Maybe you aren’t worried about having an STD (sexually transmitted disease) because you don’t have any symptoms. The reality is, if you are sexually active, you or your partner could have an STD and not know it – with potentially devastating consequences. Having all of the facts before you decide to have sex can save you from a lifetime of regret and disease. Here’s what you need to know about STDs so you can protect yourself and take action, if needed.

STI vs STD – What’s the Difference?

All sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) start off as sexually transmitted infections (STI). When an STI goes untreated, it can progress to the point that it causes damage to your cells and symptoms appear. That’s when it is considered an STD. Some STIs never develop into STDs – if they clear up on their own or are treated successfully. Others lead to diseases that can be cured, while some STDs are incurable, with lifelong flare-ups or serious health risks1. It is common for the term STD to be used for both STIs and STDs.

How Prevalent are STDs2?

  • Half of all Americans will have an STD in their lifetime;
  • 1 in 5 people in the U.S., or nearly 68 million people, had an active sexually transmitted infection (STI) in 2018;
  • There were 26 million newly acquired STIs in 2018, nearly half by people aged 15 to 24 years old.
  • One in two sexually active youth will contract an STI by age 25.

How Do You Get an STI?

Infections happen when pathogens, like viruses or bacteria, enter your body and start to multiply. Some STIs enter your body through skin-to-skin contact with a person who has an infection, while others enter through the exchange of bodily fluids, like semen, vaginal secretions, or blood. Some infections can also be transmitted to other organs during an abortion, to your baby during delivery, or through the use of shared needles.3

Are You at Increased Risk?

You may be thinking that you’ve only had one or two partners, so how likely can it be that you have an STD? When it comes to sexually transmitted diseases, here’s how the former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, M.D. describes it:

“When you have sex with someone, you are having sex with everyone they have had sex with for the last ten years, and everyone they and their partners have had sex with for the last ten years.4

So even if your partner has no symptoms, you could both be infected and not know it. And even if you’ve been treated once, it doesn’t mean you can’t become re-infected. Perhaps one of greatest risks of having an STD is not knowing it. Many STDs don’t have early symptoms. Left undetected and untreated, these infections can cause serious health complications, leading to infertility, lifelong disease, or even death.

What about “Safe Sex?” Are You Protected?

Many believe that using a condom, having oral sex, or engaging in mutual masturbation protects you from getting an STI. The fact is, according to the CDC, “Many STDs, as well as other infections, can be spread through oral sex. Anyone exposed to an infected partner can get an STD in the mouth, throat, genitals, or rectum. Several STDs that may be transmitted by oral sex can then spread throughout the body5.” Mutual masturbation could also lead to skin-to-skin contact or expose you to the other person’s bodily fluids.

Regarding condom use, many STIs are spread by contact with areas not covered by a condom. The CDC states that “condom use cannot guarantee absolute protection against any STD6.” In fact, condoms don’t reduce the transmission of some of the most common STIs that are passed through skin-to-skin contact, such as genital herpes, HPV and Syphilis7. In addition, condoms are only 85% effective in reducing the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS8, even if always used correctly. That leaves you with a 15% risk of getting HIV from an infected partner. If a condom fails, you are left even more susceptible to both STIs and pregnancy.

According to the CDC, the only way to prevent exposure to STDs is either not to have sex or to be in a mutually monogamous relationship with someone who is not infected and only has sex with you9.

What Are Some of the Most Common STDs?

  • Chlamydia10
    The most common bacterial STD in the U.S. is Chlamydia, and it is nearly symptom-free in 85% of women. When it progresses to display symptoms, women might experience a noticeable discharge, a foul vaginal odor, bleeding after having sex, or irregular monthly bleeding. Because Chlamydia primarily affects a woman’s cervix (the lowest region of the uterus that attaches the uterus, or womb, to the vagina), serious complications of going undetected can include Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (an infection of a woman’s reproductive organs); ectopic, or tubal, pregnancy (a pregnancy that is growing outside of the uterus); and even infertility. If you are pregnant and have Chlamydia at the time of delivery, it can cause an eye infection in your baby. Chlamydia is treatable with antibiotics.
  • Gonorrhea11
    Gonorrhea is another common and easily treated STD, but it can be symptom-free, as well. When symptoms do appear, they resemble those of Chlamydia for women, but may also include itching and abdominal pain. In men, symptoms usually consist of burning during urination and/or a yellow discharge. If left untreated, Gonorrhea can lead to a chronic liver disease call Fitz-Hugh-Curtis syndrome, as well as PID, ectopic pregnancy and infertility. Gonorrhea is treatable with antibiotics.
  • Other STDs and Their Long-term Risks (click to view)

Should You Get Tested?

