Your Guide to Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on November 12, 2022
4 min read

Sexually transmitted diseases, commonly called STDs, are diseases that are spread by having sex with someone who has an STD. You can get a sexually transmitted disease from sexual activity that involves the mouth, anus, vagina, or penis.

According to the American Social Health Association, 1 out of 4 teens in the United States become infected with an STD each year. By the age of 25, half of all sexually active young adults will get an STD.

STDs are serious illnesses that require treatment. Some STDs, like HIV, can't be cured and are deadly. By learning more, you can find out ways to protect yourself from the following STDs.

Three things cause sexually transmitted diseases:

If you're sexually active, there's a chance that you can catch an STD. That chance can go up if you:

  • Have unprotected sex
  • Use condoms incorrectly
  • Have sex with multiple partners
  • Misuse alcohol or recreational drugs
  • Inject drugs

Sometimes there are no symptoms of STDs. If you have symptoms, they may include one or more of the following:

Your doctor can examine you and do tests to find out if you have an STD. If you have symptoms, you may get blood, urine, or fluid tests to figure out why you have them.

If you don't have symptoms, your doctor might order different screening tests, depending on your age and health.

You may have ones for:

  • Chlamydia
  • HIV
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • Gonorrhea
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Syphilis

Treatment can:

  • Cure many STDs
  • Lessen the symptoms of STDs
  • Make it less likely that you will spread the disease
  • Help you to get healthy and stay healthy

Many STDs are treated with antibiotics.

If you are given an antibiotic to treat an STD, it's important that you take all of the drug, even if the symptoms go away. Also, never take someone else's medicine to treat your illness. By doing so, you may make it more difficult to diagnose and treat the infection. Likewise, you should not share your medicine with others. Some doctors, however, may provide additional antibiotics to be given to your partner so that both of you can be treated at the same time.

STDs are preventable. There are several things that can protect yourself from them.

Use a latex condom every time you have sex. (If you use a lubricant, make sure it is water-based.) Make sure to:

  • Check the expiration date.
  • Put your condom on before you have sex.
  • Make sure to check for any tears.
  • Store condoms in a cool, dry place.

Limit your number of sexual partners. The more you have, the more likely you are to catch an STD.

Choose your sex partners with care. Don't have sex with someone whom you suspect may have an STD. And keep in mind that you can't always tell by looking if your partner has an STD. Talk with your partners about STDs and how to be safe before you have sex.

Get checked for STDs. Don't risk giving the infection to someone else.

Don't use alcohol or drugs before you have sex. You may be less likely to use a condom if you are drunk or high.

Know the symptoms of STDs. Look for them in yourself and your sex partners.

Learn about STDs. The more you know, the better you can protect yourself.

Get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. It can also help prevent genital warts and some forms of cancer. Everyone through the age of 26 should get it.

Not having sex or sexual relations (abstinence) is the only sure way to prevent STDs.

  • If you have an STD, stop having sex until you see a doctor and are treated.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions for treatment.
  • Use condoms whenever you have sex, especially with new partners.
  • Don't resume having sex unless your doctor says it's OK.
  • Return to your doctor to get rechecked.
  • Be sure your sex partner or partners also are treated.