The Survival Guide To STDs: What Are They & How To Protect Yourself

Date
Apr, 23, 2021

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What are STDs?

Are they the same as STIs?

Can everyone get STDs? How do you even get an STDs?

Are there different types of STDs?

So many questions popped up when I typed in the word ‘STDs’ into Google.

Used as scare tactics in sex ed. to drive you away from having sex and to make the choice of staying abstinent seem like the only option because apparently everyone and their mother has one, the subject of STDs remains taboo and clouded with misinformation.

Everyone wants to pretend that they don’t exist and that they won’t ever get one (even if they don’t use protection), but this has to lead to…

25% of all Americans being diagnosed with an incurable STD

20 million new cases being reported yearly in the U.S.

To start clearing up the taboo around the subject of STDs, I have complied Google’s top questions into this one blog post.

We will go over what STDs are, what types there are, how they are transmitted, diagnosed, and much more!

What Are STDs?

If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you would know that I love to start with the subject’s definition to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Sexually transmitted diseases, or STD for short, are infections that spread from one person to another.

STDs

This transmission happens mostly but not exclusively during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

You can also become infected through sharing needles, blood transfusions, or skin-to-skin contact (for certain STDs).

The transmission of most STDs occurs during the exchange of any bodily fluid (blood, semen, vaginal fluid, and saliva).

STDs vs. STIs

If you’ve heard of STDs or searched on the term on Google, then at one point or another, you must’ve come across the phrase: STI or Sexually Transmitted Infection, and wondered, “what’s the difference?”

Well, technically, STDs and STIs are the same things.

Most STDs start as infections, but if they go untreated, they can progress to diseases.

Moreover, a disease is a clear medical problem with distinct signs and symptoms, and since most STDs are asymptomatic (meaning that they show no symptoms), they do not fit that definition.

But basically, either term is correct.

(Click here to read more about it from the American Sexual Health Association)

I will be using both terms, STDs and STIs, interchangeably throughout this article.

What Types of STDs Are There?

With so many STDs (over 20), I find it vital to break down the types of STDs.

I have them separated into three easy categories: Bacterial, Viral, and Parasitic.

Bacterial STDs transmit through bacteria.

Most of these STDs are cured with a course of antibiotics.

Viral STDs transmit through a virus. This virus can appear in bodily fluids and transfer through intimate skin-to-skin contact or through breaks in the skin.

Some viral STDs have “different strains, and some are dangerous than others.”

Parasitic STDs are STDs that are transmitting tiny organisms from one person to another.

Think about it like microscopic bugs that you can’t see that hide in your semen, vaginal secretions, blood, and saliva.

What Are The Most Common STDs?

With over 20 types of STDs, a complete list of each STD along with its symptoms and risk factors would make this post too long.

So I will be covering the most common STDs that everyone hears about.

Eventually, I will compile a list of every STD out there and their signs and symptoms in another post and link it here.

Click here for The Complete List of STDs!

Viral

  1. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)
    • Viral STD that can progress into AIDs if it goes untreated. It attacks the immune system and eventually leading to death, and makes you more susceptible to cancers and other diseases.
  2. HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
    • It can transmit through sexual or skin-to-skin contact. There are multiple strains, with some strains being more dangerous than others seeing as to how they lead to cancer.
  3. HSV-1 or HSV-2 (Herpes Simplex Virus)
    • With two main strains, both common STDs can transmit sexually. HSV-1 is known as oral herpes and can spread from one person’s mouth to another’s mouth or genitals. HSV-2 causes genital herpes and transfers through genital contact.

Bacterial

  1. Chlamydia
    • Most common bacterial STD. Mostly asymptomatic but if left untreated, can result in infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, and infections of the urethra, testicles, or prostate gland.
  2. Gonorrhea
  3. Syphilis
    • Easily treatable bacterial STD if caught early enough. It can impact your skin and genitals and spread into other areas such as your brain. Without treatment, it can progress and damage vital organs and then the nervous system.

Parasitical

  1. Trichnomoniasis (Trich)
  2. Pubic Lice (Crabs)
    • Tiny bugs that live in your pubic hair and thrive off of human blood. They can spread to others through skin-to-skin contact, sharing clothes, towels, etc.

For more in-depth information, click here or here!

