Signs of STDs in men

Medically reviewed on March 15, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. 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.


If you suspect that you’ve recently contracted a sexually transmitted disease, or STD, it’s easy to fall prey to panic. With various possible symptoms—many of which overlap among different STDs as well as other health conditions—it can be challenging to know whether you are infected.

STD signs may look different between a man and a woman. In this article, we’ll explore common signs of STDs in men. We’ll quickly cover the anatomy you may not remember from biology class, break down common symptoms, and discuss how these signs can overlap in multiple STDs.

With our quick and simple guide, you’ll be one step closer to understanding sexual health and seeking STD testing if needed.

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Anatomy 101

Like sexual health, anatomy isn’t always straightforward. In this section, we’ll discuss two common male anatomies—those for cisgender men (whose gender identity matches the one they were assigned at birth) and some transgender men (whose gender identity isn’t the same as the one they were assigned at birth) [1].

Cisgender men typically have two external sexual organs—a penis and a scrotum. A few other key internal elements complete the reproductive system [2]:

  • The seminal vesicle, which collects sperm transported from the testicles via the vas deferens during sexual arousal
  • The vas deferens, which transports semen from the testicles to the seminal vesicle during an erection
  • The testicles, or testes, where semen—containing sperm cells—are stored and created between ejaculations

Transgender men have different anatomy than cisgender men, and that sometimes includes a vulva. Some crucial parts of the vulva include [3]:

  • The vaginal and urethral openings, which connect the uterus and bladder to the outside of the body, respectively
  • Labia majora and labia minora, the fleshy “wings” that protect the vagina, urethra, and clitoris
  • The clitoris, a small nerve-dense area above the urethra, often covered by a small, pliable skin fold called the clitoral hood

Some transgender men have had gender-affirming procedures (such as a phalloplasty or metoidioplasty) and may have a penis.

Both cisgender and transgender men also have a mons pubis (the fleshy area above the penis or vulva), perineum (the area between the scrotum and anus or vulva and anus), and an anus.

When talking about STDs, understanding someone’s unique anatomy and the sexual behavior in which they engage is important and can guide which tests to consider.

Common symptoms of STDs

A sexually transmitted disease can be contracted from sexual activity, including anal sex, oral sex, and sexual intercourse. A few common STDs are herpes, chlamydia, syphilis, hepatitis c, and gonorrhea.

A few common signs of STD in men include [4]:

  • Genital warts – Small, sometimes tender bumps (less than a quarter inch in diameter) that can occur on the genital area including mons pubis, the penis, the scrotum, and anywhere on the vulva
  • Painful urination – A stinging or burning sensation during urination, which can occur in both penises and vulvas
  • Sores – Painless, round lesions that appear on the genitals, mouth, or face
  • Skin rash – An itchy, dry, and inflamed skin malady that could be located in only one area or throughout the body
  • Flu-like symptoms – A combination of fever, chills, headaches, nausea, fatigue, and muscle soreness
  • Discharge – White, yellow, or slightly green discharge from the vaginal opening or the urethra (in the vulva, penis, or anus)
  • Vaginal bleeding – Bleeding between regular cycles, for people who menstruate
  • Pain during sex – Inordinate pain during penetration, masturbation, or ejaculation

These symptoms are only some of the signs that you may have an STD. It’s also common to have a combination of these symptoms—for instance, you might experience painful urination in addition to a skin rash or abnormal discharge. Note the STD incubation period, which is the time from when you contract an STD to when symptoms show up, which can be important for testing and treatment.

Seek testing and care when noticing a common symptom like a genital wart or painful urination to prevent it from leading to other diseases or infections. If symptoms are from an STD, it's crucial to inform any individual you've made sexual contact with.

Overlapping symptoms and comorbidities

Since STD symptoms are typically localized to the genitals or the mouth, it’s common for multiple symptoms to appear in the same place at the same time. Let’s consider an example—gonorrhea.

The symptoms of gonorrhea include [5]:

  • Painful urination
  • Bleeding between menstrual cycles, for those who menstruate
  • Cramping lower abdominal pain
  • Increased or abnormal discharge from the vagina or urethra or anus
  • Swollen testicles or labia

While some people will experience one or more of these symptoms, some won’t notice any signs of an infection at all.

Since common STD symptoms are so similar for a variety of diseases, testing is crucial for accurate diagnosis and implementation of an appropriate treatment plan. Even if you don’t have any of the symptoms above, you should seek regular STD testing, especially if you have—or your primary partner has—additional sexual partners.

At-home STD testing with Everlywell

If you experience any of the common STD symptoms, you’ll likely find that a variety of diseases present with the same symptom profile. Untreated STDs can lead to serious health problems, and—in some cases, depending on the type of infection—can even be fatal. STD testing can be a major help in understanding the cause of your symptoms.

At Everlywell, we’re putting the power of STD testing in your hands with at-home STD tests with fast, accurate results. Simply order a test, await mail delivery, collect your own sample, send it back to the lab (using pre-paid postage), and receive your digital results in just days.

Curious about STD testing with us? Here’s what the process looks like

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References

1. Transgender and Gender Diverse Persons. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 15, 2022.

2. Structure of the Male Reproductive System. Merck Manuals. URL. Accessed March 15, 2022.

3. Female Reproductive System. MedlinePlus. URL. Accessed March 15, 2022.

4. CDC Fact Sheet: Information for Teens and Young Adults: Staying Healthy and Preventing STDs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 15, 2022.

5. Gonorrhea – CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 15, 2022.

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