Top 10 Signs You May Have An STD

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Shorter Version

Est. Reading Time: 1 Minute

As the great Pat Benatar once sang, “Love is a battlefield.” Honestly, nothing could be closer to the truth, especially when sex is involved. The truth is sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) happen, especially when you date a lot. Thus, sexually-active young adults are always at risk of contracting an STD. 

You’re a young adult exploring your sexuality, after all. But with all this exploring, it’s imperative that you protect your heart and body from harm. And guess what? Protection isn’t always foolproof and “safe sex” does not always shield you from STDs.

There Are Dozens of STDs so the Symptoms May Overlap

You may think you have an infection (i.e. bacterial vaginosis or yeast infection) when you actually have an STD – or vice versa. (There is some debate on whether infections should be included in the STD category, but that topic is for another day.) STDs can range from hepatitis, scabies, and herpes to gonorrhea, trichomonas, HPV, chlamydia, or HIV/AIDS.

Symptoms may not appear for weeks or months after contracting an STD.

However, a good way to detect that something is “off” is if your partner is also experiencing odd symptoms. If left untreated, STDs can lead to a host of short-term and long-term complications, such as infertility, cancer, reproductive organ damage, or even death, so it’s important to know the signs of an STD (i.e. abnormal vaginal or penile discharge, irritation, swelling, bleeding, pain, etc.). That way you can seek treatment for it as soon as possible. 

Get Tested

Some STDs can be cured. However, the first step is to make an appointment with your physician or a gynecologist or andrologist (female and male reproductive specialists). If the STD is incurable, there are plenty of medications that can help you manage the condition with few to no side effects. The medications will also prevent you from transferring the STD to someone else. 

Still, the only way you’ll truly know if you have an STD is to get tested.

So, if you start to notice changes in your body, get tested. If you want to skip the appointment, many companies offer convenient, at-home testing. Once you receive an official confirmation, you can get the help you need to combat the STD and resume an active sex life. 

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Longer Version

Est. Reading Time: 2 Minutes

I hate to break it to you, but… if you have any type of sex, you can “catch” a sexually-transmitted disease (STD). And, when I say “any” I mean oral, vaginal, and even anal sex.

Depressing, I know.

Guess what? STDs don’t discriminate. Nope, they don’t care if you’re married, in a committed relationship, dating, or strangers, best friends, gay, straight, or bi. They just don’t care. And, they also don’t care about your age, race, religion, education, or economic status.

STDs are ruthless. 

The most common STDs are gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, herpes, human papilloma virus (HPV), HIV/AIDs, and scabies. There is some debate as to whether vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections should be considered STDs. However, the general consensus amongst experts is that they are not STDs.

What Does All of This Mean for You?

It means each time you have sex you’re at risk for an STD – even if you’re in a relationship or married. Scary, huh? You can’t monitor your partner 24/7. Although you can hope and pray that they remain faithful, you can also make a choice to believe that your partner is committed to you and your relationship. It’s the power of positive thinking. But…it’s always best to be prepared for anything. 

Protecting Yourself

Plus, what if your partner contracted the STD before getting with you – an STD that has been dormant all this time? Perhaps your partner has an STD that is just waiting to pop out and surprise everyone. When you’re young you don’t necessarily think about these things, so you experiment and explore. But sometimes the “experimenting” and “exploring” comes back to bite you in the…you know. 

The result?

A red, itchy, swollen, “wet and smelly” genital area that makes having sex a painful nightmare. Not to mention warts and sores and blisters that can accompany some STDs. The good news is, there are ways to have a “good time” and protect yourself from an unpleasant STD. Hello, condom! When used frequently and correctly, condoms can stop some STDs in their tracks – and prevent you from passing them to other people. 

But, unfortunately, no STD protection is foolproof, and the signs of STDs aren’t always readily apparent.

Most STD signs typically resolve between 7 and 30 days (naturally or with treatment). But during this time, you are contagious, which means you should either abstain from having sex or use condoms. That sucks, but it’s necessary to heal and keep everyone else safe at the same time. Also, keep in mind that some STDs may not arise for a decade or more after the initial infection.

Don’t Wait

While most STDs are easy to treat, others may require lengthy and more complex treatments to properly manage them. If left untreated, an STD can lead to painful sex, infertility, emotional distress, and/or reproductive organ damage.

It can even lead to death in extreme cases.

So if you think you have been exposed to an STD and/or you’re exhibiting the signs of one, it’s important to immediately schedule an appointment with your doctor or get an at-home testing kit.

The quicker you seek treatment, the quicker you’ll be able to resume the happy and healthy sex life you once had.

Actionable Steps

You could have an STD if you have any of these symptoms:


Smelly or discolored vaginal or penile discharge. 

Vaginal or penile discharge can be a sign of many things. It can be your body’s way of telling you that something is “off.” However, it can also be a sign of a “normal” and healthy bodily function like your monthly menstrual cycle. Smelly or discolored vaginal or penile discharge could be a sign of an STD – especially if it contains pus or blood. 

Some STDs can trigger increased and/or abnormal discharge. HPV tends to produce watery, light pink, brown or bloody discharge. Trichomoniasis can cause a foamy, smelly clear, grayish, greenish, or yellowish discharge. It also produces a “fishy” smell. 

A chlamydia discharge tends to be milky, thick, watery, and/or yellowish-white in color. Gonorrhea can produce a yellowish or whitish pus-like discharge in men or a thick, chunky yellowish, greenish, or bloody discharge in women. This STD also produces a “fishy” smell. 

