What Do I Do If I Have An STD? Symptoms and Treatment Options

After Ohio’s funding cut for STD prevention and HIV awareness, a gonorrhea surge in South Dakota, and Cincinnati’s syphilis outbreak, it’s time we all brush up on our Sex Ed and not be caught dirty.

STDs, or Sexually Transmitted Diseases, are transmitted by vaginal, anal, and oral sex and the Center for Disease Control estimates that there are 19 million new infections each year, of which almost half are among millennials.

Chlamydia – This silent STD is one of the most common, although most infected individuals don’t show symptoms or they develop 1-3 weeks after sexual contact. Its symptoms are painful sex, burning with urination, and discharge from the penis or vagina. Other symptoms can include lower abdominal/back pain, burning/itching around the tip of the penis, and rectal pain/discharge/bleeding. Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics and sexual abstinence for one week until you are cured. Left untreated in women, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, fallopian tube infections, infertility, and ectopic pregnancies.

Syphilis – Although found in both males and females, this disease is most common in men who have sex with men. You get it by direct contact with a sore (or chancre) but you might not have symptoms for years. It is notable for its firm, small, round, and painless sores on the penis, vagina, lips, anus, or in the rectum or mouth. It can also present as a rash on the body, most often on the palms of your hands or soles of your feet. Syphilis is treated with antibiotics and you must refrain from sexual contact until all sores are completely healed. If left untreated for years, serious damage can occur including paralysis and blindness.

Gonorrhea – It infects the moist areas of the male and female genitals and the mouth and anus. Men can show symptoms 1-14 days after infection including penile discharge, burning with urination, or painful/swollen testicles. Women have mild symptoms (burning/painful urination, increased vaginal discharge, spotting between periods) or none at all. Other symptoms for both sexes can include a sore throat, rectal discharge/soreness/bleeding, anal itching, and painful bowel movements. Left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to infertility or death in men and women and pelvic inflammatory disease in women. It can be treated with antibiotics.

Genital Herpes – Blisters on or around the genitals are the most common sign although they do not always appear. Although the infection can stay in your body for life, the frequency of outbreaks decreases over time. One in 6 people have genital herpes in the U.S., the majority of which are females. “Fever blisters” or “cold sores” around the mouth are a type of herpes and can be transmitted to the genitals by oral-genital or genital-genital contact. Although there is no treatment to cure herpes, anti-virals can shorten and prevent outbreaks while on the medication.

HPV – Another highly common STD in males and females, it can affect the genitals, mouth, and throat. It can cause genital warts and cancers, or no symptoms at all. However, your body resolves the infection on its own in most cases. A vaccine is available for men and women (ages 9-26) but is most effective if received before your first sexual contact.

HIV – It’s always the hot topic in sexual health worldwide but, beware, having an STD makes you 2-5 times more likely to contract HIV through sexual contact. HIV can also be spread by sharing needles with an infected person (IV drug use, tattooing, piercing). Symptoms include those of a flu-like illness. There is currently no cure for HIV, but a combination of anti-virals will can afford you a longer, productive life.

The LA porn industry is about to set a good example by making condoms mandatory on movie sets and teens are educating New York City teens about safe sexual practices in the new state-funded campaign, “More Than Just Sex” series, on Vimeo.com. You should be smart too.

Here are 5 tips for prevention & treatment if you are sexually active:

Use a lubricated condom (water-based lubricant) for all sexual contact – it will highly reduce STD transmission if used consistently and properly. Get tested at least once a year by your primary care provider or at an STD Clinic (including a yearly pap-smear for women). Be open with your current and ex-sexual partner(s) about testing and results. Seek medical advice ASAP if you suspect something! Limit your sexual partners to limit your exposure to STDs or be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship.

Photo Credit: brixton