Your Guide to Common STDs

Regardless of gender or amount of sexual activity, no one is immune from contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Using protection is vital to help decrease risk of infection, but even so, using protection does not guarantee success. Something else to consider is the fact that even if you do have an STD, the symptoms are not always noticeable. There are many types of STDs, but the following are some of the most common.


HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, affecting 79 million Americans. There are several different types of HPV that can cause health issues such as genital warts or even cancer. HPV is spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who already has the virus. It can be passed without noticing any symptoms and can even develop years after a sexual encounter with someone infected.


HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It’s passed through bodily fluids including blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. Over time, HIV reduces the number of T cells in the body, making the person affected more likely to contract other infections or cancers. In the worst-case scenario, an infection or cancer can take over the immune system completely and lead to AIDS—the last stage of HIV.


Chlamydia is a common STD that can infect both men and women. For women, it can cause permanent damage to the reproductive system. Many people who conduct Chlamydia don’t see the symptoms, but possible symptoms can include abnormal discharge and a burning sensation while urinating. Chlamydia can be spread through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex.


Gonorrhea is a common STD that can infect anyone who is sexually active through vaginal, anal or oral sex. When pregnant, the disease can also be spread to the baby during birth. Gonorrhea is most common in the 15-24 age range. It can cause infections in the genitals, rectum and throat, but can be cured with the right medication.


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can lead to serious health complications, however, it is simple to cure with the right treatment. Syphilis is contracted by coming into direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Sores can be found around the genitals, rectum, lips or mouth. The infection is divided into four stages with different signs and symptoms associated with each (primary, secondary, latent and tertiary).

Genital Herpes

Any sexually active individual can contract genital herpes. Most people who are infected do not have any noticeable symptoms. The virus spreads through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the disease. You can also get genital herpes by coming into contact with a herpes sore, saliva or skin of the genital area.

Never be afraid to ask your UPMC Children's Community Pediatrics provider about your sexual health. Remember, they are there to help you—not to judge you.