The CDC estimates that nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) occur each year in the United States. That’s a lot of sexually transmitted diseases. And it’s not just happening to other people; you or someone close to you might have an STD and not even know it. STDs are caused by bacteria, parasites, or viruses that are passed from one person to another through sexual contact.
Some STDs have cures and others will become a permanent part of your life if you are infected. In order to keep yourself safe, or manage your STD safely, you need to know about the many sexually transmitted diseases that are out there today.
The Most Common Ways to Contract an STD
Knowing how to keep yourself protected can absolutely mean the difference when it comes to safe sex. STDs can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. They can even be passed from one person to another through skin-to-skin contact. Some STDs can even be transferred at birth. Surprisingly, STDs are very common; in fact, it’s estimated that nearly half of all Americans will contract an STD at some point in their lives.
There are many ways to practice safe sex, and the best way to protect yourself from STDs is to use a combination of them. One of the most important things to remember is that STDs can be spread through any type of sexual contact, so you need to be vigilant no matter what.
Here are some tips for practicing safe sex and preventing STDs:
- Use condoms every time you have sex, no matter what type of sex it is.
- Get tested regularly, even if you don’t think you have an STD.
- Talk to your partner about STDs before you have sex.
- Avoid having unprotected sex with multiple partners.
- Don’t share needles or other drug paraphernalia.
- Understand that pill, foam, ring, or shot forms of birth control do not protect against STDs.
Know Your Sexually Transmitted Diseases
There are a few STDs that are more common than others. Learn about how they are passed, their symptoms, and what you can do if you contract one.
Here are some of the most prevalent STDs today:
To be clear, BV is not necessarily an STD and often, it is not. However, it can be sexually transmitted. It’s caused by an imbalance of the healthy bacteria that are supposed to live in your vagina. When these good bacteria (lactobacilli) are outnumbered by other types of bacteria (anaerobes), you can get BV. This infection is actually quite common, affecting 1 in 3 women at some point in their lives. It is possible to get BV repeatedly and some women will have more issues with this than others.
There are a few different ways you can get BV.
- One is through sexual contact since it can be passed between partners. This is more likely to happen if you or your partner has multiple sex partners or if your bacteria biomes don’t mesh.
- You can also get BV after douching, which can disrupt the healthy balance of bacteria in your vagina.
- Having a natural lack of lactobacilli bacteria can make you prone to having an overgrowth of bad bacteria resulting in BV.
- Wearing a bathing suit or wet gym clothes can provoke an episode of BV.
- Even wearing underwear and clothing that is tight can become the cause of a bacterial imbalance.
- Using soaps or feminine products or perfumes with irritating scents can also cause BV.
- Fishy-smelling vaginal discharge
- Burning during urination
- Itching around the outside of the vagina
- Redness or swelling of the vulva.
If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor so you can get treated. Left untreated, BV can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause fertility issues.
BV is treated with antibiotics, either in the form of a pill that you take by mouth or as a vaginal cream, gel, or tablet. You may need to take more than one round of antibiotics to clear the infection.
Your doctor may also recommend that you take probiotics, either in pill form or as yogurt, to help restore the healthy bacteria in your vagina. Friendly reminder, yogurt does not go in your vagina. It is a food item with added sugars, ingredients, and preservatives. You may very well make BV much worse by trying to insert yogurt into your vagina. Just because the internet offers it as a remedy does NOT mean you should try it.
The best way to prevent BV is to have a monogamous relationship with one partner. If you are sexually active with multiple partners, use condoms consistently and correctly every time you have sex.
Chancroid is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by the bacteria Haemophilus ducreyi. Chancroid is characterized by the formation of ulcers on the genitals. Chancroid is more common in developing countries, but can occur anywhere in the world.
How chancroid is spread:
- Chancroid is spread through sexual contact with an infected person.
- Chancroid can also be spread through contact with contaminated objects, such as towels, clothing, or sex toys.
- Formation of one or more ulcers on the genitals
- Ulcers may be painful, tender, or itchy
- Ulcers may bleed
- Swollen lymph nodes in the groin
Chancroid can be treated with antibiotics. While chancroids are curable, if left untreated it could create complications like increased risk of HIV, scarring of the genitals, infertility, and could even spread to other areas of the body. Chancroids are treated by taking a course of antibiotics for 7 to 10 days.
The best way to prevent chancroid is by using condoms during sex and avoiding sexual contact with someone who has an STD. If you have chancroid, it’s important to abstain from sexual activity until the ulcers have healed and you’ve been cleared by a doctor. Also, if showering in a public gym or swimming in a public pool, make sure to bring your own towels.
Chlamydia is one of the most common STDs and can be easily transmitted through sexual contact. Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis and is usually transmitted through unprotected sexual contact.
