Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections you can get through sexual contact: vaginal, oral, or anal. More than 20 STDs have been identified so far.

With more than 15 million new cases in the US each year, STDs are more common than most people think. Young people have a particularly high risk. In fact, each year 1 out of 4 sexually active teens gets an STD.

Most STDs are easily cured if they’re caught early. Unfortunately, many people don’t seek treatment because they have no symptoms and thus don’t even know they have an infection. Other people have symptoms, but don’t go to the doctor because they are too embarrassed or don’t realize that their symptoms are a warning sign of a serious infection. This is tragic, because untreated STDs can cause severe health problems and may even result in death. Also, when left untreated, they’re likely to continue spreading from one person to another.

Laboratory tests can help your doctor detect most STDs, but these infections can’t be diagnosed unless you decide to seek medical help.

Important facts about STDs

  • Your risk of acquiring an STD begins the first time you have sex. The more partners you have, the greater your risk.
  • STDs can lead to cancer, infertility, long-term pain, and ectopic pregnancy.
  • Mothers can pass STDs on to their babies before, during, or after birth.
  • Some STDs are not curable and stay with you for life.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment can either cure you or help you avoid most of the serious complications.

Do I have an STD?

Understanding the symptoms of STDs and how they are transmitted is the first step to early treatment and prevention. Here’s a quick guide to the most common symptoms of STDs and the specific diseases that may be causing them:

Chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, yeast

Unusual discharge from penis, or vagina

Herpes, HPV

Bumps, blisters, or warts


Painless sores on mouth, penis, vagina

Viral hepatitis

Jaundice (yellow skin), fatigue, and abdominal pain

Trichomoniasis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes

Pain or burning during urination or sex

Herpes, pubic lice (crabs), trichomoniasis, yeast infection

Itching or burning around penis, vagina, or anus


Yellow-green discharge from vagina with odor

HIV/AIDS, herpes, syphilis

Flu-like symptoms

Chlamydia, gonorrhea, trich, hepatitis

Abdominal pain


Bleeding between periods


Unexplained weight loss

How can I reduce my risk of getting or passing on an STD?

The only way to be sure you won’t get an STD is abstinence (not having sex). If you do have sex, limit your risk by practicing “safer” sex:

  • Use a latex condom every time you have sex, even oral sex. But remember that condoms must be used properly to prevent STDs, and even proper use does not ensure you won’t be infected. Some STDs, such as herpes, HPV, and syphilis, can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact in areas that the condom does not cover.
  • Limit the number of people with whom you have sex and don’t go back and forth between partners. It’s safest to have only one partner (one who doesn’t have an STD!).
  • Before you have sex with a new partner, ask if he or she has an STD or any unusual symptoms. If so, don’t have sex until you’re sure the infection is cured or you learn how to protect yourself.
  • Be open and honest about STDs with your partner. If either of you has an STD, both of you should be tested and treated if necessary. Otherwise, you could repeatedly pass the infection back and forth to each other.
  • Both you and your partner need to be treated for STDs. Otherwise, you may become infected again.
  • Talk to your doctor about your risk of getting an STD and ways to avoid it.