STDs: How safe are you?

Just the term ‘STD’ can sound ominous to some people. Learn more about the types, causes, prevention, and treatment of STDs here.

What are STDs?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or venereal diseases refer to diseases that can be spread from one person to another through sexual contact. It can spread from one person to another through vaginal, oral, or anal sex.

What causes STDs?

STDs can be caused by:

  • Bacteria (bacterial vaginosis, gonorrhoea, and syphilis)
  • Viruses (HIV, HPV, and herpes)
  • Fungus (candidiasis)
  • Parasites (trichomoniasis, pubic lice, scabies)

What’s the difference between STD and STI?

The first stage when the pathogen (bacteria, fungus, virus, or parasite) has entered the body and is multiplying without causing any outward evidence of damage, is called sexually transmitted infection (STI). Once there is evidence of the infection in the body, it is called a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

Who can be affected by STDs?

Anyone who is sexually active and engages in unprotected sexual activity with a partner who has an STD can contract the disease.

How do STDs spread?

  • Through infected body fluids (blood, vaginal fluids, or semen)
  • Through close contact with infected skin or mucous membranes
  • Through shared syringe needles (as in drug use), tattooing
  • Some STDs, such as pubic lice, can be transmitted through close personal contact or through sharing clothes, towels, or sheets with the infected person.

What are the symptoms of STDs?

STDs can sometimes occur without any obvious symptoms and may take weeks, months, or years to become evident. Your symptoms can vary based on the type of infection you have and can include:

  • Unusual yellow or white discharge from the penis or cervix
  • Fever, body aches, and tiredness
  • Pain during sex
  • Swollen and painful lymph nodes, especially in the groin region, but sometimes in other parts of the body as well
  • Burning sensation while urinating
  • Pelvic pain
  • Unexplained rash
  • Warts, blisters, sores, or bumps in the genital area

Should I get tested for STDs even if I’m not showing any symptoms?

In many cases, STDs are present without any symptoms, and the only way you can confirm the diagnosis is by testing. If you have had any type of sexual contact and you suspect that you may have acquired an STD, it is safer to consult a doctor and get yourself tested.

What can I do to find out if I have an STD?

Any type of sexual contact puts you at risk of acquiring an STD. The only way to be sure that you don’t have an STD is to test for it. The tests done are –

  • Blood tests – Blood tests detect the presence of viruses, bacteria, or their products in the blood. It also helps in analysing the body’s immune response to infection
  • Urine tests – Detect bacteria, fungi, and their products
  • Fluid Test – In the case of active genital sores, testing the fluid and cells from the sores may be helpful in identifying the cause of the sore
  • Pap test – To test for HPV (responsible for causing cervical cancer)

Are STDs curable?

Bacterial STDs can be cured through proper treatment, especially if they are detected at an early stage, while none of the viral STDs are ‘curable’. However, hepatitis B and some strains of HPV can be prevented through vaccination.

With appropriate treatment and follow-up, you will be able to manage your symptoms and have a normal life.

I am pregnant, and I have an STD. Will it affect my baby?

There is a high probability of transmission of STDs from mother to baby during childbirth and breastfeeding. Some STDs, such as syphilis, can affect the baby while in the womb and can cause deformities in the foetus. In many cases, this transmission can be prevented through diagnosis and treatment. If you are a pregnant woman with an STD, inform your doctor about your disease status. They would be able to take appropriate precautions to protect you and your baby.

How can I protect myself and my partner from contracting STIs?

  • Adopt safe sexual practises (use of condoms: condoms work best to stop the spread of STDs like HIV when used correctly and regularly)
  • Get vaccinated: Vaccines are available for two viral STDs — HPV and Hepatitis B
  • Abstinence is the only definite way to prevent STDs

I had unprotected sex. Should I get tested for STDs?

If you had unprotected sex or your condom broke during sex, it is safer for you to get yourself tested for STDs without delaying it. Depending on the type of infection, it could be detected through tests as early as a couple of days.

If you tested negative within the first few weeks of the incident, it is safer to follow up with the tests after 3 months to confirm the test results.

Will I get affected by an STD more than once?

Yes. Even if previously treated, you might acquire bacterial diseases like chlamydia, syphilis, or gonorrhoea again. Therefore, testing and treatment must be done by both partners.

Can STDs spread through non-sexual physical contact?

STDs such as human papillomavirus (HPV), herpes, and syphilis are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. Hence, it can spread through kissing, oral contact, sharing infected food, borrowing dirty towels, etc.

Can STDs be transmitted through toilet seats?

  • Bacteria that cause STDs are unable to survive outside of the body. Viruses can not survive for long periods of time outside the body
  • A virus, even if alive, can not cause infection unless it enters your bloodstream through cuts or wounds that come in contact with the virus
  • Parasitic STDs are the only ones that have some possibility of getting transmitted through toilet seats. However, toilet seats are not ideal sites for parasites to grow and multiply. Your genital area must come into direct contact with the parasite on the toilet seat for it to get transmitted

Hence, the probability of contracting STDs is minimal to nil.

I have an STD. What next?

  • Consult your doctor and start your treatment
  • Inform your partner/partners about your disease status
  • Adopt safe sex practices to minimize your partner’s risk
Dr. Sosa

Dr. Sosa


An oral physician turned medical writer who writes profoundly about medicine and diseases. Read her contributions and writings about various healthcare topics.

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