What are STDs (sexually transmitted diseases)?
STDs and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) are passed from one person to another through sexual contact. You can contract an STD from vaginal, anal, or oral sex from someone who has an STD. Symptoms can include:
- Painful urination
- Lower abdominal pain
- Vaginal discharge
- Discharge from the penis
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Bleeding between menstrual periods
- Testicular pain
Some people may be asymptomatic, which means they don’t show any symptoms at all, which makes std testing so important, because it’s still possible to pass the infection on to others, including during pregnancy and childbirth.
What are some common STDs and STIs, and how are they treated?
More than 1 million STIs are contracted every day. The most common STDs are:
Chlamydia — Caused by bacteria that can damage a person’s reproductive organs. Often there are no symptoms, but chlamydia is easily cured with antibiotics.
Gonorrhea — Caused by bacteria and can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, even though often there are no symptoms. Some strains are becoming drug-resistant, so it is becoming more difficult to treat.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) — Occurs as a complication from other STDs such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, and can damage reproductive organs, leading to problems such as infertility. For many people, the most common symptom is lower abdominal pain. Other things to watch for are fever, painful vaginal intercourse, vaginal discharge with a foul odor, painful urination, irregular menstrual bleeding, and—rarely—pain in the upper right abdomen.
Viral hepatitis — An inflammation of the liver caused by one of five known hepatitis viruses. Three of these are passed through sexual contact. Hepatitis can cause liver cancer and liver failure, but most people with chronic hepatitis do not know that they are infected. Many types of hepatitis are now curable.
Genital herpes — Caused by the herpes simplex virus. Often there are no symptoms, but some people with genital herpes have outbreaks of sores in their genitals. There is no cure, but antiviral medications can help alleviate symptoms.
Syphilis — Caused by bacteria transmitted through a sore in the genital area. Untreated, it can cause damage to internal organs, and eventually death. It can be cured with antibiotics. In the primary stage, small painless sores can develop on the mouth, genitals, or anus.
Trichomoniasis — The most common curable STD in young people. It is caused by a single-celled parasite. Symptoms include vaginal discharge and pain.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) — An HIV infection can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). You may be infected with HIV for years without knowing it, even as it is breaking down your immune system. AIDS usually results in death because the immune system can no longer fight off disease. There is no cure for the infection, but current medications can improve the health of someone with HIV, and prevent quick progression to AIDS.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) — Carried by at least 50 percent of sexually active adults. There are many types, but most people with HPV do not know that they have it. HPV is a known cause of cervical cancer and genital warts in people of all genders. You can get an HPV vaccine called Gardasil, which will prevent HPV infection and reduce your chances of getting cervical cancer, and other less common cancers. The vaccine is recommended for all people starting at age 11.
How do I lower my chance of contracting an STD?
Access to comprehensive sex education and reproductive healthcare is crucial in preventing STDs and STIs. But unfortunately, those living in rural communities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender or LGBT, individuals, are less likely to have access to testing. Sex is normal, and people deserve access to inclusive information and healthcare that reflect their own lives. While condoms are generally effective at preventing STDs, it’s important to remember they can’t fully protect you and most contraception doesn’t protect you from STDs at all. Still, using condoms or dental dams during sex can lower your chance of passing or contracting an STD.
- What You Need to Know About STDs
- STDs A-Z
- STD Awareness for LGBTQ Youth
- Can Acknowledging Racism Address High STD Rates?
If you’re sexually active, regular STD and STI testing is generally recommended once a year. If you have multiple or changing partners, you may need more frequent testing. STI testing is also recommended if you have HIV or another STI, are a sexual assault survivor, use intravenous (IV) drugs, or are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Having an open and honest conversation about your sexual and medical history with your healthcare provider and/or partners can help protect yourself and others. Your local health department may also have a low-cost or free sexual health clinic that offers affordable testing. Find yours here.
A lot of stigma and shame surround STDs, but STDs are common and millions of new infections occur in the U.S. every year.
STD Testing During COVID
Most STD testing is done through blood tests, urine tests, or culture collections. If you’re an existing patient, we can provide you with some STD testing through telehealth. While you won’t visit our clinic in person, we’ll connect you to a local lab for testing instead — and we’ll let you know as soon as the results are in. You can contact our office at 512-443-2888 to schedule a telehealth visit or to find out what STDs and STIs we test for.
Can I Get An Abortion If I Have An STD?
Generally, yes. But it’s important to get STD testing done before having an abortion. Some untreated STDs (like chlamydia and gonorrhea) can increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (infection of the reproductive organs) after an abortion, which could lead to infertility. And since you don’t always show symptoms, testing beforehand is helpful. However, if you’re currently being treated for an STD, you’re still able to safely access an abortion. Your provider will review your medical history with you at your visit—including any information you need to know regarding STDs you may have and your abortion.
- City of Austin’s STD Clinic
- HIV Prevention & Outreach Program
- AIDS Services of Austin
- Integral Care (Community AIDS Resources & Education
- KIND Clinic
- Center For Health Empowerment