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How do you know if you have an STD?

Some of the symptoms of STDs include blisters, warts, lesions, painful urination, itching, swelling, and unnatural bleeding or discharge. However, many STDs have no obvious symptoms, and eight out of ten people who have an STD are currently unaware of their infection.[1] If you have had any genital contact, you should get tested. Many STDs may remain dormant and undetectable for some time, so you could test negative for STDs and still be infected. This is why clinicians recommend that women (and some men) who have been sexually active in the past get tested annually, regardless of their current sexual activity.

Doctors administer different tests to determine the presence of an STD, depending upon the person’s symptoms and sexual history. If you have ever had intercourse, you should receive all of the following tests: 1) Pap test (for women) and perhaps HPV screening by means of an HPV DNA detection test; 2) cervical cultures for gonorrhea and chlamydia (for women); 3) vaginal swabs for trichomonas and bacterial vaginitis (for women); 4) culture of any ulcers or sores (herpes and syphilis); 5) blood tests for HIV, hepatitis profile, and syphilis.[2] You may also be tested for other infections by means of a urine sample. Oral (and anal) sex can transmit virtually every STD,[3] and hand-to-genital contact can transmit some as well.[4] Therefore, even virgins can get STDs, including oral cancer from HPV.[5]

When one STD is diagnosed or suspected, there are likely to be more. Since some STDs can lead to sterility in men and women—and even death—you should treat any possible STDs as soon as possible. For a free, anonymous, and helpful tool for STD diagnosis, click here.
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[1]. Joe McIlhaney, M.D., Safe Sex (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker House Books, 1992), 23.
[2]. Sex is a Choice. Be Informed (Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Core-Alliance Group, Inc., 2000).
[3]. Medical Institute for Sexual Health, Sex, Condoms, and STDs, 28; B. Dillon, “Primary HIV Infections Associated with Oral Transmission,” CDC’s 7th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, Abstract 473, San Francisco, February 2000; Centers for Disease Control, “Transmission of Primary and Secondary Syphilis by Oral Sex—Chicago, Illinois, 1998–2002,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 51:41 (22 October 2004): 966–968.
[4]. Rachel Winer, et al., “Genital Human Papillomavirus Infection: Incidence and Risk Factors in a Cohort of Female University Students,” American Journal of Epidemiology 157:3 (2003): 218–226; Sepehr Tabrizi, et al., “Prevalence of Gardnerella Vaginalis and Atopobium Vaginae in Virginal Women,” Sexually Transmitted Diseases 33:11 (November 2006): 663–665; C. Sonnex, et al., “Detection of Human Papillomavirus DNA on the Fingers of Patients with Genital Warts,” Sexually Transmitted Infections 75 (1999): 317–319.
[5]. A. Frega, et al., “Human Papillomavirus in Virgins and Behaviour at Risk,” Cancer Letters 194:1 (8 May 2003): 21–24; Gypsyamber D’Souza, et al., 1944–1956; Hammarstedt, et al., 2620–2623; Justine Ritchie, et al., 336–344; Herrero, et al., 1772–1783.