So if you notice a change in the smell, texture, or appearance of your discharge (man or woman), it is important to get it checked out


Stinging pee.

Another possible sign of an STD is stinging pee. So if it burns when you urinate, you may have an STD. A variety of STDs can cause this unpleasant sensation when you go to the bathroom. These STDs include trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia.

If it hurts when you pee, consult your doctor. Why? Because the burning sensation may not be linked to an STD – it could be a UTI or the result of feminine products or condoms, but you’ll never know if you don’t get tested.

Note: For men, it could be due to kidney stones or prostate issues.


Itchiness & irritation.

Feeling itchiness and irritation are hallmark signs of an STD, but just because you are itchy and irritated “down there,” doesn’t automatically mean you have one.

Itchiness and irritation can signal a variety of things, STD-related or not. It could mean that you have trichomoniasis, HPV, gonorrhea, or chlamydia OR it could mean that you have crabs or scabies.


Pelvic pressure and pain.

Pelvic pressure and pain can be the result of a lot of things. However, the most common cause is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is an uncomfortable condition that stems from infected reproductive organs. Check with a doctor or verify through a kit.

A bacterial infection is usually the cause of PID; however, you can contract it through sex or a contaminated IUD placed in your body. 


Blisters and sores.

If you have blisters and sores in your private area, you may have an STD. Herpes is an STD that can cause these symptoms. If you have herpes, these blisters and sores can pop up in your genital area and/or mouth. At first, you may experience small, fluid-filled blisters that eventually burst. Once they burst, you’re left with painful sores that can take a few weeks to heal. To date, there is no cure for herpes. 

However, there are medications that can help reduce the symptoms so you can enjoy your 20s without passing it on to someone else. Syphilis can also cause painless sores and blisters in your genital area, especially in the initial stage. The blisters and sores typically arise a few weeks after contracting syphilis but a couple of sores can arise a few days after you get infected. These blisters and sores are usually painless, so you may miss the signs of this STD. If syphilis is left untreated, it can lead to painful ulcers and even dementia, hallucinations, and delusions, mood swings, infertility, organ damage, paralysis, or death.
Note: Blisters and sores can also stem from feminine hygiene products, soaps, condoms, too tight or damp underwear, etc.


Uncomfortable or painful sex.

What if it doesn’t sting when you pee, but hurts like crazy while having sex? Well, it could be a sign that you have an STD. STDs like gonorrhea, HPV, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis can make having sex difficult and painful. Don’t procrastinate on getting tested for these STDs.

Understand, however, that painful sex can also be triggered by non-STD conditions, such as endometriosis, vulvodynia, anatomy issues, foreskin problems, vaginal dryness, allergies, hypersensitivity, skin disorders, etc. 

Note: Uncomfortable or painful sex can also be psychological in nature.


A red, hot, and swollen genital area.

Is your genital area red, hot, and swollen? These symptoms can be side effects of an STD. But they can also be the result of other things as well, like irritation from soap, tampons, condoms, hormonal changes, imbalances, etc.

When it involves an STD, it usually signals a scabies infection. Scabies generally presents with a red rash of small bumps and blisters with thin grey, brown or red lines.


Warts in the nether regions.

Warts in the nether regions are a sign of an STD. More specifically, genital warts are usually associated with HPV. It is the only STD that is linked to genital warts. Keep in mind that not all forms of HPV cause genital warts but, if you contract the form that does, you’ll experience warts that resemble a cauliflower in your genital area. 

Unfortunately, recovering from genital warts will take time. There is no cure or medication that will help you recover from it. Your body will need to do it naturally – over time. It typically takes three months to a couple of years to fully recover from HPV. You can test for HPV if you aren’t sure.


Feeling like crap.

Do you feel like crap and are you experiencing other symptoms like redness and irritation, increased, smelly, discolored discharge, pain during sex, blisters and sores, or warts? You may have an undiagnosed STD. 

If you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms (i.e. fevers, body aches, extreme fatigue, chills, and/or headaches) along with the symptoms above, and if the symptoms started a couple of weeks after becoming intimate with someone – your body may be battling with an STD infection.
HIV/AIDS can cause high fevers, body aches, and other flu-like symptoms, while hepatitis can cause jaundice or yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes, nausea, fatigue, and discolored pee. Scabies can cause you to have a mild fever. However, as mentioned above there are many reasons you may feel like crap, ranging from stress to the flu! 

If you aren’t sure, try testing for 14 common STDs.


Zero symptoms

Believe it or not – you may not have any STD signs, yet still have an STD. In fact, it’s actually common for men not to exhibit any STD symptoms, even though they have one. It’s true! Many people who have an STD don’t even know they have one because they are asymptomatic. 

The scary thing is that you do not have to exhibit STD symptoms to infect someone else. So if you have sex with multiple people, you increase their risk of being infected with it as well.

Thus, the best way to protect yourself and others is to use protection every time you have sex. And if you are sexually active, get tested regularly.

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About the Author

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Ph.D. in Family Psychology

Ree has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (M.M.F.T.) and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She spent over ten years counseling families, couples, individuals, and children on adjustment issues such as blended families, same-sex couples, dysfunctional family relationships, relationship issues, etc. Now she writes for famous health organizations and is a published author.
Full Bio | LinkedIn

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