The sexually transmitted diseases and infections on this post don’t get as much attention as HPV, HIV, or herpes — but some of them are just as common.
Many of the most common sexually transmitted diseases and infections don’t get talked about all that much — but they still pose a serious health risk, especially for women. In fact, more than half of Americans will have some STD in their lifetime, according to a report from the American Social Health Association (ASHA).
That’s a reason it’s important to get smart about lesser-known STDs and STIs. Do you know the symptoms, your risk, and what you can do to prevent them?
Pelvic inflammatory disease. This infection, also known as PID, is actually a complication of certain STDs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. It is caused by bacteria that work their way from the vagina to the uterus and upper genital tract. More than 750,000 women get PID every year in the United States. You may have symptoms — which can include abdominal, pelvic, and low-back pain, a discharge or unpleasant odor, irregular periods, fatigue, stomach upset, and pain or difficulty urinating — or you may not have symptoms.
Still, it is important to treat PID with antibiotics because it can lead to infertility or an ectopic pregnancy. Although many kinds of bacteria can cause PID, women are more at risk if you they have chlamydia or gonorrhea, so it’s important to get regular testing for STDs.
Pubic lice. You don’t actually have to have sex to catch pubic lice, more commonly called crabs. Any intimate contact with an infected person can do the trick, and “you can even get this from being in close proximity to someone who has it,” says Fred Wyand of ASHA. “You can get it anywhere on your body where you have hair, such as pubic areas, eyebrows, underarms, and the chest.” And more than three million cases are reported every year in the United States.
To prevent catching this itchy, contagious parasite, don’t sleep in beds or share towels that could be infested — and don’t have sex with someone who has them. Crabs can cause your skin to itch and leave blue marks — but try not to scratch (scratching can cause lesions). Crabs won’t crawl away on their own, so try over-the-counter or prescription creams and shampoos.
Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV). This is a bacterial infection caused by strains of the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis, Wyand says. Symptoms of this STI include raised bumps or ulcers on genitals and swelling of lymph glands in the genital area. LGV is often mistaken for other sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis or genital herpes, but it’s not known how widespread it is in the United States (it’s uncommon in unindustrialized countries, but there have been outbreaks in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe).
While LGV is considered less infectious than some other STDs, you should see your doctor if you have sex with someone who has it. It can be treated with antibiotics.
Molluscum contagiosum. Molluscum contagiosum is a skin rash that can be transmitted during vaginal, oral, or anal sex. You also can get it from touching towels or clothing from someone who has it or by taking a bath with someone who is infected. This rash of tiny red- or skin-colored sores can appear on your eyes, mouth, nose, or genitals. While it’s not a serious threat to your sexual health, molluscum contagiosum can be uncomfortable and cause scarring. It usually goes away without treatment, but the sores can be removed to help prevent spreading.
Trichomoniasis. This sexually transmitted parasite is one of the most common STDs in sexually active women — in fact, a recent study presented at the annual meeting of the International Society for STD Research found that 13 percent of U.S. women older than 50 had trichomoniasis. But both men and women, young and old, can contract trichomoniasis, and more than 7.4 million new cases are reported each year, according to the CDC. In women, the vagina is infected; in men, it’s the urethra. Trichomoniasis is transmitted through penis-to-vagina and vulva-to-vulva sex.
Men typically don’t experience symptoms, but if they do, they may include irritation when urinating or ejaculating. A woman may have a smelly yellow-green discharge and genital itching as well as discomfort when urinating or having intercourse. Trichomoniasis is treated with antibiotics.
How Can You Prevent These STDs and STIs?
To prevent contracting any of these common STDs, it’s important to use condoms when having sex (and to limit your number of sexual partners). Be on the lookout for signs or outbreaks, and get tested regularly if you are sexually active.
If you know that someone in close proximity to you, even a roommate, has an STD, protect yourself by not sharing clothing or towels, not sleeping together, and avoiding skin-to-skin contact.