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An Overview of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, or STDs

1 of 13 in Series: The Essentials of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

Whether you call them STDs, venereal disease, or sexually transmitted diseases, these diseases aren't an idle threat to keep careless sexual activity in check. STDs (also known as STIs, or sexually transmitted infections) are an incredibly tangible threat, affecting 25 percent of Americans between the ages of 15 and 55. Because the sexual invasion encompasses so many different STDs, it’s a complicated battle to fight. Furthermore, since the arrival of AIDS, the consequences of failure could be deadly.

The best advice, therefore, is to find yourself one partner, have yourselves tested for all the major STDs to make sure that you’re both healthy, use condoms if you have any doubts about your respective health, and practice safer sex.

If you have had sex many times with many partners, don’t assume that you are disease free just because you don’t have any symptoms. Many people with STDs, especially women, don’t show any symptoms at all. Others may have no more than a slight fever. You or your partner may have an STD, and testing is the best way to find out.

Some people mistakenly think men are more likely to suffer from STDs. In reality, STDs are more easily transmitted to women, harder to spot in women, more difficult to treat in women, and more likely to result in serious complications.

Some of the most common diseases are:

  • Candidiasis: Often called a yeast infection, usually spotted via vaginal discharge and/or itching of the genitals (male or female); curable with medication

  • Chlamydia: The most common STD in the United States; hard to diagnose because it can come without symptoms; can cause sterility or chronic pelvic pain, among other problems; curable with medication

  • Genital warts and HPV: Extremely common and hard-to-spot STD involving warts on the genitals, in the urethra, in the inner vagina, in the anus, or in the throat; sometimes linked with cervical cancer; not curable but the symptoms can be treated; very easily transmitted, even while wearing a condom; vaccine exists

  • Gonorrhea: Now in decline in the United States; may be without symptoms or may include green discharge, pelvic pain, painful urination, swelling of the vulva, or shoulder pain; curable with medication

  • Hepatitis B: Extremely contagious STD that causes liver disease; can lurk without symptoms while still being transmitted to partners; not curable, but an effective vaccine exists

  • Herpes: An STD that exists in two forms, one of which is more commonly seen as cold sores and fever blisters near one’s mouth and the other generally found in the genital area; not curable although the symptoms can be treated

  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS: HIV causes AIDS, the deadliest STD; usually spotted via symptoms similar to mononucleosis; there is no cure and no vaccine, although medication can treat the symptoms and prolong the patient’s life

  • Molluscum contagiosum: Skin-based STD that causes polyp-like growths; treatable

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): Not technically an STD but may be a consequence of an STD, usually either gonorrhea or chlamydia, that has spread into the deeper organs of a woman’s reproductive system; can lead to serious consequences if not treated in time

  • Pubic lice: Also called crabs. Lice that live in the pubic area, and whose bites cause intense itching; visible to the naked eye; treatable with over-the-counter medication

  • Syphilis: An STD that can be hard to diagnose because it mimics other diseases (starting with canchres); can be transmitted through any intimate contact; if left untreated, it attacks the nervous system and can be deadly

  • Trichomoniasis: One of the most common vaginal infections, sometimes without symptoms; may cause frothy discharge and/or itching; treatable with medication

  • Vaginitis: An STD that causes vaginal discharge and/or burning or itching in the vaginal area; can be triggered by several different organisms; treatable

Remember, when you go to bed with someone, you’re also going to bed with the germs of every partner that this person ever had. Catching a disease can happen in only one instance with an infected partner.

If you do have a sexually transmitted disease or even think that you have one, see a doctor. This advice may sound obvious, but too many people don’t seek medical help, probably because of embarrassment. They may be embarrassed because they don’t want to reveal their sex life or because they don’t want to submit to an exam of their most private parts, or both.

An all-too-common form of treatment adopted by young people is to self-prescribe medication. If a doctor has prescribed a medication for one person, a friend of that person with similar symptoms may use that medicine too. Sharing prescriptions is a bad idea. Even doctors sometimes have difficulties diagnosing which STD is which. By taking the wrong medication, you may make your situation worse.

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