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Sexually transmitted diseases

Young woman being exained by a doctor

Sexually Transmitted Diseases/Infections (STD/STIs)

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infectious diseases that are transmitted from one person to another during sexual contact. STDs are only referred to as diseases when they bring on symptoms to a person. For this reason, STDs are many times called "sexually transmitted infections (STIs).'

STDs are very common. More than half of people will contract one at some point in their lives. The practice of safe sex can prevent the transmission of these diseases. However, safe sex does not totally protect you from STDs. It reduces the likelihood that you will contract an illness.

There are more than 20 different types of sexually transmitted disease. Around 19 million men and women are infected with one of these illnesses each year in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control.

The way that these illnesses spread is through sexual contact involving the sex organs, the anus, or the mouth. In addition, they can be spread via contact with blood during sexual activity. Less commonly, they can be spread through contact with bodily fluids from a person infected with STD.

Note that there are some illnesses that can be contracted via sexual contact but are not classified as an STD. Hepatitis is one such disease.

Symptoms of STDs

Sometimes, these illnesses have no symptoms. In the event that symptoms are present, they may include the following:

  • Bumps, sores, or warts near the mouth, anus, penis, or vagina
  • Swelling or redness near the penis or vagina
  • Rash
  • Painful urination
  • Weight loss
  • Loose stools
  • Night sweats
  • Aches, pains, fever, and chills
  • Jaundice
  • Discharge from the sexual organs
  • Non-menstrual bleeding from the vagina
  • Pain during sex
  • Genital itching

Your doctor can examine you and do tests to determine if you have an STD. Some STDs can be cured, and some can only be controlled. Many STDs are treated with antibiotics.

Common STDs

Human Papillomavirus

This is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. You can contract it through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. In addition, you can get it by skin-to-skin contact. Most types of HPV do not manifest symptoms. However, some cause genital warts or infect the mouth and throat. Others can bring on certain types of cancer.


This is the most commonly reported STD in the United States. You can get it through vaginal or anal sex. Less frequently, it can spread through oral sex as well. It does not necessarily manifest symptoms. However, you may notice a discharge from your genitals.

Chlamydia is caused by bacteria. Therefore, it is treated with antibiotics.


This is another common type of STD. Many contract it with Chlamydia, and its symptoms are similar to chlamydia. Gonorrhea is easy to treat with antibiotics.


Syphilis is an illness with four different stages of development. In the first stage, the primary symptom is a sore. This sore can be mistaken for other kinds of harmless sores. The second stage begins with a bodily rash. You then develop sores in the mouth, vagina, or anus.

The symptoms usually go away in the third stage of the illness. This stage can occur for many years. Around 15% of patients with untreated syphilis will develop the final stage of the illness. In this stage, serious organ and nerve damage can occur. Problems with the brain can happen as well. Antibiotics can be used to treat syphilis.


The primary symptom of herpes is painful blisters around the penis, vagina, or anus. These blisters might form inside the vagina or anus so that you can't see them. Also, not everyone who has herpes will develop these blisters.

Herpes is very easy to contract. It passes via skin-to-skin contact, so a condom will not protect you from getting it. Since herpes is a virus, it is not curable. However, it can be managed through medication.


This illness is caused by a parasite. It can be transmitted through vaginal sex. Women can spread it to each other with genital contact. Around 30% of people with the illness get symptoms. These include itching or sore genitals and discharge from the sexual organs. This illness can be treated with antibiotics.


HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. It can be transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood and semen. It passes through unprotected sex or by sharing a needle with an infected person. HIV does not pass through contact with saliva.

The symptoms of HIV can feel like the flu. You can get muscle aches, fatigue, or a fever. You might also have weight loss or diarrhea. The only way to know with certainty that you have contracted AIDS is through a test that your doctor can administer.

AIDS slowly destroys the immune system. There is no known cure for the illness, but with treatment, patients can live long lives.

We have seen that there are varieties of sexually transmitted diseases that are common in the adult population. The incidence of these illnesses is on the rise because of risky sexual behavior that includes having many sexual partners. The only way to protect you from STDs is abstinence. If this is not an option for you, then it is best to protect yourself to the degree that you can. This means wearing a condom during sexual activity.

Although most STDs are treatable, some such as HPV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV lack effective cures. Gonorrhea has also become resistant to many traditional antibiotics that once easily cured the disease. Because some people are not aware that they have STDs, the absence of symptoms increases the possibility of spreading the conditions before diagnosis and treatment. Therefore, education, public awareness, and methods to prevent STDs are very important.