Contracting a sexually transmitted disease—also called a sexually transmitted infection—(STD/STI) is a possible consequence of sexual activity. STD/STIs can be transmitted through oral, anal and vaginal sex. STI is the more accurate wording because a “disease” causes damage to the body, whereas an “infection” can live in the body quietly and cause no symptoms.
For information on how to receive STD/STI and HIV testing, contact your local health department.
MOST STD/STI FALL INTO TWO CATEGORIES:
Bacterial and viral STD/STIs can cause observable symptoms, but many infected people don’t experience any symptoms at all. Common symptoms of bacterial or viral STD/STIs include rashes, bumps or sores around the genital area; pelvic, abdominal or back pain; and an unusual discharge from the penis or vagina.
Bacterial STD/STIs are caused by bacteria, so they are curable with medication like antibiotics. However, any complications caused before treatment are irreversible. Complications associated with untreated bacterial STD/STIs are things like vision damage, heart damage and blockages of the epididymis and fallopian tubes, which can cause infertility. Bacterial STD/STIs include:
- Chlamydia (bacterial)
- Gonorrhea (bacterial)
- Syphilis (bacterial)
- Pubic lice (parasitic)
Viral STD/STIs cannot be cured with medication. Although there are treatments to help or suppress the symptoms, there’s nothing doctors can do to get rid of it. Viral STD/STIs include:
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (viral)
- Human Papilloma Virus (viral)
- Herpes (viral)
WHO NEEDS TO KNOW AND WHY?
It's important to remember STD/STI can affect anyone, regardless of race, class or age.
- Of the 20 million new cases diagnosed every year, half are among the 15-24 age group.
- Roughly four in 10 sexually active young people are carriers of an STD/STI, many of whom have no idea they are infected.
- Although the U.S. has the highest rate of STD/STIs in the industrialized world, only six in 10 teens reported using protection during their last sexual experience.
- The best way for someone to protect themselves against an STD/STI is to practice abstinence, or delay sexual activity. Abstinence is the only 100 percent effective way to avoid STD/STIs.
- If a person does choose to engage in sexual activity, he or she should stay safe by using protection against certain STD/STIs.
For more information, read about contraception.
Contracting an STD/STI can be a life-changing event. While some STD/STIs can pass through the body unnoticed, others can cause problems that stretch far into the future. When persons expose themselves to an STD/STI, they can potentially be exposing themselves to infertility, life long relationship issues and even death.
Short Term Effects of Bacterial STDs
- Abnormal discharge and/or bleeding from the genitals of infected body part
- Pain, fever, swelling and tenderness
- Frequent urination, itching and burning in the infected area
- Bumps, rashes or oozing sores
The most common symptom is NO SYMPTOM AT ALL!
Long Term Effects of Herpes
- Cause bumps, rashes or sores.
- Cause burning sensation during urination.
- Rashes may not occur until years after a person has contracted herpes.
- Can be spread even if symptoms are not occuring.
Long Term Effects of Human Papilloma Virus or HPV
- About 360,000 people in the U.S. get genital warts from HPV each year.
- Every year, HPV causes:
- 12,000 cases of cervical cancer, 500 cases of vaginal cancer and 1,700 cases of throat cancer in women.
- 600 cases of penile cancer and 6,700 cases of throat cancer in men.
- Most people who contract HPV never experience any symptoms.
Long Term Effects of HIV/AIDS
- HIV causes a deficiency of the immune system.
- Persons with HIV contract other illnesses more easily.
- HIV is contained in blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk and enters the body through an open cut/sore or a mucous membrane.
- HIV is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
How do I know if I have a STD/STI?
The common symptoms of STD/STIs are things like rashes, bumps, or sores around the genital area, pelvic, abdominal, or back pain, and an unusual discharge from the penis or vagina. However, lots of people with STD/STIs have no symptoms at all. The only way to know if you have an STD/STI is to get tested by a doctor.
How do I know if someone else has an STD/STI?
You can’t. Although some STD/STIs cause observable symptoms in some affected people, many people with STD/STIs show no symptoms at all.
How do I get tested for STD/STI?
Family planning clinics offer reduced or no cost STD/STI testing. Your county health department is also an excellent resource for finding affordable STD/STI testing.
If I get an STD/STI test, will my parents find out?
All state give minors some control over keeping their sexual health confidential, but the extent varies from state to state. Some states allow minors to confidentially access testing for all STD/STIs except for HIV, and some leave confidentiality completely up to discretion of the minor’s physician. Many offer unimpeded access to confidential sexual health screening, while others restrict it by age.
How do I avoid getting an STD/STI?
The only 100 percent effective way to protect yourself against an STD/STI is to practice abstinence and delay sexual activity. However, if you do engage in sexual activity, it is important to use a condom or dental dam during each sexual act, as they can both provide protection against certain STD/STIs.
If I’m not gay, do I still need to worry about HIV?
Everyone who engages in sexual activity is at risk for contracting HIV, regardless of sexual orientation. The idea that HIV is a “gay disease” is a common misconception. In reality, rates of HIV infection are rising the fastest among young people ages 15-24.
I heard that there’s a vaccine that protects you against STD/STI’s. Is this true?
There are two vaccines that offer protection against certain strains of HPV. HPV is a viral STD/STI that has many different strains, some of which can cause cancer and genital warts. Cervarex protects against the two most common cancer causing strains, and Guardasil protects against both the cancer causing strains and the genital warts causing strains. Most doctors now recommend that their patients receive an HPV vaccine before becoming sexually active, and many schools now require it.
HOW TO GET HELP
Talk to a trusted adult such as a parent, physician or counselor.
Call Centerstone at (888) 291-HELP to schedule an appointment with a therapist. If you feel like you need immediate help, please call (800) 681-7444 for 24-hour Crisis Services.