The 4 STDs You Could Actually Have Right Now Without Even Knowing It

by | Apr 3, 2023 | Health

More than 1 million sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are acquired every day worldwide, the majority of which are asymptomatic, according to the World Health Organisation. Which, in short, means there are many STDs you can have without knowing it.

“Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are often called a ‘silent epidemic’ for the very reason that they don’t typically have outward signs,” says Dr. Debby Herbenick, a sex researcher at the University of Indiana. Meaning you could be infected and not even know it—and same goes for your partner.

Below, you’ll find are four common STDs that might have already snuck up on you, and what you should do about it.

1. Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhea written on a board stds you can have without knowing
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This bacterial illness spreads through unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex. As a result, it can cause infections in your genitals, rectum, or throat.

Condoms are nearly 100 percent effective at preventing transmission of the disease, says Dr. Khalil Ghanem, associate professor of medicine and infectious disease at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. (Dental dams can be protective if you’re giving oral sex to a woman.)

Signs Of Gonorrhoea:

Women often don’t have any symptoms, says Herbenick. And when they do, the signs are usually mild and may mimic a bladder infection—meaning she may not know she’s infected, and there’s no way for you to tell during sex.

As for guys: If the infection is in your throat or rectum, you probably won’t have any symptoms, says Dr. Ghanem. If the bacteria is targeting your penis, you may see a greenish or yellowish penile discharge or a burning sensation when you pee, Dr. Ghanem says. Testicular pain is another possibility, although it’s rare. These problems usually creep up 3 to 5 days after an exposure.

Left untreated, gonorrhea can cause something called epididymitis, an inflammation of your testicles that may lead to infertility.

READ MORE: How To Safely Shave Your Balls

How To Detect Gonorrhoea:

The Centres For Disease Control And Prevention recommends routine annual screenings for men. But ask your doctor what’s right for you, since it may depend on risk factors like how often you have new partners, says Herbenick.

How To Treat Gonorrhoea:

The good news is that with gonorrhoea can usually be cured with antibiotics. But some gonorrhea strains are resistant to antibiotics, so make sure to follow up with your doctor to make sure all the bacteria has been killed, says Herbenick.

2. Chlamydia

Chlamydia diagnosis on a clipboard stds you can have without knowing
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Chlamydia spreads through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, says Dr. Ghanem. It is a bacterial infection.

As with gonorrhoea, condoms are nearly 100 percent effective at preventing the spread. And if you’re giving oral sex to a woman, dental dams can reduce your risk.

Signs Of Chlamydia:

Chlamydia rarely has noticeable symptoms in either women or men, says Herbenick. In the off-chance you do show signs of infection, the symptoms could include a penile discharge or burning when you pee, says Dr. Ghanem. These problems usually creep up about a week after an exposure.

Severe infections in men that are not treated quickly can cause scarring in your urethra, making it more difficult to pee—and it may even require surgery.

How To Detect Chlamydia:

The CDC recommends annual screening for gay or bisexual men. However, straight men should ask their doctors about testing as well.

How To Treat Chlamydia:

You can cure Chlamydia with antibiotics.

READ MORE: 11 Shocking Facts You Never Knew About Masturbation


man pointing to his cold sore stds you can have without knowing
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Genital herpes is caused by two viruses: Herpes simplex type 1 (HSV1), which usually affects your mouth as cold sores, and herpes simplex type 2 (HSV2), which mainly targets your genitals.

Sexual contact can spread your partner’s oral herpes to your genitals or her genital herpes to your mouth. The virus can be spread even if you—or your partner—don’t have any signs of it.

Wearing condoms can help protect you, but not completely: They’re only 80 percent effective for preventing herpes transmission, says Dr. Ghanem. Partly because the virus can live on parts of your skin that aren’t covered by the condom.

Signs Of Herpes:

Up to 70 percent of people infected with the virus don’t have symptoms, Dr. Ghanem says. If you do, you may notice blisters or ulcers on your genitals, or just feel some burning and itching.

When first infected, some patients will develop fevers, chills, swollen lymph nodes, headaches and fatigue.

How To Detect Herpes:

Have your doctor take a look at any suspicious sores.

How To Treat Herpes:

There’s no cure for genital herpes, but antiviral drugs can ease your symptoms, according to the CDC.

READ MORE: 8 Things You Need To Know About Anal Sex

4. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

HPV test being performed stds you can have without knowing
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HPV, which comprises more than 150 related viruses, is the most common STI, according to the CDC.

There are two main types: low risk, which usually only cause genital warts, and high risk, which can lead to penile, anal, and cancers. You can catch it via intercourse, oral sex, or even skin-to-skin contact during sex.

Using condoms during sex can help reduce, but not eliminate, your chances of infection, says Dr. Michael Krychman, executive director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health.

Signs Of HPV:

“HPV almost never has visible symptoms,” says Herbenick. Most strains don’t cause warts, and when they do, they’re often tiny—not like the “scare photos” from your high school’s health class.

How To Detect HPV:

Unfortunately, there are no recommended tests to detect HPV in men currently, Dr. Ghanem says.

How Do Treat HPV:

While warts can be frozen off, removing the lesion doesn’t cure your infection. The warts can recur and the infection can still spread, Dr. Ghanem explains.

This is why vaccination—which is recommended for straight men through age 21, or men who have sex with men through age 26—and wearing condoms is especially important to help reduce your risk, says Dr. Krychman.

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