Written on February 22, 2023 by Sendra Yang, PharmD, MBA. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections transmitted by having sexual contact with an infected partner. STDs are commonly transmitted from an infected person to another person through vaginal, oral, and anal sex . Anyone sexually active, regardless of age, gender, or sexual orientation, can become infected with STDs . STD infections are caused by microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Common STDS are trichomoniasis, syphilis, bacterial vaginosis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis, herpes, and HIV/AIDs .
STDs can present differently between people. Common signs and symptoms of an STD infection may include painful urination, pain during sex, sores, unusual discharge, or rash . Some people may experience a lot of symptoms, and some may experience no symptoms at all. This makes identifying an STD infection difficult — the only way to know if you have an STD is to get tested.
STD testing is done by collecting a sample of your bodily fluid or tissue and testing for the presence of microorganisms that cause STDs. Standard STD tests may include a blood, urine, or swab test . Your healthcare provider may order a blood test to look for biomarkers such as antibodies for certain STDs . Urine tests will identify STDs caused by chlamydia or gonorrhea . A swab test collects samples from the throat, anus, or mouth to check for herpes, gonorrhea, HPV, or chlamydia .
Not everyone will show signs and symptoms of an infection, making regular STD testing vital if you engage in sexual activities that increase your chance of contracting a disease . Be sure to engage in an open conversation with your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can recommend how often and share why you should get tested for STDs .
If you are a sexually active woman, you should consider testing for gonorrhea and chlamydia every year . Suppose you are sexually active, gay, bisexual, or a man who has sex with other men. In that case, you should get syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea testing at least once a year (more frequent testing if you have multiple or anonymous partners), HIV testing at least once a year (it may be beneficial for more frequent testing), and hepatitis C testing at least once a year if you have HIV. Additionally, your healthcare provider should do throat and rectal sample testing for STDs if you have had oral or anal sex . You should also get tested if you engage in behaviors that place you at higher risk of infection, such as sharing injection drug equipment .
If you have multiple sexual partners, the chance of acquiring an STD is increased significantly . Each new sexual partner carries the risk of being a new source of infection if they are not tested for STDS. You cannot be sure whether your new partner has a history of STDs or is infected. Before you or your new partner engage in any sexual behaviors, getting an STD test done can limit the spread of STDs. If an STD is detected, you or your partner can get medical treatment.
Having unprotected sex will increase your chance of transmitting or getting an STD from an infected partner . Using condoms during sexual activity can significantly reduce the chance of spreading or contracting an STD. Protected sex creates a barrier to the exchange of bodily fluids during sex but is less effective at preventing the spread of STDs such as herpes or HPV since these viruses can spread by skin-to-skin contact . If you have unprotected sex with multiple sexual partners, regular STD testing can help stop you from spreading the STD or help you seek medical treatment.
If you have a medical history of STDs, it is essential that you get tested regularly. Some people with a history of STDs are at higher risk of recurring STD infections . Many people who have an STD remain asymptomatic . Regular STD testing can help detect any recurrence early to start medical treatment and prevent chronic health complications from STDs. Not only are you helping reduce the spread of STDs, but you are protecting your partner from getting an infection. Knowing your STD status allows you to have a healthy sexual relationship with your partner. Delaying treatment of STDs can result in chronic health problems such as infertility or chronic pain.
If you are pregnant, it is recommended that you get STD testing to protect your baby . Some STDs can be contracted when a woman gives birth, resulting in serious health problems for the baby. You should be tested for syphilis, HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C starting in early pregnancy . If pregnant women have syphilis, the baby may have an increased risk of congenital disabilities or birth complications during delivery . Untreated STDs can also cause health problems in pregnant women, such as chronic pain during pregnancy . Early detection and treatment of STDs can prevent transmission to your baby as well as health complications during pregnancy and delivery.
Everlywell offers access to virtual care visits for online STD treatment. Virtual care visits allow you to schedule a meeting with a certified healthcare provider to discuss potential STD symptoms or exposure. The healthcare provider will give you a detailed care plan following your visit, which may include online STD testing or prescription medication, if appropriate.
Everlywell also provides STD at-home lab tests. Tests are discreetly shipped to your door, and you receive results in days. If results are abnormal, a board-certified physician will contact you to discuss your results and may prescribe treatment.