It’s a question we get a lot when we talk with clients or students. They’re aware of some of the dangers of STDs and just don’t have all the information they need to make informed decisions. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) keeps statistics on STDs in the United States. They’ve reported that cases of STDs are on the rise, some at alarming rates. This year there will be 20 million new STD infections in the US, and half of those will happen to 15-24 year olds. Other reports indicate that 1-in-2 sexually active young people will get a STD by the age of 25. It’s no wonder with those statistics that people want to know how they can tell if someone has a STD.
Can you tell if someone has a STD by looking?
Sometimes, but not usually. Some STDs cause sores, blisters or bumps on or around the genitals. When these sores are present, the disease can spread pretty easily. So if you see something unusual, don’t have sexual contact with that person, (oral, vaginal or anal) even if they try to explain them away as something like acne. Better safe than sorry. In other cases, there may be puss or a discharge from the vagina or penis that you may or may not see. Often, STDs don’t have any visual symptoms that can be identified by the person who has the infection, let alone someone else. This doesn’t mean you can’t get infected from them. It just means that there isn’t a way to be sure by looking.
So what are some of the symptoms of STDs?
As we said, most of the time there may not be any symptoms. When there are symptoms, they can vary depending on which STD is present. Some of the more common symptoms are:
- abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina
- painful urination
- pain during sexual intercourse
- bleeding between periods for women
- itching or irritation inside penis
- painful, swollen testicles
What are the risks of having a STD and not knowing it?
First, if you have a STD and don’t know it, you can’t be treated. This accounts for the increased number of STD cases each year. Many people are spreading STDs and don’t know it. Second, each STD has its own set of risks. For example, if Chlamydia, one of the most common STDs, is left untreated it can spread to the fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which can cause permanent damage to the reproductive system, infertility and potentially a deadly ectopic pregnancy. For men, it can also potentially cause infertility. Gonorrhea can have some of the same long-term risks as Chlamydia if not treated and it may also increase your chances of getting or giving HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. So even though you may not even know you have a STD, you may be at risk for some serious side effects if left undiagnosed or untreated.
If you’ve had sex (including oral) and think you might have caught a STD, getting tested is the only way to know for sure. Many STDs are curable with antibiotics. Others are treatable, but not curable. That means there are treatments that manage the symptoms, but will not cure the infection. Finally, there are some that are life threatening. At Collage we currently offer testing and treatment for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea, two of the most common STDs in our community, at no cost to our clients. If you think you might have a STD we encourage you to schedule an appointment at either our Grand Island or Kearny offices and find out for sure. Here’s a bit of what you can expect during a STD testing appointment at Collage.
How can you avoid getting a STD?
While condoms offer some protection, they often provide a false sense of security. First, they don’t cover the area around the genitals and this can allow a STD to spread through contact. Second, they are often not used properly which allows for the STD to be passed from one person to another. The CDC says that the most reliable way to avoid infection is to not have sex. If you choose to have sex, doing so in a mutually monogamous long-term relationship, like marriage, is then safest option. For more information on STDs we encourage you to visit the CDC STD page.