What are STDs?
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are serious, sometimes painful diseases that can cause a lot of damage to you and your health. Some STDs infect your sexual and reproductive organs. Other STDs, such as HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis, cause severe general infections throughout your body.
Many STDs don’t have symptoms – or they’re too minor to notice. A lot of people wait for symptoms to appear before they get concerned. An STD can remain unless it is found and treated, with or without symptoms.
The only way to know for sure if you have an STD is to get tested. It’s important to know that there’s no lifelong protection if you’ve had an STD or been treated for one. You can get infected again and again.
How do STDs spread from person to person?
STDs are spread during close, sexual activity and during vaginal, anal and oral sex. Some STDs (HIV and hepatitis B) are also spread by contact with infected blood. Most STD germs live in warm, moist areas. That’s why they most often infect the mouth, rectum and sex organs (vagina, vulva, penis and testes).
What can be done about STDs?
If you think you might have an STD, you need to get checked. Don’t just hope it will go away, because it won’t!
It may be embarrassing or uncomfortable for you to go to a doctor or clinic for help. But you must get treatment, no matter how hard it is for you to do. This is the only way you will get well.
You must also tell your sexual partner(s) that you have an STD. If you have an STD, your partner(s) must get tested and treated, too. If your partner isn’t treated, they can get sick. Your partner can also spread the STD to others. They might even give it to you again!
What are the symptoms?
Some people have no symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you may notice any of the following:
Symptoms that women may notice:
- An unusual discharge or smell from your vagina.
- Pain in your pelvic area
- Burning or itching around your vagina.
- Irregular vaginal bleeding.
- Pain deep inside your vagina when you have sex.
Symptoms that men may notice:
- A drip or discharge from your penis
Symptoms that men or women may notice:
- Sores, bumps or blisters near your sex organs, rectum or mouth
- Burning and pain when you urinate or have a bowel movement
- Need to urinate often
- Itching around your sex organs
- A swelling or redness in your throat
- Flu-like feelings, with fever, chills and aches
- Swelling in your groin – the area around your sex organs
If you have any of these symptoms, you need to stop having sex. Go to an STD clinic or to your own health care provider. If you have an STD, don’t have sex until your treatment is complete. Don’t put it off — get checked right away.
How do I do if I think I have an STD?
If you think you may have an STD or if there’s a chance you have been exposed to one, the only way to know for sure is to see your medical provider or go to the health department or an STD clinic, where one or more tests can be done.
How can I protect myself from getting an STD?
- Not having sex is the best way to protect yourself from getting an STD.
- Having sex with only one uninfected partner who has only had sex with you is also safe.
- Talk to your partner about past sex partners and about any IV (needle) drug use.
- Then, before you have sex, look closely at your partner for any signs of STD – a rash, a sore, redness or discharge. If you see anything that you are worried about, don’t have sex!
- Use a latex condom for vaginal, anal and oral sex.
- Get checked for STDs regularly if you are sexually active. We can help you decide how often and what tests you should have.
- Know the signs and symptoms of STDs. If you notice a symptom that worries you, get checked.
Besides HIV, some common STDs include:
Genital Warts (Human Papillomavirus)
Hepatitis (A, B, & C)
For details, see Types of STDs (18kb pdf).
What does having HIV have to do with getting an STD?
If a person living with HIV/AIDS gets an STD, he or she becomes much more likely to pass on HIV to a partner when having sex. This is because when a person with HIV/AIDS has an STD, their genital fluids (including semen, precum, and vaginal fluid) are more likely to contain HIV. For instance, a man with an STD will have higher amounts of HIV in his semen. This makes it easier for HIV to be passed to another person during sex because that person is exposed to much more HIV than they would have been had the partner not had another STD.
How does having an STD affect your chance of getting HIV?
If you don’t have HIV, having another STD makes it much more likely for you to get HIV if you are exposed to it. When you have an STD, it can cause open sores or damaged skin on your penis, anus, or mouth. These sores may be painless or painful, visible or hidden, and may make it much easier for HIV to get into the body. Open sores are open doors—both in and out for HIV.
Even if no sores are present, having certain STDs makes it easier to catch HIV because STDs cause more immune cells to hang around to try to fight off the STD infection (in areas like the genitals or the throat). Since HIV infects immune cells, having more immune cells around makes HIV infection more likely.