iraqi queers is to ALWAYS practice safe sex, even if it's with someone they trust. It is a common misconception among Iraqi queers to assume that someone is "clean" just by how they look. Keep in mind that STDs are common and people have them regardless of how they look, where they come from, and their education level. Also, just because someone doesn't Have HIV doesn't mean they do not have anything else. Having an STD doesn't make you a bad or a good person. I advise all of you to test for STDs as much as you can. It could be hard, but better safe than sorry. Lastly, I advise you all to reach out to organizations like IraQueer for sexual advice. Doing these things can lower your risk of getting STDs.”
No matter how stuck you feel you’re, remember that help could be found. IraQueer highly encourages you to use protection and choose your partner/s very carefully. Infections could happen to anyone regardless of their age or sexuality so take good care of yourself. And remember to come to us or any NGO that supports the LGBT+ community in case you need advice on how to protect yourself. We’re always happy to help.