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How Do You Know If You Have A Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)?

ICYDK, STDs are caused by bacteria, parasites, and viruses.
A stock image of a woman's hand on a man's chest while they're in bed

Sexually transmitted diseases or STDs are infections you can get through sexual contact: vaginal intercourse, anal intercouse, oral sex, and general touching of the genitals. Caused by bacteria, parasites, and viruses, STDs are very common. Most people don't even realize they have it if they're asymptomatic. This doesn't mean you're safe, though. Left untreated, it can lead to huge health problems such as: increased risk of infertility, certain types of cancer, harm to your unborn baby if you're pregnant, and risk of HIV infection. You might also unknowingly pass it to someone else. 

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STDs caused by bacteria and parasites can be treated with antibiotics, but there is no cure for ones caused by a virus. Fortunately, medicine can help keep the latter under control. There are ways to reduce the risk of getting an STD, the most effective being abstinence. But if you're sexually active, using a condom during intercourse—vaginal, anal, oral—from start to finish is the best practice. You can also limit the number of people you're having sex with; if you have multiple partners, make sure you're practicing safe sex and having an honest, open conversation about it. 

Some STDs you've probably heard of before are Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Herpes, and HIV. Keep reading to learn about the symptoms of these common sexually transmitted diseases.

STD symptoms: Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection in your genital tract, but it can also infect your eyes and throat. Though common, chlamydia is one of the STDs that's harder to detect because not a lot of people show signs and symptoms in the early stage. It can be carried in semen (cum), pre-cum, and vaginal fluids. Because it is caused by bacteria, chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics. Here are symptoms of chlamydia:

  • abnormal vaginal discharge (women)
  • pus or discharge from the penis (men)
  • painful burn while peeing
  • pain during sex
  • pain in the lower abdomen
  • pain in the testicles (men)
  • bleeding between periods (women)

STD symptoms: Gonorrhea

Often called "the clap" or "the drip," gonorrhea is also a bacterial infection. Like chlamdyia, it shows little to no symptoms in the early stage and can be easily cured with antibiotics. If you have sex with someone who has gonorrhea, it takes around 10 days for symptoms to appear; but there are some who can go months without any sign of the disease. Though rare, you can get gonorrhea if your hand has infected fluids and then you touch your eyes. Here are the symptoms of gonorrhea:

  • cloudy or bloody discharge from the penis or vagina
  • painful burn while peeing
  • bleeding between periods
  • abnormal heavy bleeding during menstruation (women)
  • pain in the testicles (men)
  • painful bowel movements
  • itch in the anal area
A man and a woman being intimate in bed
Some STDs show little to no symptoms, so it's important to practice safe sex and get tested regularly. Getty Images/iStockphoto

STD symptoms: Syphilis

Another common STD caused by bacterial infection, syphilis is spread through vaginal, anal, and oral intercourse. This disease affects your genitals, skin, and mucuous membranes. In the early stage, sores, called chancres, can appear on your genitals, lips, and tongue. Skin-to-skin contact with these sores is how syphilis spreads—this can happen even if no one cums. People often mistake a chancre for a pimple or a harmless bump, which is scary because syphilis is highly contagious. These sores appear anywhere between three weeks to three months after you get infected. Other syphilis symptoms include:

  • reddish-brown rashes 
  • big sores
  • fever
  • enlarged lymph nodes
  • fatigue
  • soreness
  • aching

And here are the late-stage symptoms:

  • lack of coordination
  • numbness
  • paralysis
  • blindness
  • dementia

STD symptoms: Genital herpes

According to the Mayo Clinic, genital herpes is "caused by a type of the herpes simplex virus (HSV) that enters your body through small breaks in your skin or mucous membranes." Unlike chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, genital herpes stays with you for the rest of your life. It can be annoying and somewhat painful, but symptoms are pretty mild; there's a chance you might not even notice them. When you have an episode, these are the common symptoms of herpes:

  • painful burn while peeing
  • itching in the buttocks, genital area, thighs
  • pain around the genitals
  • sores and swelling in the urethra
  • blisters and sores in the anal area

STD symptoms: HIV

Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. The biggest effect this disease has is damaging a person's immune system. When this happens, it's easier for you to get sick and even die from illnesses that your body would normally fight off. When you're first infected, it's possible you won't show any symptoms of HIV. After two to six weeks, you might show symptoms that mimic the flu. These signs include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • sore throat
  • rashes
  • fatigue
  • swollen lymph glands

These disappear, just like the flu. Over the years, you might experience mild infections with symptoms like:

  • swollen lymph nodes
  • diarrhea
  • weight loss
  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath


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