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Sexually Transmitted Diseases (You're Unfriendly STDs)

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It's especially important to remember that pregnancy isn't the only thing you should be thinking about. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) pose a serious risk to anyone having unprotected sexual intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, and in some cases, skin-to-skin contact with an infected area. (FYI - an infected area may not always be noticeable.) It is important to remember that although all methods of contraception provide protection against pregnancy, they don't always protect against STDs.

Many STDs have no symptoms, so you can't tell if you have one just by looking. The only way to know for sure whether you have an STD is to get tested. That means you can't tell if a partner has an STD, unless your partner also gets tested. If you have never been tested for STDs, you may want to ask your health care provider about testing and screening for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all sexually active teens be screened for chlamydia annually, even if symptoms are not present. Ladies, also remember that although pap smears can screen for any cervical abnormalities, including abnormalities linked to the human papilloma virus (HPV), pap smears are NOT a test for STDs. In other words, there are different tests for each STD.

To get tested for STDs, you can go to a health care provider or to a family planning or STD clinic that provides low cost (sometimes even free) and confidential STD testing and treatment. To find a clinic near you, call the CDC's National STD Hotline at 1-800-227-8922 or Planned Parenthood's national hotline at 1-800-230-PLAN

Here are the most common STDs:

Chlamydia

  • What it is: A bacterial infection of the genital area.
  • How many get it: About 3 million cases each year.
  • Signs: There are no symptoms in most women and many men who have it. Others may experience abnormal vaginal bleeding (not your period), unusual discharge or pain during urination within one to three weeks of having sex with an infected partner.

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  • How it's spread: Through unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse.
  • Treatment: Oral antibiotics cure the infection; both partners must be treated at the same time to prevent passing the infection back and forth, and both partners need to abstain from unprotected intercourse until the infection is gone.
  • Possible consequences: Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women, tubal (ectopic) pregnancy, infertility, and increased risk of HIV infection.

Genital Herpes

  • What it is: A viral infection of the genital area (and sometimes around the mouth).
  • How to get it: About 1 million new cases each year; an estimated 45 million cases already exist.
  • Signs: There are two kinds of herpes. Herpes 1 causes cold sores and fever blisters on the mouth but can be spread to the genitals; Herpes 2 is usually on the genitals but it can be spread to the mouth. Nearly two-thirds of people who are infected with herpes don't even realize it. An outbreak can cause red bumps that turn into painful blisters or sores on the vagina, penis, buttocks, thighs, or elsewhere. During the first attack, it can also lead to flu-like symptoms, including fever, headaches, and swollen glands. Symptoms usually appear within two weeks of infection but can take longer in some cases. The first outbreak is usually more severe than later recurrences.
  • How it's spread: By touching an infected area or having unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse. Warning: some people may be contagious even when they don't have symptoms.
  • Treatment: There is no cure. An antiviral drug can help the pain and itching and also reduce the frequency of recurrent outbreaks.
  • Possible consequences: Recurrent sores (the virus lives in the nerve roots and keeps coming back), as well as increased risk of HIV infection. Transmission of herpes to newborns is rare. Most mothers with a history of herpes have normal vaginal deliveries. However, an infant who gets herpes can become very ill, so some precautions are advisable.

Gonorrhea

  • What it is: A bacterial infection of the genital area.
  • How many get it: Approximately 650,000 new cases a year; teens have higher rates of gonorrhea than do sexually active men and women aged 20-44.
  • Signs: Most women and many men who get it have no symptoms. For those who do get symptoms, it can cause a burning sensation while urinating, green or yellowish vaginal or penile discharge, and for women, abnormal vaginal bleeding or pelvic pain. Symptoms can appear 2 to 10 days after infection.
  • How it's spread: Through unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
  • Treatment: Oral antibiotics. Both partners need to be treated at the same time to prevent passing the infection back and forth  and both partners need to abstain from intercourse until the infection is gone.
  • Possible consequences: PID, tubal (ectopic) pregnancy, sterility, increased risk of HIV infection. The infection can spread into the uterus and fallopian tubes. It can also cause complications during pregnancy (including stillbirth) or infant blindness or meningitis (from an infected mom during delivery).

Hepatitis B Virus

  • What it is: A viral infection primarily affecting the liver.
  • How many get it: About 77,000 new cases a year through sexual transmission; about 750,000 people are already infected with Hepatitis B as a result of sexual transmission.
  • Signs: Many people don't have any symptoms. Others may experience severe fatigue, achiness, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, darkening of urine, or abdominal tenderness, usually within one to six months of exposure. Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (called jaundice), and darkening of the urine can occur later.

