It is important to remember that STDs may have no symptoms. However, new vaginal or urethral discharge or a new rash after sexual contact should be evaluated by a medical professional.
When symptoms do occur, they can include the following:
Chlamydia Symptoms of chlamydia can include vaginal discharge in women, penile discharge in men, and burning during urination in men and women.
Gonorrhea Gonorrhea can cause thick, cloudy, or bloody discharge from the vagina or urethra, and pain or burning when peeing. If you have gonorrhea in your anus, it may cause itching in and around the anus, discharge from the anus, and pain when defecating. Gonorrhea in the throat may cause a sore throat.
Hepatitis B Acute hepatitis B can cause fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes). Symptoms can appear anywhere from six weeks to six months following exposure to the hepatitis B virus. Chronic hepatitis B sometimes causes symptoms similar to acute disease.
Genital Herpes Signs of genital herpes typically include red bumps that develop into blisterlike sores in the genital area and sometimes on the buttocks or thighs. A new infection with HSV-2 — the virus that causes most cases of genital herpes — may also cause flulike symptoms, including fever, headache, feeling tired and achy, and swollen glands.
Oral Herpes Symptoms of oral herpes can include itching of the mouth or lips, sores or blisters on the lips or inside the mouth, and flulike symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, and swollen glands.
HIV Early symptoms of HIV infection can resemble those of the flu: fever, headache, muscle aches, and sore throat. They may also include swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, a fungal infection of the mouth, and a rash on the abdomen, arms, legs, or face. If HIV goes untreated, later symptoms can include fatigue, weight loss, night sweats, joint pain, short-term memory loss, and recurrent infections.
HPV Most strains of HPV cause no symptoms and are detected only after abnormal cells are discovered during a Pap smear. However, some types of HPV cause genital warts, which appear as skin-colored or whitish growths on the genitals or anus.
Molluscum Contagiosum Often the only sign of this skin disease is pink or flesh-colored bumps with a dimple (indentation) in the center. It is most common in children, who typically get it from skin-to-skin contact or from shared towels or similar items. In adults, it can be sexually transmitted.
Pubic Lice Symptoms of pubic lice include itching in the genital area, tiny bugs in your pubic hair, and visible nits (eggs) on hair shafts. Pubic lice can also infest the hair on legs, armpits, eyebrows, eyelashes, and other facial hair such as mustaches and beards.
Scabies This skin infestation causes intense itching that is typically worse at night. It can also cause small red bumps or a rash and raised lines on the skin where the mites have burrowed.
Syphilis In the primary stage, syphilis causes a painless sore, or ulcer, at the location the bacteria entered the body, often in the genital area. In the secondary stage of syphilis, a rash may occur on the torso and elsewhere on the body.
Trichomoniasis Another common STD, trichomoniasis is a parasitic infection that can cause burning and itching in the genital area for men and women as well as painful intercourse. Trich can also cause a smelly discharge and painful or frequent peeing.
Can I Have an STD and Not Know It?
Yes. Many STDs don’t cause any symptoms, especially during the early stages, so the only way to know for sure if you have one is to get tested. Keep in mind that you can get an STD from having sex with someone who has no symptoms and may not know they have an STD.
Are Adolescents Disproportionately Affected?
The CDC reports that half of newly reported cases of STDs occur in people between the ages of 15 and 24, noting that young women’s bodies are biologically more susceptible to STDs.
“Chlamydia and HPV are common as soon as you become sexually active,” Hook says. “Gonorrhea and genital herpes peak in the late twenties to thirties.”
All STDs, though, including HIV, can and do occur at any age.
When and How Often Should I Get Tested?
“Women should be tested for chlamydia on a regular basis. Some gynecologists test for it automatically, but not all do,” Hook says.
Testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis involves collecting either a urine sample or a swab from the vagina or penis.
For other STDs, including HIV, syphilis, and genital herpes, blood testing is most accurate.
To test for HPV, a sample of cervical or anal cells must be collected.
How often an individual needs to be tested for STDs depends on their level of risk for infection.