What you need to know about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)

Straight or gay, having unprotected sex can expose you to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), some of which can seriously affect your health. Although condoms are highly effective for reducing the transmission of STDs, they (or any method of birth control except abstinence) are not 100% foolproof. It’s also important to know that you could have an STD and not show any symptoms. In fact, this happens with a lot of STDs. Even though you have no symptoms, you're still at risk of passing the infection along to your sex partner(s). That's why it's important to always use a condom during sex.

Always use a condom

Condoms (male or female versions) are the safest method to reduce the risk of STDs and should always be used. Condoms also are a highly-effective, but not 100% effective, method of birth control.

The most common STDs

1) Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection of the genital tract. It may be hard to detect because in its early stage, it causes few or no symptoms. Symptoms usually show up 1-3 weeks after you've been exposed. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Painful urination
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Vaginal discharge in women
  • Discharge from the penis in men
  • Pain during sexual intercourse in women
  • Testicular pain in men

2) Gonorrhea

Like chlamydia, gonorrhea is a bacterial infection of the genital tract. Symptoms usually appear 2-10 days after exposure. However, some people may be infected for months before symptoms occur. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Thick, cloudy or bloody discharge from the penis or vagina
  • Pain or burning sensation when urinating
  • Abnormal menstrual bleeding
  • Painful, swollen testicles
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Anal itching

3) Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is caused by a microscopic, one-celled parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis which spreads during sexual intercourse with someone who has the infection. It usually infects the urinary tract in men and the vagina in women. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Clear, white, greenish or yellowish vaginal discharge
  • Strong vaginal odor
  • Vaginal itching or irritation
  • Discharge from the penis
  • Itching or irritation inside the penis
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Painful urination


HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) interferes with your body's ability to effectively fight off viruses, bacteria and fungi that cause disease. HIV can lead to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), a chronic, life-threatening disease. When first infected with HIV, some people develop flu-like symptoms. These early symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month and are often mistaken for other viral infections. During this period, a person with HIV is very infectious. More severe symptoms of HIV infection may not appear for 10 years or more after the initial infection. Early signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Rash
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Cough and shortness of breath

Signs and symptoms of later stage HIV infection include:

  • Persistent, unexplained fatigue
  • Soaking night sweats
  • Shaking chills or fever higher than 100.4 F for several weeks
  • Swelling of lymph nodes for more than three months
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Persistent headaches
  • Unusual, opportunistic infections

5) Genital herpes

Genital herpes is highly contagious and caused by a type of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV enters your body through small breaks in the skin or mucous membranes. Most people with HSV never know they have it because they have no symptoms, or symptoms are mild and go unnoticed. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Small, red bumps, blisters (vesicles) or open sores (ulcers) in the genital, anal and nearby areas
  • Pain or itching around the genital area, buttocks and inner thighs
  • Painful urination
  • Pain and tenderness in the genital area
  • During an initial episode, you may have flu-like signs and symptoms, such as headache, muscle aches and fever, as well as swollen lymph nodes in your groin.

6) Genital warts (HPV infection)

Genital warts, caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), are one of the most common types of STDs. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Small, flesh-colored or gray swellings in the genital area
  • Several warts close together that take on a cauliflower shape
  • Itching or discomfort in the genital area
  • Bleeding during intercourse

7) Hepatitis

Hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C are all contagious viral infections that affect the liver. Hepatitis B and C are the most serious, but each can cause your liver to become inflamed. Some people never develop symptoms, but for those who do, they may occur several weeks after infection. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort, on your right side beneath your lower ribs (liver area)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Dark urine
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Itching
  • Yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)

8) Syphilis

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that affects your genitals, skin and mucous membranes, but it may also involve many other parts of your body, including the brain and heart. Symptoms of syphilis may occur in four stages: primary, secondary, latent and tertiary. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • A small, painless sore (chancre) on the part of your body where the infection was transmitted, usually the genitals, rectum, tongue or lips
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Rash marked by red or reddish-brown, penny-sized sores over any area of your body
  • Fever
  • Fatigue and a vague feeling of discomfort
  • Soreness and aching
  • Neurological problems
  • Cardiovascular problems

Getting tested for STDs

If you think you have a STD, or suspect you have been exposed to one, it’s very important for you to come in and see us so you can get tested. If you do in fact have an STD, it’s crucial that you get treated right away.

We’re here to listen, and to help you make smart choices

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we want you to know that we care about you and the choices you make, as well as about your health. If you need us, we’re here for you, no matter what.

What is discussed with us stays with us

Please come in and talk to us about any aspect of sex or sexuality — we'll keep it confidential. If you have an STD, we’ll provide treatment and help you choose the next steps. Most of all, we want to help you be healthy and happy in any way we can.

To learn how we at Westchester Health Pediatrics can help you get through your teen years in a healthy way, CLICK HERE.

Please contact us to discuss any of these topics. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.