Font Size

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Sexually Transmitted Diseases Overview (STDs)

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs, venereal diseases) are among the most common infectious diseases in the United States today. STDs are sometimes referred to as sexually transmitted infections, since these conditions involve the transmission of an infectious organism between sex partners. More than 20 different STDs have been identified, and about 19 million men and women are infected each year in the United States, according to the CDC (2010).

Depending on the disease, the infection can be spread through any type of sexual activity involving the sex organs, the anus, or the mouth; an infection can also be spread through contact with blood during sexual activity. STDs are infrequently transmitted by other types of contact (blood, body fluids or tissue removed from an STD infected person and placed in contact with an uninfected person). However, people that share unsterilized needles markedly increase the chance to pass many diseases, including STD's (especially hepatitis B), to others. Some diseases are not considered to be officially an STD (for example, hepatitis types A, C, E) but are infrequently noted to be transferred during sexual activity. Consequently, some authors include them as STD's, while others do not. Some lists of STD's can vary, depending on whether the STD is usually transmitted by sexual contact or only infrequently transmitted.

  • STDs affect men and women of all ages and backgrounds, including children. Many states require that Child Protective Services be notified if children are diagnosed with an STD.
  • STDs have become more common in recent years, partly because people are becoming sexually active at a younger age, are having multiple partners, and do not use preventive methods to lessen their chance of acquiring an STD. Seniors show a marked increase in STDs in the last few years as many do not use condoms.
  • People can pass STDs to sexual partners even if they themselves do not have any symptoms.
  • Frequently, STDs can be present but cause no symptoms, especially in women (for example, chlamydia, genital herpes or gonorrhea). This can also occur in some men.
  • Health problems and long-term consequences from STDs tend to be more severe for women than for men. Some STDs can cause pelvic infections such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which may cause a tubo-ovarian abscess. The abscess, in turn, may lead to scarring of the reproductive organs, which can result in an ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy outside the uterus), infertility or even death for a woman.
  • Human papillomavirus infection (HPV infection), an STD, is a known cause of cancer of the cervix.
  • Many STDs can be passed from a mother to her baby before, during, or immediately after birth.
  • Because the method of becoming infected is similar with all STDs, a person often obtains more than one pathogenic organism at a time. For example, many people (about 50%) are infected at a single sexual contact with both gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/1/2015

Must Read Articles Related to Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Cervicitis Cervicitis is an infection of the lower genital tract (inflammation of the cervix). Cervicitis may be caused by STD's or injuries to the cervix. Cervicitis symp...learn more >>
Chlamydia Chlamydia is a sexual transmitted disease (STD) transmitted when people have sexual relations. Often, there are no symptoms. Chlamydia is caused by the bacteriu...learn more >>
Crabs (Pubic Lice)
Crabs Crabs (pubic lice) is a parasitic infection. Causes of crabs include sexual contact with an infected person, contaminated towels, bedding, or clothing. The main...learn more >>

10 Ways STDs Impact Women Differently From Men

  1. A woman's anatomy can place her at a unique risk for STD infection, compared to a man.
  2. Women are less likely to have symptoms of common STDs -- such as chlamydia and gonorrhea -- compared to men.
  3. Women are more likely to confuse symptoms of an STD for something else.
  4. Women may not see symptoms as easily as men.
  5. STDs can lead to serious health complications and affect a woman's future reproductive plans.
  6. Women who are pregnant can pass STDs to their babies.
  7. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in women, and is the main cause of cervical cancer.

  8. The Good News

  9. Women typically see their doctor more often than men.
  10. There is a vaccine to prevent HPV; and available treatments for other STDs can prevent serious health consequences, such as infertility, if diagnosed and treated early.
  11. There are resources available for women to learn more about actions they can take to protect themselves and their partners from STDs, and where to receive testing and treatment.

CDC Fact Sheet

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Papillomavirus »

Infections due to papillomaviruses are common and lead to a wide variety of clinical manifestations that involve the epidermal surfaces.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

Medical Dictionary