According to reports by the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), “One in two sexually active persons will contract an STI by age 25” and “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 20 million new STIs occur every year in this country, half of those among young people aged 15–24.” (1)
Sexually transmitted diseases, also known as STDs and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), affect people not just in the moment, either. Many STDs lurk in the shadows for months or years, wreaking serious havoc on bodily systems and impacting fertility – in men, but far more commonly in women.
Because of this, men have a responsibility to get tested regularly, and failing that, to know the symptoms by which STDs make themselves known. While the signs and symptoms are different for everyone and for every disease, there are several shared symptoms of which you should be aware if you are sexually active.
STD Signs and Symptoms
Before we discuss specific symptoms, it’s important to note that many diseases have slight, if any, symptoms. For that reason, if you ever feel as though “something is wrong” but you’re not sure what, do not dismiss that feeling. Instead, make an appointment with your physician to figure out what the problem is and do something about it right away. It could be a serious sign of something wrong, so don’t hesitate.
That said, here are the more obvious STD symptoms for which to watch (2):
Itching on the Tip of the Penis
Itching is a common symptom of STD, and usually means that infection is causing inflammation or irritation. The itching may occur around the top of the penis, inside the tip, or even along the shaft. While some itching is normal, especially following workouts or long periods without showering, these should always resolve with bathing. If you cannot make itching go away with hygiene or over-the-counter creams, there is a problem.
Blisters on or Around the Penis
Blisters are a serious issue that arises with diseases such as herpes. Blisters are a less common symptom, and typically only occur with herpes, although genital warts may also appear blistery at first. Herpes can also appear on the mouth, and may be mistaken for acne, especially in teens and early adults. Men who already suffer from acne breakouts should be especially on guard against blisters that arise around the mouth.
Spots, Bumps, Rash or Lesions on the Genitals
Bumps and lesions are associated with several different types of STDs, such as human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes genital warts, or herpes. Rash is common with syphilis, although it typically occurs elsewhere on the body, such as the hands or feet. Syphilis also manifests as a small, firm bump that doesn’t itch or hurt, which is at the site where the infection entered the body. More seriously, HIV can cause rash as well. Any of these symptoms are grounds for an immediate STD test and appointment with your doctor.
Men do not experience discharge as frequently as women, for whom it is a normal part of the monthly cycle of ovulation and menstruation. For men, any discharge not associated with urinating or ejaculating is suspect, especially if it is thick like pus, whitish or yellowish, or even green.
Painful Urination and Ejaculation
Neither of these events should hurt. If either causes pain inside the urethra, or anywhere else in the genital area, it’s important to get it checked out right away. Pain can be a sign of a simple disease such as chlamydia, which can be cured with antibiotics in a week or less, or a much more serious condition such as HIV or syphilis.
Swollen Lymph Nodes
Any time your lymph nodes are swollen and you don’t know why, this is cause for concern. If you’re experience swelling in your lymph nodes and have not had a recent flu or other infection, you should get an STD test. This is double true if you have other symptoms that can’t be explained away by a passing cold or flu, discussed below.
Less Common, More Serious STD Signs and Symptoms
The above signs are normally associated with STDs in both early and advanced stages, but are often still restricted to the genitals. However, left untreated, many STDs can become systemic, moving to other parts of the body and organs. If you notice any of the following symptoms that don’t seem to go away after several days or weeks, get help right away:
- Sore throat
- Flu symptoms
- Swelling of the penis, testicles or other genital areas
- Discharge or bleeding from the rectum
- Pain in the rectum
Ideally, you will avoid getting to this point at all, even if you do have an STD. The best way to do that is to get tested.
Should You Get Tested?
Many people who have no symptoms, or who believe themselves to be in trustworthy relationships and therefore haven’t “checked” the status of their own or their partner’s sexual health would be surprised to learn how many people don’t take sexual health seriously. According to ASHA, “Even though young people account for half of new STI cases, a recent survey showed only about 12% were tested for STIs in the last year.” Devastatingly, the “CDC estimates that undiagnosed STIs cause 24,000 women to become infertile each year” and “The total estimated direct cost of STIs annually in the U.S. about $16 billion.”
The takeaway? There are real, measurable impacts from STDs, both for men and women. We must all do our part to ensure fewer women experience infertility (which is damaging to both men and women) and to protect young people who start contracting diseases as young as their early teens.
The best way to do that is to get tested. Naturally, it’s also a good idea to use protection when you engage in sexual activity and to know your partner’s sexual history, as well as to restrict sexual encounters to when you are sober, but that’s not enough. There are no guarantees when it comes to sexual health, and getting tested can let you know there’s a problem much sooner.
Are you sexually active? Regular screening is an essential part of a healthy sex life and can protect you and your partners from sexually transmitted diseases. For affordable and accurate STD screening in the privacy of your own home, request your STD test kit today.
(1) Statistics. (2019). Retrieved from http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/statistics/
(2) Signs and Symptoms of Common STDs in Men. (ND). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/mens-health-signs-of-common-stds#chlamydia
(3) Statistics. (2019). Retrieved from http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/statistics/