Sexually transmitted disease (STD) is disease that is transferred from one person to another, mainly through sexual contact. STD can be contracted by engaging in unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sexual intercourse with an infected partner.
Another name for STD is sexually transmitted infection (STI) or venereal disease (VD).
Apart from sex, and depending on the specific STD, infections can also be transmitted through sharing needles or other sharp objects and breastfeeding.
STDs don’t cause plain symptoms, however when they do, common STD symptoms in women may include:
STD Symptoms in Men
It’s possible to contract an STD without developing symptoms. But some STDs cause palpable symptoms. Common STD symptoms in men include:
- swollen or painful testicles
- pain during sex
- painful urination
- sores or rashes around the penis, testicles, anus, buttocks, thighs, or mouth
- unusual penile discharge or bleeding
Many different types of infections can be transmitted sexually. The most common STDs are described below.
HPV (human papillomavirus)
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that is transferrable through intimate skin-to-skin or sexual contact. There are many different strains of the virus. Some are more dangerous than others.
The most common symptom of HPV is warts on the mouth, genitals, or throat. Some strains of HPV infection can lead to cancer. These include:
- cervical cancer
- penile cancer
- oral cancer
- vulvar cancer
- rectal cancer
It isn’t all cases of HPV that become cancerous. Some strains of the virus are more likely to cause cancer than others. According to the National Cancer Institute, most cases of HPV-related cancer in the United States are caused by HPV 16 and HPV 18. These two strains of HPV make up 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases.
HPV has no treatment. However, HPV infections can often resolve on their own. You can protect yourself against some of the most dangerous strains of HPV through vaccination.
Most people with chlamydia show or feel no visible symptoms. However, when symptoms do develop, they may include:
- lower abdominal pain
- pain during sex or urination
- green or yellow discharge from the penis or vagina
Chlamydia can lead to serious complications if left untreated. They include:
- pelvic inflammatory disease
- infections of the urethra, prostate gland, or testicles
Chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that often goes unnoticed in its early stages. The first symptom is a small round sore called chancre. It can develop on your genitals, anus, or mouth. It is extremely infectious but painless.
In the later stages of the disease, symptoms may include:
- joint pain
- hair loss
- weight loss
In the late-stage, if left untreated, syphilis can lead to:
- loss of hearing and vision
- loss of memory
- mental illness
- infections of the brain or spinal cord
- heart disease
Syphilis is easily treated with antibiotics if detected early. However, syphilis infection in a newborn can be deadly. It’s vital for all pregnant women to be screened for syphilis. The earlier syphilis is diagnosed and treated, the less damage it does.
HIV can destroy the immune system, thereby increasing the risk of contracting other viruses or bacteria and certain cancers. If left untreated, HIV can lead to stage 3 HIV, known as AIDS.
The early symptoms of HIV include:
- sore throat
- swollen lymph nodes
- aches and pains
These initial symptoms typically clear within a month or so. From that point onward, a person can live with HIV without developing serious or persistent symptoms for many years. Other people may develop nonspecific symptoms, such as:
- recurrent fatigue
- abdominal issues
HIV has no cure, but treatment options are available to manage it. Early and effective treatment can help people with HIV live as long as those without HIV.
Gonorrhea, also called the clap, is another common bacterial STD. Many people with gonorrhea show no symptoms. However, when symptoms do appear, they may include:
- pain or discomfort during sex or urination
- a white, yellow, beige, or green-colored discharge from the penis or vagina
- itching around the genitals
- more frequent urination than usual
- sore throat
If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, and infections of the urethra, testicles, or prostate gland.
Gonorrhea can usually be treated with antibiotics.
Pubic lice (‘crabs’)
Public lice, also called crabs, are tiny insects that can invade your pubic hair. They feed on human blood, just like head lice and body lice.
Common symptoms of pubic lice include:
- small red bumps around the genitals or anus
- itching around the genitals or anus
- low-grade fever
- lack of energy
You might also be able to see the lice or their tiny white eggs around the roots of pubic hair. A magnifying glass can help you spot them.
If left untreated, pubic lice can spread to other people through skin-to-skin contact or shared clothing, bedding, or towels. Scratched bites can also become infected.
Pubic lice can be treated with the use of over-the-counter topical treatments and tweezers to remove them from your body. It’s also important to clean your clothes, bedding, towels, and home.
Trichomoniasis is caused by a tiny protozoan organism that can be passed from one person to another through genital contact. Symptoms may include:
- frequent passing of urine
- pain during sexual intercourse
- vaginal discharge with “fishy” smell
- discharge from the vagina or penis
- burning or itching around the vagina or penis
If left untreated, trich can lead to infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, or infections of the urethra
Trich can be treated with antibiotics.
There are two main strains of the herpes simplex virus (HSV), HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both can be transmitted sexually. It’s a very common STD. HSV-1 causes oral herpes, which causes cold sores. However, HSV-1 can also be passed from one person’s mouth to another person’s genitals during oral sex. When this happens, HSV-1 can cause genital herpes.
HSV-2 primarily causes genital herpes.
Effective treatment and safe sexual practices can help you lead a comfortable life with herpes and protect others from the virus.
Other STDs that aren’t very common include:
- lymphogranuloma venereum
- granuloma inguinale
- molluscum contagiosum
Apart from vaginal and anal sex, you can also get STDs through oral sex. In other words, STDs can be passed from one person’s genitals to another person’s mouth or throat and vice versa.
Oral STDs aren’t always noticeable. When they do cause symptoms, they often include a sore throat or sores around the mouth or throat.
STDs cannot be properly diagnose on just symptoms. Your doctor may ask you about your sexual history, and may recommend STD testing even if you don’t have symptoms. Urine or blood test is mostly used to diagnose STDs. They may also take a swab of your genitals and sores, if you’ve developed any.
If you’ve had any type of sex, it’s a good idea to ask your healthcare provider about STD testing.
Treatment of STDs
The treatment for STDs depends on what STD you have. You and your sexual partner should be successfully treated for STDs before resuming sexual activity.
Antibiotics can be used to treat bacterial infections. It’s important to take all your antibiotics as prescribed. Continue taking them even if you feel better before you finish taking all of them. Consult your doctor if your symptoms persist.
Viral STDs cannot be successfully treated with antibiotics. Though most viral infections have no cure, but some can resolve on their own. In most cases, treatment options are available to relieve symptoms and reduce the risk of transmission.
STDs are not only caused by viruses nor bacteria, they can also be caused by small organisms. Such STDs include:
- pubic lice
These STDs are usually treated with oral or topical medications.
The only guaranteed way to avoid STDs is to engage in vaginal, anal, or oral sex in safer ways. Condoms can provide effective protection against many STDs. Condoms should be used during vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Also, dental dams can also provide protection during oral sex.
Condoms are effective at preventing STDs that spread through semen or blood. However, they can’t fully protect against STDs that spread from skin to skin. An infected area of skin that isn’t covered by condom can still be passed on to a partner.
Condoms can protect against STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Other types of birth control lower the risk of unwanted pregnancy but not STDs. Forms of birth control that cannot protect you from contracting STDs include:
- birth control pills
- birth control implants
- birth control shot
- intrauterine devices (IUDs)
Those who are sexually active should always go for STD screening, especially those with a new partner or multiple partners. Early diagnosis and treatment can help stop the spread of infections.
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