Written by Elizabeth Millard

When it comes to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), you might think you know who’s prone to them, what the symptoms are, and how to protect yourself. But you might be surprised. These conditions are way more common — and some symptoms much less noticeable — than many people assume.[1,1a] Ramp up your knowledge with these eye-opening facts, and learn about a convenient new way to get tested.


Fact: About 26 million[1] new STDs occur in the U.S. each year.


STDs are a significant public health issue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And they’re not going away: In 2018, the CDC reported that common STDs and STIs, like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis, were all on the upswing.[1]

Related article: How At-Home STD Tests Can Make Sex Safer in 2021


Fact: Half of those 26 million new cases annually occur in young people.[2]


Young adults between ages 15 and 24 are especially vulnerable to STDs; they account for half of all annual cases.[2] Why are they so prone? One possibility noted by the CDC: their reluctance to get tested. If they’re unknowingly infected, they may spread infections to new partners. Possible barriers to testing include lack of funds or transportation, or simply an embarrassment. The CDC recommends testing for STDs at least once a year, and more often for people having sex with new partners. That advice is especially important for younger people.[2]

Get tested at home for chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis and 8 other STDs.


Fact: STDs among older adults are increasing.


Although many people believe STDs are mainly an issue for young adults, that’s simply not true. Sexually transmitted infections are a significant concern for adults past their childbearing years.[3] One reason, experts suggest, is that women in this group don’t need to worry about unplanned pregnancies, which likely leads to significantly less condom usage. The CDC reports that cases of gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia among people over age 45 increased 20% between 2015 and 2016, the continuation of an upward trend.[4]


Fact: Untreated STDs can pose life-threatening risks.


Not knowing your STD status can leave you vulnerable, because an untreated STD can lead to serious medical complications.[4] Possible outcomes related to late-stage STDs include cancer, arthritis, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and heart disease, the Mayo Clinic warns. Syphilis, which often starts with painless sores, can eventually damage organs beyond repair; it could even be fatal. HIV weakens immunity and could progress to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), when the body’s immune system is significantly compromised. The good news? When diagnosed and treated, all of these STDs, even HIV, are now manageable. But catching them early is key.[3,4]

Get tested at home for chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis and 8 other STDs.


Fact: Some STDs have no symptoms.


One reason an STD might progress toward more serious complications? Many of these diseases are often silent, meaning they don’t cause any symptoms that might prompt you to get tested. Chlamydia, for example, is one of the most common STDs in women under 25, and even though some women experience vaginal discharge or burning during urination, others don’t notice signs until there’s a complication, such as pelvic pain.[5]

Related article: What Happens When You Leave an STD Unchecked?


Fact: STD symptoms can seem unrelated to your infection.


You might assume you know what to watch out for — painful urination, abnormal discharge, pain during sex, or sores on the genital area — but often an STD also has less-common symptoms. These can include vaginal odor, itching in the anal region, throat pain, abdominal discomfort, and rashes.[4]

Get tested at home for chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis and 8 other STDs.


Fact: There is no foolproof safe-sex strategy.


No method of intimacy with a partner is 100 percent safe. Condoms, in a perfect world, are said to be 98 percent effective if they’re used correctly every single time you have sex. But in the real world of imperfect people, that safety rate is closer to 85 percent, according to Planned Parenthood.[6a] And STDs aren’t spread through intercourse alone; anal or oral sex and even mutual masturbation can be sources of exposure.[6]


Fact: Having an STD can raise your risk of getting another one.


An infection like an STD strains your immune system, so if you have one STD or STI, you’re at increased risk of another. For example, an estimated 3.7 million people have trichomoniasis; left untreated, which can increase the risk of getting and spreading HIV, the CDC notes.[7]

Get tested at home for chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis and 8 other STDs.


Fact: Screening for STDS doesn’t always require an appointment.


Given the prevalence and stealth of STDs, ensuring your safety is crucial. One option is to make an appointment with your provider for testing. But if an office visit during the pandemic worries you, you also have another option: At-home testing can keep you and your partner safe if you’re sexually active.

“Taking an STD test at home is a convenient, private option that offers accuracy and safety,” says Richard Jimenez, Ph.D., advisor for the CDC and a core faculty member at Walden University’s public health program.

The sooner you’re aware of an infection, the sooner you’ll be able to address it by seeing your provider to discuss treatment options. You’ll also want to notify any recent sexual partners about your results — a move that increases their safety as well.

Related article: 3 Possible Reasons Why It Hurts to Pee


References


  1. CDC
    https://www.cdc.gov/std/statistics/prevalence-incidence-cost-2020.htm
  2. CDC
    https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p0926-std-prevention.html
  3. CDC
    https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats18/adolescents.htm
  4. NCBI
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7177870/
  5. CDC
    https://www.cdc.gov/std/statistics/default.htm?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fstd%2Fstats%2Fdefault.htm
  6. MayoClinic
    https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sexually-transmitted-diseases-stds/symptoms-causes/syc-20351240
  7. NIAID
    https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/std-diagnosis
  8. Planned Parenthood
    https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/condom/how-effective-are-condoms#:~:text=If you use condoms perfectly,will get pregnant each year
  9. CDC
    https://www.cdc.gov/std/trichomonas/trichomoniasis-factsheet.pdf
  10. Dr. Richard Jimenez