A sexually transmitted disease (STD) refers to a condition wherein certain infections are passed from one individual to another due to sexual contact. STDs are also called sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or venereal diseases (VDs). STIs may be passed due to unprotected oral, anal, or vaginal sex with someone carrying the STD.
While STIs are fairly common and not much different from other types of diseases, there are numerous myths associated with STIs because of the stigma of sexuality. STIs don’t ruin your life, and most of them can be treated with simple medications. In this article, we discuss the general symptoms of STIs, provide some facts about STIs, and describe the most common STIs.
Symptoms of STIs
- Pain or discomfort during urination
- Pain or discomfort during sex
- Sores, rashes, and bumps around the genitals — penis, testicles, vagina, anus, and buttocks
- Sores, rashes, and bumps around the mouth
- Unusual discharge from the penis or vagina
- Bleeding from the penis or vagina
- Itchiness, soreness, or swelling around the genitals
10 Facts About STIs
1. Women are more likely to get STDs than men.
Anatomical differences make it easier for men to transmit (rather than contract) STIs, making women more likely to get STIs — at least within a heteronormative framework.
2. The consequences of STDs are worse for women.
Untreated STDs, such as chlamydia, can spread into the fallopian tubes or uterus and cause pelvic inflammatory diseases, potentially leading to infertility. Some STIs, such as syphilis, can also be passed from the mother to the child via the placenta, leading to a life-threatening condition known as congenital syphilis. Meanwhile, men have fewer long-term health problems due to STIs.
3. STIs can be contracted through oral sex.
Some believe that oral sex keeps them safe against STIs, but that’s untrue. Unprotected oral sex leads to a high risk of syphilis, hepatitis B, gonorrhea, and herpes since the infection travels through semen and vaginal fluids. To prevent STIs, you must use a condom or dental dam during oral sex.
4. STIs are treatable but not necessarily curable.
Some STIs can be cured. Bacterial STIs, such as gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia, can be cured with antibiotics, and scabies can be cured with insecticides. But some viral STIs, such as hepatitis B, HIV, and genital warts, can be managed but not cured.
5. STIs can be asymptomatic.
Sexually transmitted infections can remain active for long periods without developing symptoms. Some individuals can also remain asymptomatic, making them more likely to transmit STIs without realizing it. Women with chlamydia often remain asymptomatic, and it can take up to 10 years to develops HIV-related symptoms. Furthermore, STIs can also be mistaken for urinary tract infections or yeast infections due to similar symptoms.
6. Regular STI tests are essential for all sexually active individuals.
Since STIs can remain asymptotic, all sexually active individuals need to get regular tests. Furthermore, you should get regular tests even if you just have one or two sexual partners.
7. Syphilis is extremely common amongst men who have sex with men.
Studies have shown that men who have sex with men account for around 70% of all the cases of syphilis in the United States. However, you can significantly reduce (or eliminate) the risk of syphilis with latex condoms.
8. STIs aren’t a part of annual physical exams.
Most physicians don’t test for sexually transmitted infections during routine annual exams, not unless you specifically ask for it. That’s why you must opt for annual STD screening, especially if you have multiple sexual partners.
9. All sexually active individuals contract HPV infections at some point.
There are over 150 strains of HPV infections, and over 40 of them are sexually transmitted. Low-risk HPV infections can cause genital warts, and high-risk HPV infections can cause various cancers of the mouth, throat, anus, penis, vulva, cervix, and other regions. The immune system automatically eliminates the less aggressive HPV infections, so most people don’t even realize when they have HPV. However, most people do contract some form of HPV at some point.
10. Over 25 STIs are currently identified.
So far, over 25 viral, bacterial, and parasitic STIs have been identified, with the most common ones being chlamydia, pubic lice, HIV, hepatitis B, HPV, syphilis, and genital herpes.
The Most Common STDs
- Trichomoniasis (Trich): A parasitic STI that causes genital irritation and inflammation with the potential for chronic inflammation.
- Genital Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Contracted through oral, anal, or vaginal sex, the HPV causes cellular changes and can potentially cause cancer.
- Pubic Lice (Crabs): These are tiny insects on the pubic hair that suck your blood and lay eggs, leading to severe itchiness.
- Herpes: Transmitted through oral sex, vaginal sex, anal sex, or kissing, this STI causes severe outbreaks on the genitals, buttocks, and mouth.
- Genital Warts: These are cauliflower-like bumps that appear in and around the vagina or anus, leading to frequent itchiness. They often clear away on their own in a few years.
- Chlamydia: Transmitted through oral sex, vaginal sex, and anal sex, chlamydia doesn’t always produce symptoms, but it can lead to pelvic pain, painful urination, and discharge. It can be cured with antibiotics.
- Gonorrhea (The Clap): This is a bacterial infection that leads to pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and vaginal discharge. It can be treated with antibiotics and injectables.
- Syphilis (The Pox): This is a bacterial disease that leads to sores and red pockmarked rashes. If left untreated, it can cause heart and nervous system problems. It can be curated with antibiotics.
- HEP B: This is a virus associated with chronic liver disease, and it can also be transmitted through toothbrushes or needles shared with infected individuals. It can be treated with lifelong medications.
- HIV: The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks the immune system, making your body incapable of warding off diseases. It can eventually lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). While there’s no cure for HIV, new medications can allow people to lead healthy lives while negating the risk of transmission.