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Sexually Transmitted Infections


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Sexually Transmitted Infections

Overview

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are diseases spread by sexual contact. This includes vaginal, oral, and anal sex. If you're pregnant, you can also spread them to your baby before or during the birth.

There are at least 20 different STIs. They include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). (This is the virus that causes AIDS.) Some STIs can reduce the chance of getting pregnant in the future.

Treatment can cure STIs caused by bacteria. STIs caused by viruses, such as HIV, can be treated, but they can't be cured.

Check Your Symptoms

Do you have a concern about an STI (sexually transmitted infection)?
Yes
Concern about sexually transmitted infection
No
Concern about sexually transmitted infection
How old are you?
Less than 12 years
Less than 12 years
12 years or older
12 years or older
Are you male or female?
Male
Male
Female
Female

The medical assessment of symptoms is based on the body parts you have.

  • If you are transgender or nonbinary, choose the sex that matches the body parts (such as ovaries, testes, prostate, breasts, penis, or vagina) you now have in the area where you are having symptoms.
  • If your symptoms aren’t related to those organs, you can choose the gender you identify with.
  • If you have some organs of both sexes, you may need to go through this triage tool twice (once as "male" and once as "female"). This will make sure that the tool asks the right questions for you.
Do you have symptoms of an STI (sexually transmitted infection)?
Yes
Symptoms of STI
No
Symptoms of STI
Do you have severe pelvic pain that started suddenly?
Yes
Sudden, severe pelvic pain
No
Sudden, severe pelvic pain
Do you think that the symptoms may have been caused by sexual abuse?
Yes
Possible sexual abuse
No
Possible sexual abuse
Do you think you may have been exposed to an STI (sexually transmitted infection)?
This means that you had sexual contact (including oral sex) with someone that you know or think has an STI.
Yes
Exposure to STI
No
Exposure to STI
Are you taking medicine for an STI (sexually transmitted infection)?
Yes
Taking medicine for STI
No
Taking medicine for STI
Are you having problems with the treatment?
For example, your symptoms may be getting worse, or you may have new symptoms or side effects from the treatment.
Yes
Side effects or worsening symptoms with STI treatment
No
Side effects or worsening symptoms with STI treatment

Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:

  • Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
  • Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
  • Medicines you take. Certain medicines, such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), medicines that suppress the immune system like steroids or chemotherapy, herbal remedies, or supplements can cause symptoms or make them worse.
  • Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
  • Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.

Try Home Treatment

You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.

  • Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
  • Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.

In females, symptoms of an STI (sexually transmitted infection) may include:

  • New vaginal discharge.
  • Pain or burning when urinating.
  • Pain in the pelvis or lower belly. (Women may notice this during sex.)
  • Itching, tingling, burning, or pain in the genital or anal area.
  • Sores, lumps, blisters, rashes, or warts in the genital or anal area.
  • Sores in the mouth or throat.

In males, symptoms of an STI (sexually transmitted infection) may include:

  • Pain or burning when you urinate.
  • New discharge from the penis.
  • Sores, lumps, blisters, rashes, or warts in the genital or anal area.
  • Pain, swelling, or tenderness in the scrotum.
  • Sores in the mouth or throat.

Seek Care Now

Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.

  • Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care in the next hour.
  • You do not need to call an ambulance unless:
    • You cannot travel safely either by driving yourself or by having someone else drive you.
    • You are in an area where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.

Seek Care Today

Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.

  • Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care today.
  • If it is evening, watch the symptoms and seek care in the morning.
  • If the symptoms get worse, seek care sooner.

Self-Care

Treating STIs

Treatment to relieve symptoms is available for all STIs, no matter what the cause, even if a cure is not possible. Some, but not all, STIs are treated with antibiotics.

  • Some of the most common STIs—chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis—are caused by bacteria. These STIs are treated and cured with antibiotics.
  • STIs caused by viruses, such as genital herpes and genital warts, are not cured with antibiotics. But treatments are available to relieve symptoms.
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, is a sexually transmitted virus that is treated with many medicines but is not cured.

If you think that you have been exposed to an STI, go see your doctor right away. This will help prevent serious health problems for yourself. And it can reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others.

Preventing STIs

It's easier to prevent an STI than it is to treat one:

  • Limit your sex partners. The safest sex is with one partner who has sex only with you.
  • Talk with your partner or partners about STIs before you have sex. Find out if they are at risk for an STI. Remember that it's possible to have an STI and not know it.
  • Wait to have sex with new partners until you've each been tested.
  • Don't have sex if you have symptoms of an infection or if you are being treated for an STI.
  • Use a condom (a male or female condom) every time you have sex. Condoms are the only form of birth control that also helps prevent STIs.
  • If you're pregnant, be extra careful. Some STIs can be passed to your baby during delivery.

Vaccines are available for some STIs, such as HPV. Ask your doctor for more information.

Using a female condom

  • Use a new condom each time you have intercourse. You can insert it up to 8 hours before intercourse.
  • These condoms have lubricant on the inside. Spread it by rubbing the sides of the condom together. You can also add lubricant.
  • Find a comfortable position to insert the condom. Some women stand with one foot on a chair. Other women sit on the edge of a chair or lie down.
  • Insert one finger into the condom. With your other hand, squeeze together the closed end of the condom and place that end into your vagina. Use the finger inside the condom to push the closed end as far into the vagina as it will go.
  • The open end of the condom will hang about an inch outside your vagina.
  • During intercourse, the penis should be inside the condom.
  • After ejaculation, remove the condom right away.
    • Twist the open outside ring to close off the condom and hold the semen inside before the condom is removed.
    • Pull the condom out before you stand up.

Using a male condom

Condoms work best if you follow these steps.

  • Use a new condom each time you have sex.
  • Check the condom's expiration date. Do not use it past that date.
  • When opening the condom wrapper, be sure not to poke a hole in the condom with your fingernails, teeth, or other sharp objects.
  • Put the condom on as soon as the penis is hard (erect) and before any sexual contact with your partner.
    • First, hold the tip of the condom and squeeze out the air. This leaves room for the semen after you ejaculate.
    • If you are not circumcised, pull down the loose skin from the head of the penis (foreskin) before you put on the condom.
    • Hold on to the tip of the condom as you unroll the condom. Unroll it all the way down to the base of the penis.
  • After you ejaculate, hold on to the condom at the base of the penis, and withdraw from your partner while your penis is still erect. This will keep semen from spilling out of the condom.
  • Wash your hands after you handle a used condom.

When to call for help during self-care

Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:

  • There are new or worse signs of a sexually transmitted infection, such as a rash, sore, or abnormal discharge.
  • Symptoms occur more often or are more severe.

Learn more

Preparing For Your Appointment

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: November 22, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine

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