It is extremely important for you to get tested if you:

  • Are pregnant. Having an STD or STI while pregnant can potentially lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, pre-term delivery and birth defects12.
  • Have scheduled an abortion. Women who have an untreated STD like chlamydia or gonorrhea are up to 23% more likely to develop Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) following an abortion procedure13.
  • Are or have ever been sexually active.
  • Have recently had unprotected sex of any kind, including oral or anal sex.
  • Have had multiple partners or a change in partners.
  • Have experienced itching or burning in your pelvic area.
  • Have unusual bleeding or discharge.
  • Have sores on your genitals or in your mouth/throat.

 

If you are concerned that you might have an STD, Pregnancy & Family Resource Center is committed to helping you get tested and treated. We can refer you to a respected physician who is qualified to both test for and treat STDs. We will also review any risk factors you have for contracting future STDs and help you devise a long-term protection strategy.

 

* This information is intended for general educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional counseling and/or medical advice.

 

Other STDs and Their Long-term Risks

  • HPV14
    Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a viral infection with more than 100 different varieties. It is the most common STD in the U.S. and can be spread through sexual intercourse, as well as through skin-to-skin contact. Some types of the HP virus cause genital warts; others can cause different types of cancer, including of the cervix, the anus, penis, vagina, vulva (the external female sex organs) and back of the throat. You can develop symptoms of HPV years after you have sex with someone who is infected. While there is a vaccine against HPV, it does not protect against all strains of the virus that cause genital warts or cancer15.
  • Genital Herpes16
    There is no cure for genital herpes, another common viral STD. It is caused by either type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2) of the herpes simplex virus, which is highly contagious, both through sexual intercourse and skin-to-skin contact. Most people don’t know they have herpes until their first outbreak. The virus presents as small blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. The blisters then break and leave painful ulcers that may take two to four weeks to heal after the initial herpes infection. HSV-2 infection is more common among women than among men. Anyone with HSV is two to four times more likely to acquire HIV if they have genital herpes when exposed to HIV.The herpes virus can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth, or babies may be infected shortly after birth, resulting in a potentially fatal neonatal herpes infection.Herpes leads to lifelong infection of painful outbreaks and usually requires antiviral medications for life.
  • Syphilis17
    Syphilis is an STD caused by a bacterial infection and can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact as well as sex. A common symptom of syphilis could be an open, painless sore that is often mistaken for a harmless bump. Without treatment, syphilis can cause rashes, heart disease, and brain infections; it can also spread to your nervous system. During a dormant stage, syphilis can remain in your body for years without any signs or symptoms, leading eventually to tertiary syphilis, which can occur 10–30 years after the infection began. In tertiary syphilis, the disease damages internal organs and can result in death.Babies born to mothers with active syphilis are usually premature, have low birth weight, and may be deaf, have teeth malformations and suffer from brain malfunction.Syphilis can have very serious complications when left untreated, but when detected in time, it can be treated successfully with penicillin.
  • HIV/AIDS18
    HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. In addition to contracting HIV through anal or vaginal sex, the virus can also be transmitted through shared needles and syringes, contact with infected blood, or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding19.HIV weakens a person’s immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).Symptoms of HIV can appear within 2 to 4 weeks after infection and may last for a few days or several weeks. Fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and mouth ulcers are some of the common symptoms, though not everyone feels sick during the onset of HIV. Like syphilis, HIV has three stages:

    • Onset, or acute HIV infection, when there is a large amount of HIV in the blood and the person is highly contagious
    • Clinical latency, or chronic HIV, when the infected person is asymptomatic but still contagious
    • AIDS – HIV progresses to AIDS and the person is again highly infectious. Because of their badly damaged immune systems, those with AIDS are susceptible to an increasing number of severe infections.

