Everything You Need to Know About STDs

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A Brief History

In the 1980s, first genital herpes and then AIDS emerged into the public consciousness as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that could not be cured by modern medicine.  Sexually transmitted diseases can be tricky to avoid for sexually active individuals, primarily because there are rarely ever any warning signs. In schools, we are taught to have safe sex, but unfortunately, not all individuals use the kind of protective birth control that lowers their risk of STDS. That said, it is also possible for an STD to be transmitted even when an individual uses protection. 

We have covered the basics of what you need to know about STDs, read on to find out.

Digging Deeper

Are all STDs dangerous? 

Only a few STDs, such as HIV, can be life threatening. On the other hand, one of the most common STDs is HPV, which is, in most cases considered harmless. Nearly every sexually active individual has been infected with HPV at least once. The disease is believed to clear up on its own in around 24 months. One of the most uncomfortable symptoms associated with it is genital warts, which can easily be treated with OTC ointments and medication; however, all STDs have one thing in common: while many are not initially dangerous, they can all lead to serious medical complications if left untreated. If you have noticed any bodily changed or odd symptoms after having intercourse with someone whose sexual history is unknown, see a physician immediately. 

How are STDs spread? 

Generally speaking, STDs are transmitted through vaginal and anal sex, while some diseases can also spread through oral sex. However, sexual intercourse is not the only way that they can be transmitted; having STD’s while pregnant can pose a risk to the baby during childbirth. On the other hand, some STDs can be spread through kissing, such as herpes around the lips.

Other more serious STDs like HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B can also be transmitted through blood – mostly through needles and any other objects that may be contaminated by blood. Reusing syringes and getting tattoos at questionable parlors are common causes of non-sexual STD transmission. What makes them more unfortunate, is that they’re never expected, which can leave a patient undiagnosed, and thus untreated, for years. 

How do I prevent STDs? 

Aside from having protective sex, sexually active individuals should always get tested after having intercourse with a new partner, even if protection was used. While safe sex does not provide absolute protection against STDs, getting regular tests will help diagnose any infections at their early stages while treatment is still a viable option. 

That said, some STDs now have vaccines, namely the HPV vaccine. While most strains of HPV are only unpleasant and not dangerous, some strains can lead to serious medical complications including cervical cancer. This is also why individuals with female genitalia should always have pap tests. 

What signs should I look out for? 

You should always get regular tests whether or not you notice any signs, seeing as not many STDs show symptoms, while some of them may show symptoms weeks or months after the transmission of the disease. 

The following signs, however, may indicate STD infection: 

  • Rash or inflammation in the groin area
  • Genital warts 
  • Itching and redness in the genital area 
  • Feeling a sting while urinating
  • Fevers and flu symptoms a day or two after having intercourse
  • Pain in the pelvis area
  • Bleeding or spotting between periods
  • Unusual discharge
  • Rectal or oral sores

That said, some of these symptoms may indicate the presence of less threatening infections, which are not necessarily caused by sexual intercourse. For instance, yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis both cause itching, inflammation and unusual discharge. On the other hand, painful urination may also indicate a UTI, which can be painful, but is not as dangerous as most STDs. This is why it is important to see a physician for proper diagnosis, instead of diagnosing yourself based on your research of what your symptoms may indicate, since many infections tend to have similar symptoms to those of STDs.

How will I be treated if I have an STD? 

Depending on what your doctor has diagnosed you with, most STD treatments include ingestion of antibiotics. When prescribed medicine, it is important to continue taking the medication for as long as your doctor has advised, even when symptoms subside. Skipping any dose may exacerbate your condition. Some physicians may also offer some antibiotics for your partner, to make sure that they’re treated at the same time, so that the disease is not retransmitted. 

Always have safe sex, and never have intercourse with someone who does not have clear sexual history. Even when individuals use protection, they may risk STD transmission through oral sex. More serious STDs can also be transmitted through blood-contaminated objects and needles, so make sure you never use someone else’s cosmetic tools, such as razors or nail clippers. 

Question for students (and subscribers): Do you know of any historic figures who died of an STD?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Park, Ina.  Strange Bedfellows: Adventures into the Science, History, and Surprising Secrets of STDs.  Flatiron Books, 2020.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by FranckinJapan, is licensed under the Pixabay License.


About Author

Abdul Alhazred

“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad." "How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland