Do you remember sex education class where you were shown pictures of STDs and heard horror stories? The problem with these stories is that they are deceptive, as many STDs have no symptoms and it’s impossible for teenagers to know if they actually have an STD or not.
STDs are not life-changing infections that can traumatize a person so deep that they can’t see past the infection. The reality is that a good number of STDs, especially the more common ones, can be treated with antibiotics and other STDs can be managed using medication. In most cases, people don’t even realize they have an STD as most never get symptoms or very subtle ones.
It’s why many organizations would rather use the term sexually transmitted infection (STI) over STD, which is noted as being a condition that affects normal functions and has symptoms of a disease. Still, the two terms are often interchanged with each other.
If you’re having sex (unprotected sex at that), the chances of getting a sexually transmitted disease are high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 20 million new infections every year in the U.S. With such a high number, it’s imperative to get tested often, talk to your partners about testing and be honest with your doctor about your sexual activity.
While condoms can protect you from most STDs, they don’t protect from all of them. Since STDs can infect the body and cause no symptoms, it can cause major health problems if untreated.
Syphilis, HIV and other similar diseases can stay in the body for some time before finally showing symptoms. In the majority of STD cases, a person will have signs of a disease. However, the few sexually transmitted diseases that don’t show signs are called asymptomatic, and no one knows they have it until they suffer from side effects of the disease.
There are several asymptomatic STDs that you should keep in mind. These diseases should be a reminder that it’s important to practice safe sex and get tested each time you have a new partner or want to become pregnant.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
This is a sexually transmitted infection, and one the condom can’t protect you from. Most people will catch HPV at some point in their life and never know it. A person can carry the disease and pass it on without any physical symptoms of the disease. Why is that? Some strains will lead to genital warts while others don’t.
HPV isn’t a routine screening tool for women under 30, as in most cases the disease comes and go. If you’re over the age of 30, screening for the infection when you get your Pap smear is a must. That’s because several HPV strains can lead to cervical cancer. An abnormal Pap smear will show changes in the cells, and depending on the kind of cell abnormality you have, your doctor may test you for HPV.
The most common sexually transmitted infection in women under the age of 25 is chlamydia. It’s called a silent infection, as most people don’t know they have it because they have symptoms. It can take weeks after having sex with an infected person to develop signs such as a burning sensation while peeing or vaginal discharge. By this point, the infection may have already infected the urinary tract.
These symptoms are also signs of bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection, but if you’ve had unprotected sex recently, it’s a good idea to see your doctor and get tested. Untreated chlamydia can lead to damage in the fallopian tubes and uterus, which will also lead to pelvic inflammatory disease. PID can cause scarring in the fallopian tubes, which can lead to infertility. According to the CDC, 24,000 women are infertile each year before of untreated STD.
On top of that, scarring can lead to ectopic pregnancies, which could be fatal for both mom and baby. Chlamydia can lead to premature births and be passed to a baby during a vaginal delivery. When this happens, a baby may have pneumonia or eye infection. Chlamydia also increases the chance of women catching HIV.
Women can protect themselves by getting yearly screenings. It may seem like a bit much, but since it’s an asymptomatic disease that can cause real damage to the reproductive system, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Chlamydia is treatable with a course of antibiotics, especially if you catch it in the early stages.
Gonorrhea is another common STD in women under the age of 25, with most never experiencing symptoms of the disease. Despite being two different diseases, it’s not uncommon for gonorrhea and chlamydia to be diagnosed simultaneously. Gonorrhea has very mild side effects such as vaginal discharge, abnormal bleeding and burning and pain similar to a vaginal or bladder infection.
If untreated, it can also cause PID and scarring of the reproductive organs. It also increases a person’s chance of catching HIV and may lead to life-altering infections in the body, affecting the joints, blood, brain and heart. A pregnant woman with gonorrhea may have a premature birth or miscarriage. Her unborn child may be underweight and suffer from a blood infection or blindness.
At-risk women are urged to get tested every year, and if you test positive for the disease, a course of antibiotics can cure it.
This is a viral infection that can be found on the genital and mouth. There are two herpes viruses – herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Of these, the HSV-2 is the one that generally causes genital warts, but it’s not unheard for the HSV-1 virus to cause them too.
The CDC says about one in six people ages 14 to 49 have genital herpes. Most people, when they think of herpes, picture red blisters that are painful to contend with. Did you know that many people do not get this sign? In fact, nearly 90 percent of people who have HSV-2 do not know they have the disease.
When you have a herpes outbreak, you are at higher risk for spreading the disease. However, it can still spread without the presence of sores. And, condoms are not always a foolproof method in protecting you from catching it.
Protecting yourself from this virus is crucial. You must use barrier techniques like dental dams and condoms each time you have sex. Even if you practice safe sex, it is still quite possible to catch the disease.
Despite that reality, the CDC has not recommended routine herpes screening. Why? There is no cure for the disease, but symptoms can be managed. And, the only time you can be treated is when you have symptoms. Talk to your sex partner about herpes and find out if they’ve been tested recently for STDs. If you insist on having sex with an infected partner, be sure to use a dental dam or condom to mitigate the chances of you catching the disease. Just remember that there is no foolproof way to protect yourself and you could still catch the disease.
Be sure to see your doctor if you think you have herpes. You can get a blood test to see if there are any herpes antibodies. Or, when you show symptoms of the disease, your doctor will do a swab test. When you have an outbreak, your doctor can give you medication that will manage the symptoms.
This is not a very well-known STD, but it’s extremely common and is the result of a parasite. The CDC estimates that 30 percent of people with the parasite have symptoms, which means you could have it and show no symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you’re likely to experience the following:
- Painful urination
- Vaginal discharge with a fishy smell
Men may experience similar symptoms.
If untreated, it can lead to increased risk of other STDs such as HIV. Pregnant women with trichomoniasis may give birth prematurely or to an underweight baby.
Each time you have sex, you need to use a condom to mitigate the chances of catching this sexually transmitted disease. The CDC doesn’t suggest routine screening for it unless you live in a region where there is a high rate of infection or you engage in risky sexual behaviors. Like several other STDs, antibiotics will cure you of trichomoniasis, but since you can get re-infected, it’s important for your partner to get tested and treated if positive.