Common Signs and Symptoms of an STD

As I said, this post will be too long if I go into depth about each STD and its accompanying symptoms.

Fortunately, many STDs have overlapping signs and symptoms.

Unfortunately, most STDs are asymptotic, so you may never even experience any symptoms, which is why it so hard to diagnose STDs and why it is so important to get tested regularly.

Because yes, STDs can still be transfer from one person to another even though you have no symptoms.

Difference Between Signs and Symptoms

Before we jump in, let’s quickly discuss the difference between signs and symptoms.

Signs are objective characteristics of a patient experiencing a disease, such as a skin rash or high blood pressure.

A doctor would be able to identify this and determine how it impacts the body while going unnoticed to a patient.

Symptoms are subjective to the patient. They are the ones who notice it and complain about it to the doctor. Subjective issues include headaches and nausea.

STDs & Their Symptoms

While each STD has its signs and symptoms, some overlapping symptoms are common with most STDs.

woman in gray tank top while sitting on bed
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
  1. Sores, bumps, lumps, or warts anywhere near your genitals, anus, or mouth
  2. Burning or painful urination
  3. Rash on your hands or feet
  4. Pain during sex
  5. Discharge from the penis
  6. Unusual or odd-smelling vaginal discharge
  7. Lower abdominal pain
  8. Swollen lymph nodes
  9. Unusual vaginal bleeding

Remember, most STDs are asymptotic, especially the most common ones so PLEASE GET TESTED REGULARLY…even if you are in a committed monogamous relationship or haven’t had penetrative sex (talking about oral here). 

What Causes An STD?

The transmission of STDs or STIs is due to…

  1. Bacteria
  2. Parasites
  3. Viruses

…during sexual intercourse or skin-to-skin contact.

These microbes hide in bodily fluids such as semen, blood, vaginal secretions, and sometimes saliva.

In the case of herpes or HPV, which can spread through skin-to-skin contact, they depend on small breaks in the skin to be able to transmit from one person to the next.

What Are The Risk Factors?

What puts someone at risk for contracting an STD?

  1. Having Unprotected Sex
  2. Multiple Sexual Partners
    • There is no shame in having multiple sexual partners, but there is a higher risk of contracting an STD. So please use latex condoms and get tested regularly.
    • You can be a hoe. Just be a safe hoe.
  3. Sharing Needles
    • This is usually between individuals who use and inject drugs into their systems. Sharing needles help spread infections, so don’t share needles.
  4. Having A History of STIs
    • Once you have had an STD, you are at risk of contracting another. So once you have had one, change your safe sex strategy.
  5. Using alcohol or recreational drugs
    • I know we all have used alcohol or drugs once or twice to lower our inhibitions and have more fun. While doing this seems great at the moment, keep in mind these things fuck with your ability to judge and assess a situation correctly. Making more risky activities (such as having unprotected sex with that guy from the club) seems like a great idea.
  6. Being Young
    • Most STDs occur in the age ranges of 15-24. This is possibly due to our lack of sex education, sexual experience, and multiple partners. Make sure to incorporate safe sex practices, so you don’t become a statistic.

Are STDs Curable?

Thanks to technology and scientific research, most STDs (especially the most common ones) are curable!

Unfortunately, some are still incurable, but thanks to science are now more manageable and easier to live with.

Bacterial STDs and parasitical STDs are curable.

Treatment may include a course of antibiotics and oral/topical medications.

Just make sure to catch them in the early stages, or else they can progress into diseases that cause irreversible damage to vital organs in your body.

The curable STDs are:

  • Chlamydia
  • Syphilis
  • Gonorrhea
  • Crabs
  • Trichomoniasis

Viral STDs have no cure.

Once you have one, you got it for the rest of your life, but there are treatment plans and medications that make life with them easier and manageable.

This medication can help alleviate any symptoms associated with the STDs and lower your risk for spreading the infection to other partners.

The incurable STDs are:

  • HPV
  • HIV
  • Herpes (HSV-1 & HSV-2)

If you think you may have an STD, please get tested so you can get a diagnosis and start on a treatment plan as quickly as possible.

It’s better to know!

How Are STDs Diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider diagnoses STDs. They will ask you some questions revolving around your sex life, look for any signs of STDs on your body during a physical exam, or just ask you if you want to be tested.

