Sexually transmitted diseases (also known as STDs - or STIs
for "sexually transmitted infections") 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
Unfortunately, STDs 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).
How STDs Spread
One reason STDs spread is because people think they need to have
sexual intercourse to become infected. 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
Some of the things that increase a person's chances of
getting an STD are:
- Sexual activity at a young age.
The younger a person starts having sex, the greater his or her
chances of becoming infected with an STD.
- Lots of sex partners.
People who have sexual contact - not just intercourse, but any
form of intimate activity - with many different partners are more
at risk than those who stay with the same partner.
- Unprotected sex.
Latex condoms are the only form of birth control that reduce your
risk of getting an STD. Spermicides, diaphragms, and other birth
control methods may help prevent pregnancy, but they don't
protect a person against STDs.
Preventing and Treating STDs
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
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
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.
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.
Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: March 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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