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Information about Common STDs

Probably the best known STD is gonorrhea. It is caused by bacteria and it is spread by sexual contact. Gonorrhea can cause an infection of the urethra (tube in the penis) in guys and of the cervix (the canal leading from the vagina to the uterus) in girls. Gonorrhea often has no symptoms, but frequently it causes pus to come out of the penis or cervix, and it can cause a lot of discomfort. In both guys and girls, gonorrhea can travel up into more internal reproductive organs and cause damage to the tubes in guys that transport sperm and the tubes in girls that transport the eggs. This means that gonorrhea can really hurt someone’s chances of having children later on in life.

Another infection caused by bacteria.  This infection is very much like gonorrhea, but it usually has fewer symptoms, so it may not get treated, so it often causes more damage. Both Chlamydia and Gonorrhea can be prevented by abstinence, of course, and by using condoms every time you have sex.

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
HPV is far and away the most common STD.  Usually people with HPV don’t know they have it. When they do know it, it is usually because warts appear on male and female genital organs. The sneaky and dangerous thing about HPV is that it can cause flat warts to appear on a woman’s cervix (and can lead to cancer of the cervix), and she may never know it unless she has a test called a pap smear each year. All girls who are sexually active should have a yearly pap smear to see if they have HPV infection. There are some treatments that can help get rid of the flat warts of HPV, but we don’t yet know how to get rid of the virus.

Another STD caused by bacteria.  Syphilis is a famous disease that is nowhere as near as common as gonorrhea or Chlamydia. It can be very serious and damaging, especially to babies who are born to women who have syphilis. Syphilis caused much suffering in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it is not that common anymore.  Despite that good news, Detroit was ranked 1st (worst) in the U.S. in 2001, in cities greater than 100,000, for cases of syphilis.  In the U.S., syphilis cases have increased nearly 20% since 2000.

Probably the most famous STD at the beginning of the 21st century is human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of the disease AIDS. HIV may be the worst STD ever. Although there are drugs that can keep AIDS quiet for a period of time, there is no cure.  Millions of people worldwide are infected with HIV, and millions of people have died and are dying from AIDS.  32,000 people were infected with HIV in the U.S. in 2003.  AIDS can be prevented by abstinence or by using safe-sex practices, especially using condoms.

Other STD’s
One other STD that should be mentioned is a viral STD called herpes. This STD is caused by a virus just like the one that causes cold sores on the mouth or lips. Herpes infection is often recurrent (keeps coming back). Painful ulcers occur on the vagina or penis. This infection can also be transmitted to babies when they’re born.

Detection of STD’s

We are lucky that most STD’s can be detected fairly easily. The trouble is that many of them are silent until they have caused a lot of damage. The way to get around this, and to find them before they do much harm, is for girls who are sexually active to get checked each year by having a pelvic examination. STD tests are part of a pelvic exam. Young women who have had sex with drug dealers or users, or bisexuals or gay men ought to be tested for HIV and syphilis, too. These tests are blood tests. Boys can be tested for STD’s initially just by having their urine checked. HPV is not routinely looked for in men because it is almost impossible to treat.


The STD’s caused by bacteria can usually be treated with antibiotics, just by one dose by mouth or by a needle. Viral STD’s are the tough ones. There aren’t any cures, but there are some medicines, especially for HIV and herpes, that can keep the infections from doing much harm, at least for a while.


Preventing STD’s is easy: Don’t have sex, or if you do, use condoms. Also, know the sexual history of the person with whom you are having sex.  Learn if they’ve had sex with other people who might have a STD. If a teen or young adult plans to have sex, he or she should always have condoms available. Never assume that your partner will have one on hand. And learn how to say no when you don’t want to have sex.  A big help in avoiding STD’s is to avoid using alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and drugs can make someone take bigger risks than if he or she were sober. STD’s can be avoided most of the time.  But it takes work and responsibility to do so.

Some key things to remember about STD’s

  • If you are unable to talk to a parent about being tested or you're worried about your parents finding out, testing can be done without parental consent in the United States. It is always confidential.  

  • STD’s are the most common diseases in America next to the common cold and the flu.

  • 1 in 5 Americans are infected with an STD; 3 million teens are infected.

  • It is not just a big city problem; you find them in Branch, Hillsdale and St. Joseph Counties as well as most all rural areas in the United States. 

  • STD’s can be contagious even though you may not have any symptoms

  • STD’s often Cause chronic pain and permanent damage