Surprising benefits of sexually transmitted infections

Around the age when my interest in boys went from beating them at monkey bar tag to stealing smooches behind the high school, my mum had the sex talk with me.

We talked about consent, respect, not getting pregnant and very importantly: "do not get a sexually transmitted disease." No glove, no love.

This was, of course, very good advice. It's thought by the World Health Organisation that worldwide, more than one million people a day acquire a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Some of these infections will affect your fertility, others cause even more worrying health issues. There are many reasons to prevent these unwanted travellers from taking up residence in our body.

The nasty rep of STDs or STIs (sexually transmitted infections) could be why very little consideration is given to the idea that some of the microbes hitching a ride between individuals on the sexual fluids highway, might be beneficial. What if, in protecting ourselves from the bad bugs we know about, we're missing out on microbes that could provide all sorts of benefits?

A growing body of evidence suggests there is good reason to have a closer look.

It's not news that microbes - such as bacteria and viruses - are incredibly important to our health. Within all of us there is a mixture of both beneficial and potentially disease-causing mini critters. If the balance between the two is lost, it can cause problems.

For example, the Candida genus of yeast is a naturally occurring microbe found in the vagina. Its growth is kept in check by another microbe, the Lactobacillus bacteria. However, if something prevents the bacteria from doing its job, the result is an overgrowth of yeast, causing the uncomfortable symptoms of a yeast infection.

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