How chlamydia is spread:
- Vaginal and anal sex.
- Unprotected oral sex.
- Chlamydia can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth.
- Burning sensation when urinating
- More frequent urination
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Bleeding between periods or after sex
- Abnormal vaginal discharge.
Most people with chlamydia have no symptoms, which is why it’s often referred to as a “silent” STD. When symptoms do occur, they usually appear 1-3 weeks after exposure.
Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics. Azithromycin and doxycycline are the most common antibiotics used to treat chlamydia. Antibiotics are usually given as a single dose or a course of treatment lasting 7-14 days. It’s important that you finish all of your medication, even if your symptoms go away. If you don’t finish your medication, the infection could come back. If left untreated, chlamydia can cause serious health problems, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can lead to infertility.
The best way to prevent STDs is to abstain from sexual contact or to use barrier methods of contraception (like condoms) every time you have sex. If you are sexually active, get tested for STDs regularly. Early detection and treatment of STDs can prevent serious health complications.
Ectoparasitic infection is the fancy word for a STD term you have probably heard about known as crabs. This STD can be more than just pubic lice though. It can be caused by any parasites that live on the outside of the body, like lice or scabies. And yes, they can be pretty icky.
How “crabs” are spread:
You can get them from close contact with someone who has them, like during sex. But you can also get them by sharing towels, bedding, or clothes with someone who has them.
The symptoms of an ectoparasitic infection depend on which parasite you have
- Visible small white eggs in your hair
- Scales on your skin
Ectoparasitic infections are treated with medication. You can get this medication from your doctor or at a pharmacy.
- Malathion: This medication is used to treat crab lice. You apply it to your skin and hair and then rinse it off after 8-12 hours.
- Permethrin: This medication is used to treat scabies. You apply it to your skin and then rinse it off after 8-14 hours.
- Ivermectin: This medication is used to treat strongyloides stercoralis, a type of parasitic roundworm. You take it as a pill.
You will also need to wash all of your clothes, bedding, and towels in hot water to get rid of the parasites.
The best way to prevent an ectoparasitic infection is to practice good hygiene and avoid close contact with someone who has one. You should also avoid sharing towels, bedding, or clothes with someone who has an infection.
Gonorrhea is a bacterial STD that can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and infertility in women. It can also cause epididymitis in men, which can lead to infertility.
If you think you have gonorrhea, it’s important to see a doctor or go to a sexual health clinic as soon as possible. If it’s not treated, gonorrhea can cause serious health problems.
How gonorrhea is spread:
Gonorrhea is spread through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex. You can get it from having sex with someone who has it, even if they don’t have any symptoms.
- Burning when you pee
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Painful or swollen testicles
- Rectal pain or bleeding
- Sore throat
Gonorrhea can be cured with antibiotics. Due to new strains of gonorrhea that are resistant to drugs the CDC recommends uncomplicated cases be treated with the injected antibiotic ceftriaxone or with oral azithromycin (Zithromax).
If you have it, it’s important to avoid having sex until you and your partner(s) have been treated. This will help prevent spreading the infection. Both you and your partner will need to be treated so that it is not passed back to you again.
The best way to prevent STDs is to abstain from sexual contact or to be in a monogamous relationship with an STD-free partner. If you are sexually active, you can reduce your risk of STDs by using latex condoms the right way every time you have sex.
Hepatitis a serious STD that can lead to liver damage. There are multiple strains of hepatitis but hepatitis B is primarily spread as an STD. This disease can be a mild illness only lasting a few weeks or become a serious chronic condition.
Hepatitis B is spread:
- Through sexual contact
- From an infected mother to her baby during childbirth
- By sharing needles or other injection drug equipment
- Sharing toothbrushes or razors
Hepatitis B often doesn’t cause any symptoms and people can be infected for years without knowing it. It is estimated 2 in 3 people do not know they are infected. When symptoms do occur, they can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain
There is no cure for hepatitis B, but it can be managed with medication. Treatment focuses on reducing the amount of virus in your body and preventing liver damage. Medications used to treat hepatitis B include:
- Interferon alfa-2b or pegylated interferon alfa-2a
- Lamivudine (Epivir-HBV)
- Adefovir dipivoxil (Hepsera)
- Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (Viread)
- Entecavir (Baraclude)
- Telbivudine (Tyzeka)
The best way to prevent hepatitis B is to get the hepatitis B vaccine. The vaccine is recommended for all babies at birth, all children under 18 years old, and adults who are at risk for hepatitis B.
Other ways to prevent hepatitis B include:
- Avoiding sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis B
- Using a latex condom every time you have sex
- Not sharing needles or other drug injection equipment
- Not sharing personal items such as toothbrushes or razors
Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that is caused by the herpes simplex virus. There are two types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is typically associated with oral herpes, while HSV-2 is typically associated with genital herpes. However, both types of herpes can cause infections in any area of the body.
