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Sexually Transmitted Diseases Q&A

What puts me at risk of a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?

You are at risk of contracting an STD if you have:

  • Sex with multiple partners
  • Sex with a single partner who has multiple partners
  • Sexual activity starting at a young age
  • Unprotected sexual intercourse

Intimate contact, not just intercourse, can also put you at risk. Anal or oral sex just means the disease may be passed differently. Also, genital warts and herpes may be passed if you have skin-to-skin contact with a sore.

Won’t I know if I have an STD?

Sometimes you’ll have symptoms such as genital warts or a vaginal discharge, but oftentimes you’ll be asymptomatic. You won’t know you’re carrying the infection until it’s progressed. Regular gynecologic visits that include screenings can help you stay healthy.

What STDs are most common?

Many STDs exist. Some of the most common include:

  • Human Papillomavirus – HPV is the most common STD in the United States, with more than 40 strains. Sometimes it causes genital warts but often has no symptoms. Some strains can also cause cancer, so getting screened and treated is critical.
  • Chlamydia – Chlamydia can be transmitted via sexual intercourse, including anal and oral sex. You may experience a discharge when infected but are often asymptomatic. It can be treated with antibiotics.
  • Gonorrhea – Gonorrhea is also a bacterial infection treated with antibiotics. Much of the time it causes no obvious symptoms.
  • Herpes – Herpes is characterized by painful sores around the penis or vagina. Skin-to-sore contact is all it takes to catch the disease. It’s caused by a virus, so it can’t be cured. Talk to your doctor about managing this disease.
  • HIV/AIDS – HIV is passed through semen, vaginal fluids, and blood. HIV causes AIDS. Any type of intercourse can pass the virus, but not kissing or contact with saliva.

What should I do if I suspect I have had intimate contact with someone with an STD?

Come in for a screening right away. It’s much easier to treat an STD in its early stages than later. Don’t let embarrassment stop you. STDs are common and treatable. Half of all sexually active young adults will have contracted an STD at some point by age 25.