What is an STD? How would I get an STD?

A sexually transmitted disease is something you get from another person by either vaginal, oral, or anal sex. There are many different kinds of STDs. Some can be spread just by skin to skin contact. Some are viruses and some are bacteria. Some can be cured and other can just be treated.

The most common are: Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, HPV, Syphilis, Herpes, HIV and Hepatitis B.

Gonorrhea and Chlamydia

Gonorrhea and Chlamydia are both bacterial infections that are transmitted by bodily fluids during sex. Their symptoms are fairly similar, and if you are diagnosed with one, you may also have the other. Therefore, the two are often tested for and treated together.


Sexually active women 24 years and younger should be screened for gonorrhea and chlamydia at least once.

Sexually active women 25 years and older should be screened for gonorrhea and chlamydia if they have increased risk factors. Your provider can help you understand what your risk might be.


Symptoms include:

  • Bleeding after discourse
  • Pelvic pain
  • Vaginal discharge – Often yellow or green with a foul odor
  • Pain during sex


The treatment for both infections is antibiotics. Your provider will choose an antibiotic based on what your infection is resistant and sensitive to. It is critical that you and your partner complete the full course of treatment to prevent reinfection and antibiotic resistance.


Herpes is a viral infection cause by contracted by skin-to-skin contact with an active lesion.


Testing for Herpes is not recommended unless you provider sees signs of a possible infection, or you know you were exposed to an infection by your partner.


The only symptom of Herpes is seeing exposed sores on the skin.


There is no cure for herpes, but outbreaks can be prevented or shortened by taking medications called antiretrovirals.


Human Papilloma Virus is a common viral infection, sometimes called the “common cold of STDs.”


The pap smear is a test that looks for changes in the cervix caused by HPV. “Cotesting” is a combined test that looks for changes in the cervix and also tests for the HPV DNA.

  • Women over 21 should be tested every 3 years. 
  • Women ages 30-65 should be tested every 3 years by pap smear alone, or every 5 years if cotested.


HPV doesn’t have symptoms, except for the strand of HPV that causes genital warts. Genital warts are small, painless growths on the genitals.


There is no cure for HPV, but many people will clear the virus within a year. Those that don’t are at increased risk for cervical cancer – so it is very important that you stay current with you recommended screenings.

Prevention with HPV vaccine is key. Girls and Boys should be vaccinated starting at age 11. If you were not vaccinated when you were younger, adults ages 26 – 45 can still be vaccinated.


Syphilis is a bacterial infection. It was on the decline, but it has become more and more common in the last few years.


Testing isn’t recommended unless:

  • You are pregnant. If you have syphilis, it needs to be treated before you give birth because of the dangers it poses to your child.
  • You have risk factors like having multiple sexual partners, being infected with another STD, or being HIV Positive.


Syphilis has different symptoms depending on how far along the infection is.

  • 1st Stage: Painless sores where the syphilis entered the body.
  • 2nd Stage: Lesions in mouth, a rash that spreads across body, and swollen lymph nodes.
  • 3rd Stage: Later stages of can affect multiple organs in the body causing difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis (not able to move certain parts of your body), numbness, blindness, and dementia (mental disorder). If untreated, syphilis can ultimately result in death.


When caught early, Syphilis can be easily treated with antibiotics, but due to antibiotic resistance, every individual’s infection must be checked for individual drug sensitivities. Later stages of syphilis are more difficult to treat, so early detection is key.


Human Immunodeficiency Virus is one of the most dangerous of STDs if untreated. HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids.


Everyone between 13 – 64 years old should be tested at least once. Those with increased risk factors should be tested at least yearly. Risk factors include:

  • Having unprotected anal, oral, or vaginal sex or with partners they don’t know
  • Having another sexually transmitted infection such as syphilis, herpes, chlamydia, or gonorrhea
  • Sharing contaminated needles or syringes
  • Receiving unsafe injections, blood transfusions, tissue transplantation, medical procedures that involve unsterile cutting or piercing
  • Having had unprotected sex with someone who falls into the one of the above categories


Unfortunately, despite great medical advances there is no cure for HIV. Condoms are the best preventative measure.

If you have any increased risk factors for HIV, you can decrease you risk of getting it by taking medication called Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP).

How often should I be tested for STDs? Can I prevent STDs?

Talk with your provider. Some patients may need to be tested more frequently based on their lifestyle and risk factors.

If I get an STD, do I need to tell my partners?

Yes. Your partners may not have any symptoms yet, but anyone exposed should be treated as soon as possible to prevent health complications or other infections.