Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), better known as (STDs), are infections transferred from one individual to another via sexual contact. The contact can be vaginal, oral, and anal sex; however, some STDs can also spread skin-to-skin like herpes and HPV, sharing needles, or even breastfeeding.
They spread when a person has unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex with someone already infected. Another name for STDs is venereal disease (VD).
A person inflicted with STDs generally either has mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, which is why they could be infected and not know it. But they can still pass it onto someone else. Since most of the symptoms are not noticeable, it is often left untreated. This later leads to fertility issues and also increases the risk of cervical cancer.
Women with STDs
A few common STIs in women are
Human Papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is one of the most common STDs in women. It is also the main cause of cervical cancer. However, there is a vaccine available that can prevent certain strains of HPV up to the age of 45 years.
Gonorrhea and Chlamydia: These two are common bacterial STIs. Some gynecologists generally examine both during normal checkups automatically.
Genital Herpes: Caused by the herpes simplex virus, this STI lies dormant in the body and is marked by genital pain and sores. They later turn into ulcers and scabs.
Some of the common noticeable symptoms in women are described below:
The Difference in Urination: An STI can be easily identified by pain or a stinging sensation during urination, frequent need to pee, or the presence of blood in the urine.
Rashes or Sores: Tiny pimples or sores around the vagina or mouth indicate herpes, HPV, or syphilis.
Pain During Sex: Pain or discomfort during sex is a symptom that is often overlooked. This can be a sign of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). PID is generally caused by the advanced stage of chlamydia or gonorrhea.
Itching in the Vaginal Region: This symptom can be related or unrelated to an STI. Some causes of vaginal itching that are related to sex may include yeast infection, pubic lice or scabies, genital warts, and allergic reaction to a latex condom.
Unusual Vaginal Discharge: The texture and appearance of vaginal discharge changes normally throughout a woman’s cycle. A thick, white discharge can indicate yeast infection, whereas yellow or green discharge is a sign of gonorrhea or trichomoniasis.
Men with STDs
Understanding the risks and knowing the indications and symptoms of some common STIs in men is crucial for anyone sexually active.
Many men often make the mistake of assuming that if they had an STD, they would be aware of it.
Some of the STDs commonly infecting men are:
Chlamydia: This bacterial STI transmitted during vaginal, anal, or oral sex is one of the most common STIs infecting men and women. Its symptoms in men could include pain while urinating, penile discharge, and swollen testicles. However, there are a few less usual symptoms like rectal pain, discharge, bleeding, etc.
Gonorrhea: This is also a bacterial infection that affects the urethra, throat, or anus. It is spread from a person to another during anal, oral, or vaginal sex. Most people infected usually do not display any symptoms at all. However, the noticeable symptoms include pain while urinating or green, white, or yellow discharge from the penis. Also, some of the less common symptoms could be rashes, painful joints, swollen or painful testicles.
Types of STDs
Many different types of infection can be transmitted sexually or even through contact.
Some of the most common STDs are explained below:
A certain type of bacteria causes chlamydia and often doesn’t have noticeable symptoms. However, when a few symptoms develop, they include pain in the lower abdomen, yellow or green discharge from the vagina or penis, and pain or discomfort during urination or sex.
If left undiagnosed, chlamydia can lead to infertility, PID, or infections of the testicles, prostate glands, or the urethra.
An expecting mother can pass chlamydia on to her baby if she had untreated chlamydia, and therefore the baby may be prone to pneumonia, eye infections, or even blindness.
HPV is caused by a virus transmitted from person to person through intimate skin-to-skin or sexual contact. The virus has a lot of strains, some more harmful than others. A few usual symptoms include warts on the genitals, throat, or mouth.
Certain strains of the HPV virus also lead to cancer like oral cancer, cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, penile cancer, and rectal cancer.
HPV is untreatable; however, these infections clear up on their own. A vaccine is also available to prevent some of the most harmful strains like HPV 16 and HPV 18.
This bacterial infection often goes unnoticed in its initial stages. The primary symptom is a chancre, a small round sore around the anus, genitals, or mouth. Though it is painless, it is still very infectious.
Lateral symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, hair loss, joint pain, headaches, fever, etc.
However, if syphilis is left undiagnosed, the last stages can result in loss of vision, brain or spinal cord infections, heart diseases, memory loss, or even death.
Luckily, when syphilis is detected early enough, it can easily be treated with antibiotics. Syphilis infection in newborn children, however, can be fatal.
HIV targets the immune system and increases the risk of contracting other viruses or bacteria and developing few cancers. If it is undiagnosed, it can lead to AIDS, which is stage 3 HIV.
Early symptoms of HIV are often mistaken to be the symptoms of flu, for example, fever, headache, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, rashes, etc.
There are some nonspecific symptoms, like fevers, stomach issues, recurrent fatigue, etc.
Even though there is no cure for HIV, there are still some treatments available to manage it. These treatments also decrease the probability of a person transmitting HIV to a sexual partner and even lower the amount of virus present in the body to undetectable levels.
Also known as “the clap,” gonorrhea is another recurrent bacterial STD with no present symptoms. But when present, the symptoms may include:
- Pain or discomfort during urination or sex.
- Sore throat.
- Itching and irritation around the genitals.
If gonorrhea is left untreated, it may lead to infections of the prostate gland, testicles, urethra, PID, or even infertility.
Curable and Incurable STDs
STDs can be cured with the help of antibiotics and other treatments, like chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, pubic lice (crabs), trichomoniasis.
However, some STDs can not be cured, for example, HPV, HIV, herpes. Though these STDs cannot be cured, they can still be managed. It is also very important to get an early diagnosis to detect STDs in their initial stages.
Living with STDs
If a person tests positive for an STD, it is crucial to get it treated as soon as possible. The chances of contracting another STD are increased if a person is already infected with one.
Undiagnosed STDs, in rare cases, may even lead to death or other severe consequences.
Fortunately, most of the STDs are highly treatable and, in some instances, curable completely. In other cases, effective and early treatment can lower the risk of complications, relieve symptoms, and protect sexual partners.
Prevention of STDs
Practicing abstinence is the only way to avoid contracting STDs completely. However, while having anal, oral, vaginal sex, there are ways to make it safer.
Condoms provide effective protection against many STDs when used properly. For maximum protection, it is crucial to use condoms during vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Dental dams are also recommended to protect oral sex.
Condoms are effective against STDs that are transmitted through fluids, such as blood or semen. However, they cannot protect against STDs that are spread through skin-to-skin.
In contrast to condoms, many other types of birth control can only lower the risk of unwanted pregnancies but not STDs. These include birth control pills, birth control implants, intrauterine devices (UID), etc.
Routine screening of STDs is also recommended for any sexually active individual. Early diagnosis and treatment can help stop the spreading of infection.
Authored By: Ankita Agarwal
About Author: Ankita Agarwal is a Health & Wellness Coach from Siliguri, India