Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections transmitted during sexual contact. STDs are often referred to as sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STDs can be transmitted during any type of sexual activity. Some STDs can be cured with a course of antibiotics, while others persist and are not curable.
Some STDs may cause debilitating symptoms, while others may be present without causing symptoms at all.
Many STDs do not cause symptoms and can be spread by infected people even when they do not have any obvious symptoms.
Who is at risk for STDs?
Anyone who engages in any kind of sexual activity is at risk for STDs. The only way to completely eliminate the risk of acquiring an STD is abstinence from sexual activity.
The use of latex condoms during sexual contact can greatly reduce the chances of contracting many STDs, but no method is completely safe.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released a report that estimates that 20 million new STD infections occur each year. P
eople aged 15 to 24 account for about half of those newly infected. Young men and young women are about equally affected.
What causes STDs?
STDs can be caused by different kinds of microorganisms, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites.
Sexually transmitted viral infections include human papillomavirus (HPV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), herpes simplex virus (HSV), hepatitis B and C, and human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8).
Sexually transmitted bacterial infections include syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia.
Trichomonas is an example of a sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite. Infestations with parasitic bugs, such as lice or scabies, can also be transmitted by close contact and may be acquired during sexual activity.
What are the signs and symptoms of STDs?
In men, STDs can be grouped into three categories:
- STDs that predominantly cause genital lesions (sores or abnormalities on the genital organs)
- STDs that predominantly cause inflammation of the urethra (urethritis)
- STDs that cause symptoms and signs throughout the body (systemic STDs)
Some of the STDs that cause local lesions or urethritis, including gonorrhea and syphilis, can also cause damage to other organs and spread within the body if not treated.
Depending upon the exact infection, STDs that cause genital lesions may cause genital warts, painful blisters, or ulcers.
STDs that cause urethritis cause symptoms often associated with a urinary tract infection, including painful or burning sensation during urination and discharge from the urethra.
The section below reviews the specific signs and symptoms of eight common STDs.
Prevention for Men
STDs can affect any man who is sexually active. They can occur at any age. They affect men of every race and sexual orientation. Fortunately, many STDs are highly preventable.
Abstinence is the only foolproof method to protect against STDs. However, by being aware of changes in their bodies and practicing safer sex, men can protect themselves and their partners.
Consistently practicing safer sex makes the transmission of an infection less likely.
STDs can be transmitted through vaginal, oral, and anal sex. It’s important to practice safer sex during all of these activities.
Condoms can be used for vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Dental dams and other barriers can be used for any type of oral sex.
Many men believe that oral sex is risk-free. However, numerous STDs can be transmitted during oral sex including:
Certain STDs are spread more easily during anal sex. These STDs may be more common in men who have sex with men.
However, men of all sexual orientations should take good care of their sexual health. This doesn’t just mean always having safer sex. Men should also be regularly tested for STDs.
Getting Tested for STDs
Regular STD testing is a good idea for any man who is not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship. Although safer sex is very good at reducing STD transmission, it’s not perfect.
Regular testing is the best way to take charge of your sexual health.
It’s important to ask your doctor for STD testing. Many men may assume that their doctors screen them for STDs at their annual physicals.
However, that isn’t true. If you don’t ask for STD testing, you will probably not be tested. Even if your doctor does test you, you may not be given every test you want or need.
It’s very important to ask your doctor exactly what you are being tested for and why.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common STD that affects more than half of sexually active men and women.
While women can get a Pap smear and HPV test, there is currently no test for HPV for men. Some types of HPV cause no symptoms, while others cause genital warts. Talk with your doctor if you notice any bumps or warts.
Common STDs that you may want to be tested for include:
In order to determine what STD tests you need, you should talk to your doctor honestly about your sexual risk. Tell your doctor if you think you might have been exposed to an STD or are just coming in for preventive screening.
It’s also a good idea to mention if you practice receptive anal sex. Anal sex can put you at risk of certain STDs that require special testing.
For example, an anal Pap smear can be used to test for signs of HPV-related anal cancers.
Finally, tell your doctor if you reliably practice safe sex for oral, anal, and vaginal sex. This can help your doctor assess your risk for various infections.
How are STDs diagnosed?
Many STDs are diagnosed based upon the clinical history and characteristic physical findings. Herpes and syphilis are two conditions that can produce identifiable signs and symptoms.
Often the diagnosis of an infection depends upon identification of the organism. A number of different tests are available that are based either upon detection of the surface proteins of the organism or of the genetic material of the organism.
These methods are more commonly used than the culture to identify sexually transmitted infections.
What is the treatment for STDs?
STDs caused by bacteria — chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis — are typically curable with antibiotics. Trichomonas infection can also be cured with effective medications that eliminate the parasite.
Viral STDs may resolve on their own, such as HPV infection. There is no treatment for HPV infection, although it commonly does not cause problems.
Genital warts can be treated by destruction and removal. HBV and, to a greater extent, HCV infections may persist and develop into chronic infection.
Antiviral drugs and interferon may be used to manage these long-term infections, but they do not cure the infection.
Likewise, HIV treatment drugs can manage the infection, but they do not cure the condition. HSV infection persists for life, although antiviral drugs can help reduce the severity and frequency of outbreaks.
What is the prognosis for STDs?
When untreated, some otherwise treatable STDs can spread throughout the body, causing serious consequences. Gonorrhea and syphilis are examples of treatable conditions that can cause serious consequences if not treated.
HIV infection causes immune suppression that can lead to death from cancers or rare infections, although treatments are available to postpone or delay the immunosuppressive actions of the virus.
Both HCV and HBV to a lesser extent can cause liver damage that sometimes progresses to liver failure.
Herpes infection persists throughout life, with the possibility of future outbreaks of the illness.