But remember that most STDs are asymptotic, making it difficult for doctors to diagnose you visually.

Some STDs can be diagnosed through a urine test, while others are diagnosed through blood work. Or an examination of a sore or bump is done, or a look under a microscope of fluid swabbed from the genital region or anus.

Home testing kits are also available but not the most reliable. It is best to go to your doctor or your local walk-in clinic, or Planned Parenthood.

Furthermore, keep in mind, pap smears are not an STD test. They only test for the presence of precancerous cells on the cervix, not STDs. It is a different thing entirely.

How Are STDs Transmitted?

STDs can transmit through spreading bodily fluid (semen, vaginal fluid, blood, and sometimes saliva) during sexual contact, blood transfusions, sharing needles, and can even pass from mother to child during pregnancy or birth.

The germs that cause the infections in the first place hide in bodily fluid and pass easily once contact has been made.

How To Protect Yourself Against STDs?

There is a multitude of ways to protect yourself from contracting an STD.

Make sure to consider every option and see which one best fits your lifestyle.

landscape fashion man love
Photo by C Technical
  1. Abstinence
    • I don’t like promoting abstinence as a way to protect yourself from STDs because while it is the most effective way to prevent contracting an STD, it’s not realistic, or you don’t want to. But it’s an option.
  2. Using condoms and dental dams
  3. Stay with one partner.
    • I am not one for promoting monogamy, but statistically, if you are with one partner and they are only having sex with you, you have a lower chance of catching an STD.
  4. Get tested before having sex with a new partner.
    • Don’t have any type of sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) with a new partner until both of y’all get tested. While STD transmission is low during oral sex, make sure to still use a dental dam to transfer no fluid.
  5. Start on PrEP (Preexposure prophylaxis)
  6. Drink and use drugs responsibly.
    • Like I said, drinking and using drugs can make bad decisions seem like great ideas at the moment. Don’t be fooled.
  7. Get vaccinated
    • There are vaccines the prevent HPV, hepatitis A, and B. Most of the time, people get these vaccines while they are young but talk to your doctor to see if you have received these vaccines or are eligible.
  8. Talk To Your Partner or Hookups
    • If possible, try talking to your partners before having sex so you can implement safe sexual practices that each party feels comfortable with.
  9. Have Your own Safe Sex Strategy
    • If you have multiple partners, it can be hard to keep track of who everyone is sleeping with. So to lower your risk of contracting STDs, have a safe sex strategy. Something that YOU do each time to ensure your sexual health. That could mean bringing multiple condoms that you like to each dick appointment or getting tested after each hookup—or making each new partner get tested. Whatever works for you and makes you feel safe.

Where Do I Get Tested for STDs?

There are multiple places where you can get tested for STDs.

You can get tested at your doctor’s office, a walk-in clinic, a free clinic, nonprofit organizations, your local Planned Parenthood, your local health department, or even at your university.

Every first Wednesday of the month, my university would do free STD testing.

So check around and see what is available near you!

Remember that not every STD test checks for every STD. For instance, the STD test at my university only checked for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.

An HIV test is an entirely separate test.

And the cost can vary depending on where you go.

This webpage from Healthline has multiple links to help you find an STI clinic near you! Click here to access it(scroll to where it says ‘Testing locations in each state’).

Key-Take Aways

While STDs or STIs are not a big deal and many people have had them, whether they care to admit to it or not, they are not to be taken lightly.

Medications and treatment plans can cure most of them while others can’t, so be sure to invest in your sexual health, get tested, and take the necessary precautions to protect yourself while still having fun!

Sources

  1. Healthline | How to Access Free or Low-Cost STI Testing in Each State
  2. Medical News Today| Why Do Signs and Symptoms Matter?
  3. World Health Organization| Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
  4. Healthline| Everything You Need to Know About Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
  5. Mayo Clinic| Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) Symptoms
  6. Mayo Clinic| Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
  7. American Sexual Health Association| STDs A to Z
  8. WebMD | Understanding Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
  9. Planned Parenthood| STDs
  10. JAMA| Signs and Symptoms

Mía

Hi, I am Mia! I am Sex Education Enthusiast and I love bringing people the knowledge they need to make their sex lives better! I always preach that having a healthy sex life is a part of a healthy life overall.

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