Understanding Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

What are STDs?
STDs are sexually transmitted diseases. This means they are most often – but not exclusively – spread by sexual intercourse. HIV, chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, gonorrhea, some forms of hepatitis B/C, syphilis, and trichomoniasis are STDs.

STDs used to be called venereal diseases or VD. They are among the most common contagious diseases. More than 65 million Americans have an incurable STD. Each year, 20 million new cases are reported. Half of these infections are among people ages 15 to 24, and they can have long-term consequences.

STDs are serious illnesses that require treatment. Some STDs, such as HIV, cannot be cured and can be deadly. By learning more about STDs, you can learn ways to protect yourself.

You can get a STD from vaginal, anal, or oral sex. You are at high risk if:

  • You have more than one sex partner
  • You have sex with someone who has had many partners
  • You don’t use a condom when having sex
  • You share needles when injecting intravenous drugs
  • You trade sex for money or drugs

HIV and herpes are chronic conditions that can be managed but not cured. Hepatitis B also many become chronic but can be managed. You may not realize you have certain STDs until you have damage to your reproductive organs (rendering you infertile), your vision, your heart, or other organs. Having an STD may weaken the immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to other infections. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a complication of gonorrhea and chlamydia that can leave women unable to have children. It can even kill you. If you pass an STD to your newborn child, the baby may suffer permanent harm or death.

What Causes STDs?
STDs include just about every kind of infection. Bacterial STDs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Viral STDs include HIV, genital herpes, genital warts (HPV), and hepatitis B/C. Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite.

The germs that cause STDs hide in semen, blood, vaginal secretions, and sometimes saliva. Most of the organisms are spread by vaginal, anal, or oral sex, but some, such as those that cause genital herpes and genital warts, may be spread through skin contact. You can get hepatitis B/C by sharing personal items, such as toothbrushes or razors, with someone who has it.

How Do I Know if I Have an STD?
Talk to your doctor. He or she can examine you and perform tests to determine if you have an STD. Treatment can:

  • Cure many STDs
  • Lessen the symptoms of STDs
  • Make it less likely that you will spread the disease
  • Help you to get healthy and stay healthy

How are STDs Treated?
Many STDs are treated with antibiotics.

If you are given an antibiotic to treat an STD, it’s important that you take all of the drug, even if the symptoms go away. Also, never take someone else’s medicine to treat your illness. By doing so, you may make it more difficult to diagnose and treat the infection. Likewise, you should not share your medicine with others. Some doctors, however, may provide additional antibiotics to be given to your partner so that you can be treated at the same time.

Sexual Health Overview
Getting answers about your sexual health is important. If you have questions about women’s sexual health or men’s sexual health, talk openly with your doctor. There’s no reason to be embarrassed about sexual problems. Your doctor can effectively treat a wide variety of sexual problems, including erectile dysfunction, genital herpes, HPV, HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Preventing HIV and Other STDs with Safe Sex
Do you think that practicing safe sex takes the joy out of sex? It doesn’t have to. Safe sex practices simply combine the greatest pleasure with the least risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as herpes or syphilis. Safe sex can actually enhance your sex life by increasing communication and trust between you and your sexual partners.

Take Action!
Get tested! Lighthouse Guild provides a full spectrum of vision and healthcare services helping people who are blind or visually impaired. As part of our Medical Services we offer testing, treatment and appropriate referrals for a majority of STDs. If you are a GuildNet member, talk with your Care Manager about the services available to you.