How herpes spreads:
Herpes is a highly contagious infection that can be spread through skin-to-skin contact. The virus can be transmitted even when there are no visible symptoms. Herpes is most commonly spread through sexual activity, but it can also be spread through kissing, sharing towels or razor blades, or any other type of skin-to-skin contact.
The symptoms of herpes vary depending on the type of infection. HSV-1 is typically associated with oral herpes, which can cause:
- Cold sores
- Fever blisters around the mouth
HSV-2 is typically associated with genital herpes, which can cause:
- Sores or blisters around the genitals.
However, both types of herpes can cause infections in any area of the body and further symptoms such as:
- Painful urination
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Body aches
Herpes is a lifelong infection that has no cure. However, there are treatments available that can help to manage the symptoms. There are also steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others.
There are also antiviral medications that can be used to treat herpes. These medications can help to reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms. They can also help to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others.
Herpes can also be spread through asymptomatic shedding, so it is important to use condoms or dental dams even when symptoms are not present. If you have herpes, it is important to avoid sexual activity when symptoms are present. This will help to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others.
HIV is a serious, life-threatening illness caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV attacks the body’s immune system, making the person infected susceptible to other infections and illnesses, which can lead to AIDS. People with AIDS often experience a wide range of symptoms that can make everyday activities very difficult.
How HIV is spread:
HIV is spread through contact with the blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, or vaginal fluid of an infected person. It can also be spread from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. People can also get HIV by sharing needles or other injecting equipment when they use drugs.
The symptoms of HIV can differ from person to person, and range from mild to severe. Some people may not experience any symptoms for many years after they become infected. For others, the first few weeks after infection can be associated with a short, flu-like illness. This is sometimes called acute retroviral syndrome (ARS) or primary HIV infection.
After the initial infection, HIV can remain inactive (dormant) in the body for many years. During this time, people living with HIV may not have any symptoms and may feel healthy. However, the virus is still active and can be passed on to others through sex or sharing injecting equipment.
Once HIV becomes active again, it starts to damage the immune system. This can lead to a wide range of symptoms, which can differ from person to person. The following are some of the most common symptoms:
- Muscle aches and joint pain
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
- Yeast infections in the mouth or throat (thrush)
- Cough and shortness of breath
- Memory problems and difficulty concentrating
Thanks to advances in medical science, there is now a range of effective treatments available for HIV. If you have HIV, it’s important to start treatment as soon as possible to reduce the damage to your immune system and prevent the virus from progressing to AIDS.
The main aim of HIV treatment is to reduce the amount of virus in your body (viral load) to an undetectable level. An undetectable viral load means that there is too little virus in your blood for the test to detect. People living with HIV who have an undetectable viral load cannot pass on HIV to someone else through sex.
HIV treatment involves taking a combination of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). ARVs work by interfering with different stages of the HIV life cycle, preventing the virus from multiplying and damaging the immune system.
There is a range of different ARV drugs available, and they are often combined into one daily tablet, known as combination therapy or highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART).
The drugs in a HAART regimen can differ from person to person and may be changed over time as HIV becomes resistant to treatment.
In addition to taking ARVs, people living with HIV should also focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and managing stress. People living with HIV should also avoid smoking and drinking alcohol excessively.
Living with HIV can be a challenge, but there are many organizations and support groups available to help people manage the condition. With treatment, most people with HIV can expect to live a long and healthy life.
There is no vaccine available to prevent HIV, but there are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk of infection.
The best way to prevent HIV is to use condoms during sex and avoid sharing needles or other injecting equipment when using drugs.
Other ways to reduce your risk of HIV include:
- If you are a man who has sex with men, use condoms and water-based lubricant every time you have anal or oral sex.
- If you are a woman who has sex with men, use condoms every time you have vaginal or anal sex.
- If you are pregnant and have HIV, take antiretroviral drugs to reduce the risk of transmission to your baby.
- If you are an injecting drug user, use only sterile needles and syringes. Never share injecting equipment with others.
- If you have multiple partners, reduce your number of sexual partners or practice monogamy.
- Get tested for HIV regularly, especially if you have unprotected sex or share injecting equipment.
- If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, seek medical attention as soon as possible. There is a medication called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) that can reduce the risk of infection if taken within 72 hours of exposure.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is a virus that is passed from person to person through sexual contact. This STD is extremely common, more than 42 million Americans are currently infected with HPV.
There are many different types of HPV, and some can cause cancer. Other types can cause genital warts. HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, so condoms will not always protect you. The CDC has approved a vaccine for HPV called Gardasil 9. There are many strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) so the vaccine can protect against some but not all.
