April is STD Awareness Month! Learning about STDs can give you the tools you need to protect yourself.
What Are STDs?
STDs are known as sexually transmitted diseases, meaning that they often – though not exclusively – spread via sexual intercourse. Formerly known as venereal diseases, STDs are the most common contagious diseases with more than 65 million Americans having an incurable STD.
You can get an STD from vaginal, anal, or oral sex. You can also be infected from contact with damp or moist objects like towels, clothing, or toilet seats (trichomoniasis). STDs can also be caused by skin to skin contact (genital herpes) or using personal items like toothbrushes or razors (hepatitis B).
STD Risk Factors
You are at a higher risk for STDs if you have:
- More than one sexual partner
- Sex with someone who has had many partners
- Unprotected sex
- Shared needles to inject intravenous drugs
- Traded sex for money or drugs
What Are the Main Types of STDs?
Chlamydia is the most common STD reported among Americans. Caused by bacteria, typically, those with chlamydia have no noticeable symptoms though, they may include pain or discomfort during sex and urination, green or yellow discharge, or pain in the lower abdomen. Antibiotics treat chlamydia and if left untreated, chlamydia can cause infections of the urethra, testicles, pr prostate gland. It can also cause infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV can be passed from skin-to-skin or sexual contact and there are many different strains of the virus. The most common symptom of HPC is warts on the mouth, throat, or genitals. Many strains of HPV can lead to cervical, vulvar, penile, rectal, or oral cancer. There is no treatment for HPV because most infections clear up on their own. With that said, there are vacc9ines available to protect against the most dangerous strains, HPV 16 and 18.
Syphilis, a bacterial infection, often goes unnoticed in its early stages. The first symptom is a small chancre that may develop on your genitals, anus, and mouth. While painless, this chancre is very infectious and as syphilis develops, symptoms may progress to rash, fatigue, fever, headaches, joint pain, weight loss, and hair loss. If caught early, syphilis can be treated with antibiotics… and if left untreated it can lead to loss of hearing, vision, and memory, mental illness, brain and spinal cord infection, heart disease, or death.
HIV damages the immune system and increases one’s risk of contracting other viruses, bacterial infections, or certain cancers. If left untreated, it can lead to AIDS and in the acute stages, one could easily mistake the symptoms as those of the flu as they include fever, chills, aches and pains, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, headache, nausea, and rashes. While there is no cure for HIV, there are medications that make it easier to manage. Some of these medications can even reduce your risk of transmitting HIV to a sexual partner by lowering the amount of HIV to undetectable levels.
Gonorrhea is a bacterial form of STD that typically develops without any symptoms. With that said, commonly, the symptoms include white, yellow, beige, or green discharge, pain or discomfort during sex or urination, frequent urination, itching around the genitals, and sore throat. If left untreated gonorrhea can lead to pelvic, prostate, or testicle infections, infertility, or pelvic inflammatory disease. That said, gonorrhea is treatable with antibiotics.
Public lice is also known as crabs. These are tiny insects that take of residence on your public hair that feed on human blood. Commonly, these symptoms include itching, small red or pink bumps, low-grade fever, lethargy, and irritability. While public lice can be treated with over-the-counter topical treatments and tweezers, if left untreated, it can cause other infections.
Trich can be passed from one person to another person through genital contact and less than one-third of people develop symptoms. These symptoms typically include discharge, burning or itching around the genitals, pain or discomfort during urination or sex, and frequent urination. If left untreated, trich can cause urethra infections, infertility, or pelvic inflammatory disease, though it is easily treated with antibiotics.
Herpes has two main strains – HSV-1 and HSV-2 and is a common STD with about 1 our of 6 people ages 14 to 49 having STDs in the US. Typically, HSV causes oral herpes or cold sores. It can be passed from one person’s mouth to another’s genitals during oral sex, which causes genital herpes. HSV-2 causes genital herpes. While there is no cure for herpes yet, there are medications that can alleviate pain and make symptoms and outbreaks more manageable.
The best way to avoid STDs is to avoid sexual contact. That said if you do have vaginal, anal, or oral sex, using condoms, dental dams, and otherwise can provide effective protection. Regular STD screening is crucial if you are sexually active as early treatment and diagnosis can help stop the spread of infections.
How to Get Tested by STDs
It’s so important to get tested for STDs whether you have symptoms or not. If you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex, speak to your doctor or nurse about getting tested. STD testing is a part of being responsible and taking care of yourself and your partners.
Before you have sex with your partner, discuss your sexual history and get screened by a healthcare professional. Ask your partner what they’ve been tested for and be specific. If your partner tests positive, help them follow their recommended treatment plan and speak to your doctor about ways that you can protect yourself from contracting the STD from your partner.