Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) – or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – are generally acquired by sexual contact.
The organisms (bacteria, viruses or parasites) that cause sexually transmitted diseases may pass from person to person in blood, semen, or vaginal and other bodily fluids.
Sometimes these infections can be transmitted nonsexually, such as from mother to infant during pregnancy or childbirth, or through blood transfusions or shared needles.
STDs don’t always cause symptoms. It’s possible to contract sexually transmitted diseases from people who seem perfectly healthy and may not even know they have an infection.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can have a range of signs and symptoms, including no symptoms. That’s why they may go unnoticed until complications occur or a partner is diagnosed. Signs and symptoms that might indicate an STI include:
- Sores or bumps on the genitals or in the oral or rectal area
- Painful or burning urination
- Discharge from the penis
- Unusual or odd-smelling vaginal discharge
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Pain during sex
- Sore, swollen lymph nodes, particularly in the groin but sometimes more widespread
- Lower abdominal pain
- Rash over the trunk, hands or feet
Signs and symptoms may appear a few days after exposure, or it may take years before you have any noticeable problems, depending on the organism.
See a clinician immediately if:
- You are sexually active and may have been exposed to an STI
- You have signs and symptoms of an STI
Make an appointment with a clinician:
- When you consider becoming sexually active or when you’re 21 — whichever comes first
- Before you start having sex with a new partner
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be caused by:
- Bacteria (gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia)
- Parasites (trichomoniasis)
- Viruses (human papillomavirus, genital herpes, HIV)
Sexual activity plays a role in spreading many other kinds of infections, although it’s possible to be infected without sexual contact. Examples include the hepatitis A, B and C viruses, shigella, and Giardia intestinalis.
Anyone who is sexually active risks some degree of exposure to a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Factors that may increase that risk include:
- Having unprotected sex
Vaginal or anal penetration by an infected partner who isn’t wearing a latex condom significantly increases the risk of getting an STI. Improper or inconsistent use of condoms can also increase your risk.
- Oral sex may be less risky,
but infections can still be transmitted without a latex condom or a dental dam — a thin, square piece of rubber made with latex or silicone.
- Having sexual contact with multiple partners
The more people you have sexual contact with, the greater your risk. This is true for concurrent partners as well as monogamous consecutive relationships.
- Having a history of STIs
Having one STI makes it much easier for another STI to take hold.
- Anyone forced to have sexual intercourse or sexual activity
Dealing with rape or assault can be difficult, but it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible so that you can receive screening, treatment and emotional support.
- Misuse of alcohol or use of recreational drugs
Substance misuse can inhibit your judgment, making you more willing to participate in risky behaviours.
- Injecting drugs
Needle sharing spreads many serious infections, including HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
- Being young
Half the STIs occur in people between the ages of 15 and 24.
- Men who request prescriptions for drugs to treat erectile dysfunction
Men who ask their doctors for prescriptions for drugs such as sildenafil (Viagra, Revatio), tadalafil (Cialis, Adcirca) and vardenafil (Levitra) have higher rates of STIs. Be sure you are up to date on safe sex practices if you ask your doctor for one of these medications.
Because many people in the early stages of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or sexually transmitted infection (STI) experience no symptoms, screening for STIs is important in preventing complications.
Possible complications include:
- Pelvic pain
- Pregnancy complications
- Eye inflammation
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Heart disease
- Certain cancers, such as HPV-associated cervical and rectal cancers
Here’s the booking page for an STI test at our Tocolo clinic in Abbots Langley, Herts.
There are several ways to avoid or reduce your risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- Abstain. The most effective way to avoid STIs is to not have (abstain from) sex.
- Stay with one uninfected partner. Another reliable way of avoiding STIs is to stay in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship in which both people have sex only with each other and neither partner is infected.
- Wait and test. Avoid vaginal and anal intercourse with new partners until you have both been tested for STIs. Oral sex is less risky, but use a latex condom or dental dam to prevent direct (skin-to-skin) contact between the oral and genital mucous membranes.
- Use condoms and dental dams consistently and correctly. Use a new latex condom or dental dam for each sex act, whether oral, vaginal or anal. Never use an oil-based lubricant, such as petroleum jelly, with a latex condom or dental dam.
- Condoms made from natural membranes are not recommended because they’re not as effective at preventing STIs. Keep in mind that while condoms reduce your risk of exposure to most STIs, they provide less protection for STIs involving exposed genital sores, such as HPV or herpes. Also, nonbarrier forms of contraception, such as birth control pills (oral contraceptives) or intrauterine devices (IUDs), don’t protect against STIs.
- Don’t drink alcohol excessively or use drugs. If you’re under the influence, you’re more likely to take sexual risks.
- Communicate. Before any serious sexual contact, communicate with your partner about practicing safer sex. Be sure you specifically agree on what activities will and won’t be OK.