“I have an IUD for birth control, but we weren’t using a condom. I passed HPV on to my fiancé. Turns out I got HPV a few years ago from an old boyfriend – but I never had symptoms. I learned that it can generally go away by itself so I get regular pap tests now to stay healthy.” – Selena P.
Knowledge is the first step.
STIs are infections. They pass from one person to another during oral, vaginal, or anal sex.
There are many kinds of STIs. More than half of all of us will get an STI at some point in our lives. The good news is that practicing safer sex can lower your risk. And many STIs can be treated.
Chlamydia is the most common STI in the United States. It is spread through sex.
Most people — about 75% of women and 50% of men — have no symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they often appear 5 to 10 days after sex. And they can differ for men and women.
You can take medicine to treat chlamydia. You and your partner(s) should be treated before you have sex with anyone. (Treatment does not protect against future STIs.)
If not treated, chlamydia can make you unable to make a baby in the future (infertile).
Gonorrhea is sometimes called “the clap” or “the drip.” It is spread through sex.
Many people — about 80% of women and 10% of men — have no symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they often appear 1 to 14 days after sex. There may be a strange discharge from your genitals (vagina or penis). It may burn when you pee. Or you may need to pee more often.
You can take medicine to treat gonorrhea. You and your partner(s) should be treated before you have sex with anyone. (Treatment does not protect against future STIs.)
If not treated, gonorrhea can make you unable to make a baby in the future.
Herpes is very common and easy to catch. There are two types of herpes: oral and genital.
Herpes is spread through contact with a herpes blister. This happens through kissing or sex. The virus is more likely to spread when symptoms are present. But it can spread even when there are no symptoms.
You may have no symptoms at all. If you do have symptoms, they may appear 2 to 20 days after contact. They may include painful blisters on the mouth, genitals, or anus. You may have itching, burning, or pain before the blisters appear.
Symptoms can come and go and may appear years after you get herpes. They often become less frequent and severe over time.
There is no cure for herpes. But you can take medicine to prevent and ease the symptoms, and lower your risk of spreading it.
Human immunodeficiency (i-myoo-noh-di-FI-shun-see) virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency (di-FI-shun-see) syndrome (AIDS)
HIV is spread through blood, cum (semen), pre-cum, vaginal fluid, breastmilk, and needles. It weakens the immune system — your body’s defense against disease. This can make you get very sick from germs. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV.
Some people get HIV symptoms soon after being infected. But symptoms may not show up for more than 10 years after being exposed. The first HIV symptoms may include swollen glands in the throat, armpit, or groin. Other early HIV symptoms include flu-like symptoms. These include slight fever, headaches, feeling very tired, and muscle aches.
There is no cure for HIV. But you can treat it with medicines that make your immune system stronger. This can ease your symptoms and prevent AIDS.
Human papillomavirus (PA-puh-LOH-muh-VIE-ruhs) (HPV)
HPV is very common. It is spread through sex.
There are more than 100 types of HPV. About 40 of them can infect the genital area. Nearly all people who have sex will get it at some point in their lives.
Some types of HPV cause warts. Others can lead to infections and cancers of the genitals and throat.
The types of HPV that cause cancer have no symptoms. But they may infect the cervix and cause abnormal pap tests.
The types of HPV that causes warts may cause small bumps or growths that look like cauliflower. These can appear anywhere on the genitals: In women, they can appear on the vulva, vagina, cervix, and anus. In men, they can appear on the shaft and head of the penis, scrotum, and anus.
HPV and pap tests can be part of an annual well-woman checkup. It is important to get these tests.
There is a series of 3 HPV shots (vaccine) that protects you against 70% of HPV infections. You can get the vaccine at Planned Parenthood. There is no cure for HPV, but you can take medicine to treat it.
Syphilis is spread through sex. There are often no symptoms. But some people get painless open sores.
When syphilis is found early enough, you can take medicine to treat it. You and your partner(s) should be treated before you have sex with anyone. (Treatment does not protect against future STIs.)
If not treated, syphilis can cause rashes. It can also cause heart, bone, brain, and nerve damage. It can even cause death. Any damage caused by syphilis in the later stages cannot be undone.
Trichomoniasis (Trich, sounds like “Trick”)
Trichomoniasis — called “trich” for short — is an STD that’s cured with antibiotics. It’s super common, and most people with trich don’t have any symptoms.
When it does cause symptoms, the most common is Vaginitis, where your vulva or vagina is irritated. Signs of trich can include irritation and itching, smelly discharge, and painful or frequent peeing.
You can prevent trich by using condoms every time you have sex.
STI tests are a normal part of health care. You should be tested for STIs every year and any time you have a new partner. Using a condom can lower your risk of getting or spreading STIs. If you think you or your partner(s) may have been exposed to an STI, talk with a health care provider about testing.
Many STIs have no symptoms. The only way to know if you have one is to get tested.
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