- Genital warts
- Cervical cancer
- Other types of cancer, including anal and throat cancer
There is no cure for HPV, but there are treatments available for the symptoms it causes. Around 9 out of 10 cases will clear up on their own after 2 years.
If you have genital warts, your doctor can prescribe a cream or medication that will help to remove them. If you have cervical cancer, you may need surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. There is no cure for the HPV virus once you have it but your body may clear it on its own.
The best way to prevent HPV is to get the Gardasil 9 vaccine. This vaccine is given in three shots over six months and is recommended for girls and boys aged 11 or 12. You can still get the vaccine if you are aged 13 to 26 and have not yet been vaccinated. At older ages, it may not be effective as you may have already been exposed.
Condoms may help to reduce your risk of getting HPV, but they will not protect you completely as HPV can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.
Lymphogranuloma Venereum (LGV)
Lymphogranuloma Venereum is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a specific strain of the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. LGV is rare in the United States, but cases have been increasing in recent years.
How Lymphogranuloma Venereum is spread:
LGV is spread through sexual contact with an infected person. The bacteria can enter the body through tiny cuts or breaks in the skin. Once inside the body, the bacteria can travel to the lymph nodes and cause an infection.
Symptom onset is generally 3 to 30 days from exposure. LGV can cause a number of symptoms, including:
- Painless bumps or ulcers on the genitals
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Rectal bleeding or pain
Antibiotics such as tetracycline or sulfamethoxazole can clear up Lymphogranuloma Venereum. If left untreated, LGV can lead to serious health complications, including:
- Permanent damage to the lymph nodes
- Lymphatic obstruction (elephantiasis)
- Chronic pain
The best way to prevent Lymphogranuloma Venereum is to practice safe sex. This includes using condoms during sex and avoiding sexual contact with anyone who has an STD. If you think you have been exposed to LGV, contact your healthcare provider immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent serious health complications.
Mycoplasma genitalium is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection. It is similar to other STDs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, but is often harder to detect and treat. While not well known, 1 in 100 adults might have it.
How mycoplasma genitalium spreads:
Mycoplasma genitalium is spread through sexual contact with an infected person. The bacteria can enter the body through tiny cuts or breaks in the skin. Once inside the body, the bacteria can travel to the reproductive organs and cause an infection. You don’t even have to go “all the way” to contract this STD. Mycoplasma genitalium can be transmitted through sexual touching and rubbing.
Mycoplasma genitalium often does not cause any symptoms. When it does, symptoms might include:
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Discharge from the penis or vagina
- Pain during sex
- Bleeding after sex and between periods
- Pain in your pelvic area
Mycoplasma genitalium is treated with antibiotics. However, because it is similar to other STDs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, it can be easily misdiagnosed. If you think you might have mycoplasma genitalium, it is important to see a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis. There is no FDA-approved test for Mycoplasma genitalium. If you suspect you have this STI, request a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT).
The best way to reduce your chances of getting Mycoplasma genitalium is to practice safe sex. This includes using condoms during sex and avoiding sexual contact with anyone who has an STD. These methods can not guarantee that you won’t contract it, but they can help.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease is an infection of the reproductive organs that can occur when STDs are left untreated. Bacteria in the vagina can enter the cervix, womb, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. PID can cause serious health complications, including infertility and chronic pain. If you think you may have PID, it’s important to see a doctor right away.
How Pelvic Inflammatory Disease is spread:
Pelvic inflammatory disease isn’t “spread” like other STDs and STIs. Most of the time pelvic inflammatory disease is the result of a previous STD left untreated. PID can result from natural and medical procedures as well.
- Endometrial biopsy
- IUD insertion and removal
The symptoms of PID can be mild or severe. They may come and go, or they may get worse over time. The most common symptom is pain in the lower abdomen. Other symptoms include:
- Heavy vaginal bleeding or discharge
- Pain during sex
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Foul vaginal discharge
- Severe pain in the abdomen
If you think you may have PID, it’s important to see a doctor right away. PID is treated with antibiotics. The type of antibiotic depends on the bacteria causing the infection. Sometimes more than one type of antibiotic is needed.
The best way to prevent PID is to get STDs treated early. If you have an STD, it’s important to tell your sexual partner so they can be treated as well. It’s also important to use condoms every time you have sex. This will help reduce your risk of getting STDs in the first place.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can cause serious health problems if left untreated. It is caused by a bacterium called Treponema pallidum. The disease starts as a sore on the skin.
How syphilis is spread:
Syphilis is usually passed from person to person through sexual contact, including oral, vaginal, and anal sex. It can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus during pregnancy or delivery.
Syphilis can cause a wide range of symptoms, depending on how long you have had the infection.
- Early stage: A small, painless sore calle