What Does It Feel Like to Have an STD?

Common Symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

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Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are stealthy. Although the risk of getting one is reduced when you consistently practice safe sex, it's still easy for an infection to sneak in under the radar.

This is particularly true for STDs that are spread by skin-to-skin contact rather than through bodily fluids. Condoms and other barriers can reduce the risk of these diseases, but they can't eliminate them completely.

That's why so many people want to know what it feels like to have an STD. They want to be certain that they could tell if they had one.

Unfortunately, that sort of certainty requires a trip to the doctor. There are a wide variety of STDs out there, and each of them has its own symptoms.

Some Common STD Symptoms

What might you experience as a result of contracting an STD? There's a long and varied list, but here are the most common symptoms you might come across:

  • Discharge from the penis, vagina or anus, which can be caused by chlamydia (CT), gonorrhea (GC), trichomoniasis (trich), non-gonoccocal urethritis (NGU), bacterial vaginosis (BV)*, or lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV).
  • Anal or genital itching, which can be caused by CT, trich, BV, pubic lice, scabies, herpes (HSV), LGV, Molloscum contagiosum, and mycoplasma.
  • Painful sex, which can be caused by CT, trich, HSV, chancroid, and mycoplasma.
  • Pain during urination, which can be caused by CT, GC, trich, HSV, NGU, BV, mycoplasma, and chancroid.
  • Unusual bumps or sores, which can be caused by syphilis, chancroid, HSV, LGV, genital warts, and molloscum.
  • Pain with bowel movement, which can be caused by rectal infections with chlamydia, gonorrhea, LGV, and potentially other sexually transmitted pathogens.
  • Changes in odor, which can be caused by trich and BV.

Caveat: Other STD Symptoms You May Experience

Even the broad list of symptoms above isn't complete. Other STD symptoms can include sore throats, body aches, and even eye problems. Furthermore, a list of symptoms doesn't really answer the question of what an STD feels like as, quite often, having an STD feels like nothing at all. People can be infected with an STD and have no symptoms for years. Relying on anything other than regular screening to determine whether or not you have an STD is simply unreliable.

In addition, not all things that first seem like STD symptoms—pain, strange lumps, discharge—will end up being caused by an STD. Other diseases, such as yeast infections, which are not sexually transmitted, can also cause these signs, and most STD symptoms are non-specific enough that even doctors can't diagnose them without the help of a lab.

That's why if you do experience genital pain, recurring sores, discharge, or other symptoms, it's always a good idea to get them checked out. Whether a disease is sexually transmitted or not has nothing to do with how important it is for you to take care of it.

Finally, I want to mention that most people who ask what an STD feels like usually are asking because they know they are at risk.

They know this because they have had unprotected sex with one or more partners whose STD status they are uncertain of. That on its own is a good reason to get tested since there is no other effective way for you to stay on top of your sexual health.

*bacterial vaginosis is often considered to be a sexually associated disease rather than a sexually transmitted one.