Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infectious diseases that spread from person to person through intimate contact. STDs can affect guys and girls of all ages and backgrounds who are having sex — it doesn't matter if they're rich or poor.
Unfortunately, STDs (sometimes also called STIs for "sexually transmitted infections") have become common among teens. Because teens are more at risk for getting some STDs, it's important to learn what you can do to protect yourself.
STDs are more than just an embarrassment. They're a serious health problem. If untreated, some STDs can cause permanent damage, such as infertility (the inability to have a baby) and even death (in the case of HIV/AIDS).
One reason STDs spread is because people think they can only be infected if they have sexual intercourse. That's wrong. A person can get some STDs, like herpes or genital warts, through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area or sore.
Another myth about STDs is that you can't get them if you have oral or anal sex. That's also wrong because the viruses or bacteria that cause STDs can enter the body through tiny cuts or tears in the mouth and anus, as well as the genitals.
STDs also spread easily because you can't tell whether someone has an infection. In fact, some people with STDs don't even know that they have them. These people are in danger of passing an infection on to their sex partners without even realizing it.
Some of the things that increase a person's chances of getting an STD are:
As with many other diseases, prevention is key. It's much easier to prevent STDs than to treat them. The only way to completely prevent STDs is to abstain from all types of sexual contact. If someone is going to have sex, the best way to reduce the chance of getting an STD is by using a condom every time (or a dental dam when a girl is receiving oral sex).
People who are considering having sex should get regular gynecological or male genital examinations. There are two reasons for this. First, these exams give doctors a chance to teach people about STDs and protecting themselves. And second, regular exams give doctors more opportunities to check for STDs while they're still in their earliest, most treatable stage.
In order for these exams and visits to the doctor to be helpful, people need to tell their doctors if they are thinking about having sex or if they have already started having sex. This is true for all types of sex — oral, vaginal, and anal. And let the doctor know if you’ve ever had any type of sexual contact, even if it was in the past.
Don't let embarrassment at the thought of having an STD keep you from seeking medical attention. Waiting to see a doctor may allow a disease to progress and cause more damage. If you think you may have an STD, or if you have had a partner who may have an STD, you should see a doctor right away.
If you don't have a doctor or prefer not to see your family doctor, you may be able to find a local clinic in your area where you can get an exam confidentially. Some national and local organizations operate STD hotlines staffed by trained specialists who can answer your questions and provide referrals. Calls to these hotlines are confidential. One hotline you can call for information is the National STD Hotline at 1-800-227-8922.
Not all infections in the genitals are caused by STDs. Sometimes people can get symptoms that seem very like those of STDs, even though they've never had sex. For girls, a yeast infection can easily be confused with an STD. Guys may worry about bumps on the penis that turn out to be pimples or irritated hair follicles. That's why it's important to see a doctor if you ever have questions about your sexual health.
For more information about the signs, symptoms, and treatments of some common STDs, click on the links below.
Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014
|Planned Parenthood Info for Teens This site from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America has information on relationships and sexual health for teens.|
|National AIDS Hotlines These hotlines are managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These free numbers will give you easy-to-understand information about HIV and AIDS and referrals to clinics and support groups. All the information they provide is anonymous and confidential. Call: (800) 232-4636 for English or Spanish.|
|American Sexual Health Association This nonprofit organization is dedicated to preventing sexually transmitted diseases and offers hotlines for prevention and control of STDs.|
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|Planned Parenthood Federation of America Planned Parenthood offers information on sexually transmitted diseases, birth control methods, and other issues of sexual health.|
|GYT - Get Yourself Talking and Get Yourself Tested This media campaign designed to get young people to talk with their health care providers and partners about the importance of getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases.|
|Talking to Your Partner About Condoms Some people - even those who are having sex - are embarrassed by the topic of condoms. Here are some tips for talking about condoms with your partner.|
|Birth Control Methods: How Well Do They Work? Some birth control methods work better than others. This chart compares how well different birth control methods work.|
|Talking to Your Partner About STDs You know you should talk about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) before the action starts, but if you're like most people the thought of having "the talk" makes you completely nervous. Welcome to STD Chat 101.|
|Hepatitis Hepatitis, an infectious liver disease, is more contagious than HIV, and just like HIV, there is no cure. Find out how to protect yourself.|
|Vaginal Discharge: What's Normal, What's Not Normal vaginal discharge has several purposes: cleaning and moistening the vagina and helping to prevent infections. But sometimes discharge indicates there's a problem. Get the facts on what's normal and what's not.|
|5 Myths About STDs There's lots of misinformation out there about STDs. We set the record straight on 5 of the most common myths.|
|Gyn Checkups Girls should get their first gynecological checkup between ages 13 and 15. Find out what happens during a yearly gyn visit -- and why most girls don't get internal exams.|
|About Birth Control Before you consider having sex, you need to know how to protect yourself. Read this article to get the basics on birth control.|
|Telling Your Partner You Have an STD People who have STDs might feel apprehensive about discussing their disease with a partner. Here are some tips on talking to a partner when you have an STD.|
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