Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2007;76(12):1833-1834

See related article on sexually transmitted diseases.

What is a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?

An STD is a disease that can be passed from person to person through any type of sexual contact. You usually get STDs through vaginal sex, but you can also get them from having oral sex, anal sex, or skin-to-skin contact.

How do I know if I have an STD?

Many people who have an STD do not have symptoms. But some people have symptoms, such as:

  • Pain while urinating

  • Sores or bumps on the skin near the genitals

  • Pain during sex

  • Any discharge from the penis, or a change in the usual amount or color of discharge from the vagina

  • Abnormal bleeding from the vagina, such as bleeding between periods, bleeding with sex, or bleeding that is different from your usual periods

Some STDs can cause severe infection, disability, infertility, or even death. If you have had unprotected sex, you should ask your doctor to test you for STDs.

Can STDs be treated?

Some STDs go away on their own, and some can be treated with medicine. Others cannot be cured, but medicine may help control symptoms or lower the chance that the infection can be passed on to someone else.

Does my partner need to be treated if I have an STD?

Depending on the type of STD you have, your partner might need to be treated. If your partner is not treated and you are still sexually active with him or her, you might get the STD again. If your partner can't go to a doctor for treatment, your doctor may give you medicine to give to your partner. This will depend on the laws of the state where you live.

How can I prevent an STD?

The best way to avoid getting an STD is to avoid having sex. If you do have sex, you are less likely to get an STD if you and your partner have sex only with each other. You can also lower your risk by using a new condom every time you have sex. Some STDs can be prevented with a vaccine. Talk to your doctor about which vaccines are available.

Where can I get more information?

American Academy of Family Physicians

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

American Social Health Association

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