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What You Need to Know About STDs

When it comes to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), you may not have any warning signs. If you are sexually active, find out the facts about STDs, and learn how to protect yourself.

Myth: If you or your partner had an STD, you would see signs.

Fact: Many STDs have no symptoms or only mild symptoms, especially in women. Some STDs may have symptoms that go away for a while but then come back. STDs can damage your body, and you can spread them to your partner even if you have no symptoms.

Myth: STD symptoms may be bothersome, but most STDs do not have serious consequences.

Fact: Left untreated, most STDs can lead to serious conditions. They can cause infertility, urinary tract problems, and cancers of the vulva, cervix, vagina, penis, and anus. Some STDs, including syphilis and AIDS, can cause death. No STD is harmless.

Myth: You can catch an STD from a toilet seat, telephone or other object used by an infected person.

Fact: STDs are transmitted by vaginal, anal and oral sex. Some STDs may spread to a baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. Herpes can be transmitted by kissing, if herpes blisters are in the mouth or around the lips. Hepatitis B, syphilis and HIV, the AIDS virus, can be spread by sharing needles or other objects contaminated by blood. STDs are not spread by handshakes, hugs, toilet seats, towels, dishes, telephone receivers, or insect bites.

Myth: If you think you may have been exposed to an STD, you should wait to see if symptoms develop.

Fact: If you think you may have been exposed, see your doctor right away. He or she can often tell with a simple lab test if you have been infected. Also, let your partner or partners know that they are at risk and should be tested, too. All STDs require professional medical treatment.

Myth: You can't get an STD more than once.

Fact: With the exception of hepatitis B, your body does not build immunity to any STD. If your partner is infected, the two of you may pass the STD back and forth unless you both get treated and get a clean bill of health before having sex again. Also, once you've had one STD, you may be more likely to get another.

Know the signs, protect yourself

Many STDs have no symptoms. See your doctor, however, if you have any of the following signs, which could be caused by an STD:

  • Problems in the anal or genital area, such as a sore, a rash, warts, unusual discharge, swelling, redness or pain

  • Painful urination

  • Vaginal bleeding when it is not time for your period

  • Pelvic pain

  • A sore in the mouth

  • A sore in the rectum

  • Persistent, unexplained flulike symptoms or swollen lymph glands

The only sure way to protect yourself from STDs is not to have sex. If you do have sex, here is how you can lower your risk:

  • Use (consistently and correctly) a male latex or female polyurethane condom and topical microbicides.

  • Have regular checkups for HIV and STDs.

  • Limit your partners. The more partners you have, the higher your risk for STDs.

  • Have a mutually monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected partner.

  • Delay having sexual relationships as long as possible--the younger a person is when he or she begins having sex, the more susceptible the person becomes to developing an STD.

  • Avoid anal intercourse, or use a male latex condom and topical microbicides.

  • Avoid having sexual intercourse during menstruation.

  • Avoid douching.

  • Get to know your partner first. Has your partner ever had sex without a latex condom? How many previous partners has he or she had? Has your partner ever had an STD, and if so, has it been cured?

  • If your partner has any STD warning signs, or has had sex without a condom, don't have sex until he or she has been checked by a doctor. If you have had sex already, see your doctor, too.