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Causes and symptoms of STDs

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are generally acquired by sexual contact. The organisms (bacteria, viruses or parasites) that cause sexually transmitted diseases may pass from person to person in blood, semen, or vaginal and other bodily fluids.

Sometimes these infections can be transmitted nonsexually, such as from mother to infant during pregnancy or childbirth, or through blood transfusions or shared needles.
STDs don’t always cause symptoms. It’s possible to contract sexually transmitted diseases from people who seem perfectly healthy and may not even know they have an infection.


Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can have a range of signs and symptoms, including no symptoms. That’s why they may go unnoticed until complications occur or a partner is diagnosed.

Signs and symptoms that might indicate an STDs include:

Sores or bumps on the genitals or in the oral or rectal area.

Painful or burning urination.

Discharge from the penis.

Unusual or odd-smelling vaginal discharge.

Unusual vaginal bleeding.

Pain during sex.

Sore, swollen lymph nodes, particularly in the groin but sometimes more widespread.

Lower abdominal pain.


Rash over the trunk, hands or feet

Signs and symptoms may appear a few days after exposure, or it may take years before you have any noticeable problems, depending on the organism.

When to see a doctor

See a doctor immediately if:
You are sexually active and may have been exposed to an STDs.
You have signs and symptoms of an STDs

Make an appointment with a doctor:
When you consider becoming sexually active or when you’re 21 whichever comes first
Before you start having sex with a new partner


Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be caused by:

Bacteria (gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia)

Parasites (trichomoniasis)

Viruses (human papillomavirus, genital herpes, HIV)

Sexual activity plays a role in spreading many other kinds of infections, although it’s possible to be infected without sexual contact. Examples include the hepatitis A, B and C viruses, shigella, and Giardia intestinalis.

Risk factors

Anyone who is sexually active risks some degree of exposure to a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Factors that may increase that risk include:

Having unprotected sex

Vaginal or anal penetration by an infected partner who isn’t wearing a latex condom significantly increases the risk of getting an STI. Improper or inconsistent use of condoms can also increase your risk.
Oral sex may be less risky, but infections can still be transmitted without a latex condom or a dental dam a thin, square piece of rubber made with latex or silicone.
Having sexual contact with multiple partners. The more people you have sexual contact with, the greater your risk. This is true for concurrent partners as well as monogamous consecutive relationships.

Having a history of STIs

Having one STI makes it much easier for another STI to take hold.
Anyone forced to have sexual intercourse or sexual activity. Dealing with rape or assault can be difficult, but it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible so that you can receive screening, treatment and emotional support.

Misuse of alcohol or use of recreational drugs

Substance misuse can inhibit your judgment, making you more willing to participate in risky behaviors.
Injecting drugs. Needle sharing spreads many serious infections, including HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Being young. Half the STDs occur in people between the ages of 15 and 24.
Men who request prescriptions for drugs to treat erectile dysfunction. Men who ask their doctors for prescriptions for drugs such as sildenafil (Viagra, Revatio), tadalafil (Cialis, Adcirca) and vardenafil (Levitra) have higher rates of STIs. Be sure you are up to date on safe sex practices if you ask your doctor for one of these medications.

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