    There is currently no effective cure for HIV/AIDS, but there are medications that can help control and dramatically slow the progression of the disease. Without treatment, people with AIDS typically survive about three years.

 

At Pregnancy & Family Resource Center, we can refer you to a qualified physician for testing and treatment of these other common STDs. Call _______ for assistance.

* This information is intended for general educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional counseling and/or medical advice.

 

 

References

1 Santos-Longhurst, A., & Kay, M.D., C. (2020, September 9). The One Difference Between STIs and STDs — and How to Minimize Your Risk. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sex/sti-vs-std

2 Kreisel, Kristen M. PhD; Spicknall, Ian H. PhD; Gargano, Julia W. PhD; Lewis, Felicia M.T. MD,‡; Lewis, Rayleen M. MPH; Markowitz, Lauri E. MD; Roberts, Henry PhD§; Johnson, Anna Satcher MPH; Song, Ruiguang PhD; St. Cyr, Sancta B. MD; Weston, Emily J. MPH; Torrone, Elizabeth A. PhD; Weinstock, Hillard S. MD Sexually Transmitted Infections Among US Women and Men: Prevalence and Incidence Estimates, 2018, Sexually Transmitted Diseases: April 2021 – Volume 48 – Issue 4 – p 208-214 doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0000000000001355

3 Sexually Transmitted Diseases. (2021, March 3). STD | Venereal Disease | MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/sexuallytransmitteddiseases.html

4 COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. (2001, November 15). – TEEN PREGNANCY PREVENTION. Govinfo.Gov. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CHRG-107hhrg77054/html/CHRG-107hhrg77054.htm

5 STD Risk and Oral Sex | STD | CDC. (2020, February 27). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  https://www.cdc.gov/std/healthcomm/stdfact-https://www.cdc.gov/std/healthcomm/stdfact-stdriskandoralsex.htm

6 Sexual Risk Behaviors Can Lead to HIV, STDs, & Teen Pregnancy | Adolescent and School Health | CDC. (2021, March 10). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/sexualbehaviors/index.htm#

7 Male Latex Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. (n.d.). Student Health and Wellness Services. Retrieved May 8, 2021, from https://health.williams.edu/medical-diagnoses/sexual-and-reproductive-health/male-latex-condoms-and-sexually-transmitted-diseases/

8 Condom Use for Preventing HIV Infection. (2018, November 29). NIH: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/condom-use

9 Condom Fact Sheet In Brief | CDC. (2013, March 5). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/brief.html

10 STD Facts – Chlamydia. (2014b, January 24). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia.htm

11 STD Facts – Gonorrhea. (2014a, January 29). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  https://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/stdfact-gonorrhea.htm

12 STD Facts – Chlamydia. (2014c-01-23). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia.htm

13 Westergaard L, Phillipsen T, Scheibel J (1982). “Significance of cervical Chlamydia trachomatis infection in postabortal pelvic inflammatory disease.” Obstetrics and Gynecology, 68(5): 668-90; Ovigstad E, et al. (1983). “Pelvic inflammatory disease associated with Chlamydia trachomatis infection after therapeutic abortion.” Br J Vener Dis, 59: 189-92; Heisterberg L, et al. (1987). “The role of vaginal secretory immunoglobulin a, gardnerella vaginalis, anaerobes, and Chlamydia trachomatis in post abortal pelvic inflammatory disease.” Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, 66(2): 99-102.

14 HPV infection – Symptoms and causes. (2019, August 30). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hpv-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20351596

15 Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines. (2019, September 9). National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/infectious-agents/hpv-vaccine-fact-sheet#:

16 STD Facts – Genital Herpes (Detailed version). (2021, January 19). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes-detailed.htm#ref5

17 Syphilis – Symptoms and causes. (2019, September 19). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/syphilis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351756

18 HIV/AIDS – Symptoms and causes. (2020, February 13). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hiv-aids/symptoms-causes/syc-20373524

19 Ibid