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  • How it's spread: Through unprotected vaginal, oral, and anal sex. It can also be transmitted through sharing contaminated needles, or through any behavior in which a person's mucus membranes are exposed to an infected person's blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or saliva. (Don't worry... the chance of getting Hepatitis B through kissing is slim, unless your partner likes to bite!).
  • Treatment: Most cases clear up within one to two months without treatment, during which complete abstinence from alcohol is recommended until liver function returns to normal. Some people are contagious for the rest of their lives. A three-dose vaccine is now available to prevent this STD.
  • Possible consequences: Chronic, persistent inflammation of the liver and later cirrhosis or cancer of the liver; plus, if you're pregnant, your baby must be immunized at birth.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

  • What it is: A viral infection with more than 100 different types, primarily affecting the genital area, both the outer and inner surfaces.
  • How many get it: An estimated 5.5 million new cases each year; at least 20 million people already have it.
  • Signs: Soft, itchy warts in and around the genitals (vagina, penis, testicles, and anus) may appear two weeks to three months after exposure. Many people, however, have no symptoms but may still be contagious.
  • How it's spread: Through unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse, or by touching or rubbing an infected area (infected areas may not always be noticeable).
  • Treatment: There is no cure. Warts can be removed through medication or surgery. Even with such treatments, the virus stays in the body and can cause future outbreaks.
  • Possible consequences: Increased risk of genital cancer for men and women. Some virus types cause the most common form of cervical cancer in women.

HIV

  • What it is: The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of AIDS.
  • How many get it: An estimated 40,000 Americans are infected with HIV each year, most of whom were infected sexually, and an estimated 800,000 - 900,000 people in the U.S. are living with HIV/AIDS.
  • Signs: Many people who have HIV don't even know it because symptoms may not appear for 10 years or longer. Others experience unexplained weight loss, flu-like symptoms, diarrhea, fatigue, persistent fevers, night sweats, headaches, mental disorders, or severe or recurring vaginal yeast infections.
  • How it's spread: Through body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk - in other words, during vaginal, oral or anal intercourse; by sharing contaminated needles; or via pregnancy or breast-feeding. During vaginal intercourse, the risks of becoming infected are higher for women than for men, because HIV is more easily transmitted from man to woman.
  • Treatment: There is no cure and AIDS is considered fatal. Several new antiviral medications can slow progression of the infection and delay the onset of AIDS symptoms. Early treatment can make a big difference.
  • Possible consequences: It is the deadliest STD of all and can weaken the body's ability to fight disease, making someone with HIV vulnerable to certain cancers and infections such as pneumonia. Babies born to HIV-positive mothers may become infected with HIV if the mother is not receiving treatment, but treatment can reduce that rate significantly.

Syphilis

  • What it is: An infection caused by small organisms, which can spread throughout the body.
  • How many get it: About 70,000 new cases each year.
  • Signs: In the first phase, sores (chancre) may appear on the genitals or mouth several weeks to three months after exposure, lasting for one to five weeks. Often, however, there are no noticeable symptoms. In the second stage, up to 10 weeks after the initial sore has disappeared, a variety of symptoms can appear, including a rash (often on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, or genital area).
  • How it's spread: Through unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex and also through kissing if there is a lesion on the mouth.
  • Treatment: Antibiotic treatment can cure the disease if it's caught early, but medication can't undo damage the disease has already done. Both partners must be treated at the same time.
  • Possible consequences: Increased risk of HIV infection. If syphilis is left untreated, the symptoms will disappear, but the germ will remain within the body and progress into the third stage, which may seriously damage the brain, heart, and nervous system, and possibly cause death. It can also seriously harm a developing fetus during pregnancy.

Trichomoniasis ("Trich")

  • What it is: A parasitic infection of the genital area.
  • How many get it: As many as 5 million new cases each year.
  • Signs: Often there are no symptoms, especially in men. Some women note a frothy, smelly, yellowish-green vaginal discharge, and/or genital area discomfort, usually within 4 days to one month after exposure to the parasite. Men may notice a discharge from the penis.
  • How it's spread: Through unprotected vaginal intercourse.
  • Treatment: Antibiotics can cure the infection. Both partners need to be treated at the same time to prevent passing the infection back and forth and both partners need to abstain from intercourse until the infection is gone.
  • Possible consequences: Increased risk of HIV infection; can cause complications during pregnancy. Also, it's common for this infection to happen again and again.

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HealthyPlace.com: Sexually Transmitted Diseases: What's Your Risk:.

Emergency

Think you may have a sexually transmitted disease? Arrange a medical visit immediately, or call the Planned Parenthood Hotline at 1-800-230-PLAN for a referral to a confidential, low-cost clinic. Other hotlines for more information: the National STD Hotline, 1-800-227-8922; the National HPV and Cervical Cancer Prevention Hotline, 1-877-HPV-5868; or the National Herpes Hotline, 1-919-361-8488.

Worried that you may be HIV-positive, or that you may have been exposed to the virus? Get tested for HIV. Remember that tests are either "anonymous" or "confidential" and there are different kinds of tests. If you need help finding a place to be tested, or you have questions, call the CDC's National AIDS Hotline at 1-800-342-AIDS, or the National Teenage AIDS Hotline at 1-800-440-TEEN.

next: Sexual Orientation: "Am I Gay (Lesbian) because I think about it?"

APA Reference
Writer, H. (2008, December 25). Sexually Transmitted Diseases (You're Unfriendly STDs), HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/sex/psychology-of-sex/sexually-transmitted-diseases-unfriendly-stds

Last Updated: August 19, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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