Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are a reality that many people face. These infections are transmitted from one person to another through sexual contact, including vaginal, oral, and anal intercourse. Common STDs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis, and HIV. Unfortunately, many of these diseases have no symptoms for a long time, making them difficult to detect and treat.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is dedicated to researching and developing effective prevention and treatment approaches to control STDs. One of their most exciting achievements is the development of Gardasil, a vaccine against the four most common strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). When it comes to the likelihood of contracting an STD from a single sexual encounter, it depends on the type of STD. For example, after a single episode of sexual intercourse with an infected partner, a woman has a 60-90% chance of being infected by a man with gonorrhea, while a man's risk of becoming infected by a woman is only 20%.
Left untreated, STDs can cause devastating and sometimes long-term complications. These include pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, tubal or ectopic pregnancy, cervical cancer, and perinatal or congenital infections in babies born to infected mothers. In addition to vaginal intercourse, STDs can be transmitted through oral and anal sex. Certain factors may increase a person's chances of contracting HIV or other STDs during oral sex if exposed to an infected partner.
Men and women have a similar risk of contracting most sexually transmitted infections, but women are more likely to get some STDs, such as gonorrhea and trichomoniasis. Infection with certain STDs may increase the risk of contracting and transmitting HIV, as well as altering the way the disease progresses. HIV is of particular concern, as biological evidence demonstrates the greater likelihood of acquiring and transmitting HIV when sexually transmitted diseases are present. For information on risk factors for STDs and current prevention and treatment strategies, visit the MedlinePlus site on sexually transmitted diseases.
Some STDs are curable, while others have no cure, and if you get one of those, it can stay with you for the rest of your life. It is important to practice safe sex in order to reduce your risk of contracting an STD.