Sexually Active? Know the Common STD Risks
An active sex life should start with learning the facts about common diseases you can catch from intimate encounters. How great is great sex if it leads to a sexually transmitted disease (STD)? Preparation, communication and protection should be the watchwords for your safety and good health.
Any sexually active person should consider the risks of STDs. Even if you get tested regularly and practice the safest forms of protection, it’s wise to know the real scoop surrounding the most common STDs.
Genital herpes is acquired from contact with the herpes simplex virus (HSV) through oral or genital secretions and mucus during sex or other intimate contact. Barrier use during sex—a condom, for example—can be an effective method of prevention, but it’s not failproof.
Herpes is highly contagious and common in the United States at an infection rate of about 1 in 6 people, though many are undiagnosed and unaware because they don’t experience any symptoms. When lesions or other symptoms are not present and safe practices overall are followed, the risk of contracting herpes from an infected person is decreased.
Gonorrhea is a common STD; maybe too common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 1.14 million people are infected yearly. Transmission occurs through contact with the mouth, anus, penis or vagina of an infected person.
It is more common for men than women to be asymptomatic. However, the symptom that typically presents in men is abnormal discharge from the penis/urethra. Women can also present with abnormal discharge, as well as bleeding between periods or symptoms that can overlap with urinary tract infections (UTIs). It’s important to talk to your doctor about performing an STD panel, as well, and to be open about your sexual history so this condition is not overlooked or misdiagnosed. For men and women, even if they experience no symptoms, gonorrhea can lead to severe health problems, including systemic infection, which can manifest outside the reproductive system, and other long-term consequences related to chronic infection/scarring of the reproductive tract, such as issues with fertility.
Rectal gonorrheal infections can be asymptomatic, but they can present symptoms such as rectal itching or bleeding, discharge, soreness or painful bowel movements.
Gonorrhea can be cured with the right treatment, but you will need to seek professional medical advice. As far as sexual activity is concerned, if abstinence is not realistic, a mutually monogamous relationship and frequent testing can reduce risk.
Syphilis is a disease that has a complex natural course if left untreated, with multiple stages of increasing severity and detriment as its progression involves other body systems—a process that can last anywhere from weeks to decades.
More common than new HIV infections but less common than gonorrhea, new syphilis cases across all stages numbered 115,045 in 2018, according to the CDC. Syphilis symptoms present very similarly to those of other illnesses, earning syphilis the moniker of "Great Pretender" among STDs.
The average time it takes for symptoms to show after contraction is 21 days, but that period can extend to 90 days or more. Syphilis symptoms can manifest as painless ulcerations/sores on the body, uncomfortable rashes, muscle aches, eye irritations and damage, and other issues, depending on the stage of the disease.
Treatment varies across stages, but the illness can be cured if patients adhere to a disciplined distribution of medications presided over by a qualified medical team. Early detection is important as some of the manifestations in later stages can cause lasting damage, so you want to treat syphilis as soon as possible.
Hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver often caused by a virus. The illness comes in five different types, A through E. Unprotected sex is associated with the risk of contracting hepatitis, although there are other contributing factors, such as sharing needles and alcohol abuse. Each type of hepatitis has a different risk of sexual transmission, with some more commonly transmitted through needle contact. If not appropriately treated, hepatitis can lead to chronic liver disease and, ultimately, systemic issues.
The most common types of hepatitis in the United States are A, B and C. Vaccines have proved effective for avoiding the first two, and about 50 percent of people infected with hepatitis C are unaware of the infection. Although there are new treatments available for hepatitis C, they come with costs and unpleasant side effects. In addition, these treatments are effective only on certain types of hepatitis C. Overall, it's in your best interest to avoid having to go through all of this by taking appropriate preventive measures.
The CDC reports about 25,000 new infections of hepatitis A in the U.S. each year, and about 23,000 and 50,000 new infections for hepatitis B and C, respectively.
Hepatitis B is the most commonly diagnosed variant of the illness associated with sexual transmission, as type B can be contracted through contact with semen, blood or other bodily fluids. Type C is transmitted more commonly through blood, such as in the sharing of needles, but it's still possible for sexual transmission, especially anal/rectal. Type A is primarily acquired through contaminated food and water.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that leads to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, a late-stage manifestation of HIV when the body's immune system becomes severely impaired.
More than 1 million people in the U.S. live with HIV. Treatments for the condition have advanced to the point that the virus can be suppressed to nearly untraceable levels within the human body.
When HIV is left untreated, it can sometimes take up to 15 years for symptoms to manifest, but once they do, and HIV progresses to AIDS, the condition becomes much more difficult to treat. Your immune system has taken a large hit, making you susceptible to other illnesses, a combination of which leads to rapid decline and death.