Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also called sexually transmitted infections (STIs), affect people of all ages, backgrounds, and from all walks of life. In the U.S. alone there are approximately 20 million new cases each year, half of which occur among youth ages 15-24 years.
While anyone who is sexually active is at risk for getting an STI, women, youth and people of color are more likely to become infected. They can also face more serious medical complications. Getting the facts about STDs/STIs and sexual health is important. Here you can learn more about STIs, get tips for reducing your risk, and find ways to talk with healthcare providers and partners.
How are STIs spread?
STIs usually are spread through sex—vaginal, oral or anal. STIs can be spread through any type of sex: from a male to a female, a female to a male, a male to another male or a female to another female.
Some STIs can be spread through any contact between the penis, vagina, mouth or anus – even if there is no penetration. For example, genital herpes is spread through direct skin-to-skin contact, and can be transmitted even if there is no penetration. Some STIs can be spread in other ways also. For example, HIV and hepatitis B are also spread through sharing needles for injecting drugs or medicines.
How do I know if I have an STI?
Some STIs will cause very obvious symptoms. But many STIs cause no symptoms or only mild symptoms, so you could not know you have an infection. In fact, most people who have an STI have no symptoms. A test from your healthcare provider may be the only sure way to tell if you are infected.
If you do have symptoms, they may appear right away, or they might not show up for weeks or even months. They might come and go. Even if the symptoms disappear, you may still have an STI.
If you’ve had unprotected sex, have a new partner (or more than one partner), or for any reason are worried you have been exposed to an STI, talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested. Learn more about testing here.
How can I protect myself from STIs
There are lots of ways to reduce your risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Of course, the best way to avoid STIs and unwanted pregnancy is not to have sex. For those who do chose to become sexually active, though, there are ways you can help reduce your risk of contracting an STI. Learn more here.