Sexually Transmitted Diseases


Sex Main Page The Big O Health Benefits of Sex Aphrodisiac Appeal
Dr. Ruth's Sex Tips
Sex Dangers
Teenagers and Sex
Sex Drive
More on Sex

Alarming Sex Statistics

• In 2007, 48 percent of high school students reported having had sexual intercourse.

• Nearly 50 percent of the 19 million new STD infections are diagnosed in people between the ages of 15 to 24.

• Ninety percent of teenage girls who are sexually active and don't use protection will get pregnant within a year.

• Thirty percent of teenage girls in the United States becomes pregnant at least once before the age of 20.

Statistics courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Guttmacher Institute.

Sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise and can have threatening consequences for both your fertility and your life. They are also easily prevented if you take the right cautionary measures. The Doctors explain the symptoms and treatments for some of the most common STDs and stress the importance of safe sex.

Statistics show that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are more common than you may think. Approximately 20 million Americans are infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV) and 6.2 million more are infected every year.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States and can be passed through both oral and genital contact. At least 50 percent of sexually active men and women contract HPV at some time in their lives. Researchers estimate that up to 80 percent of women will contract HPV by age 60.

There are more than 100 types of the HPV virus, 40 of which are sexually transmitted. Some strains are often asymptomatic but are the cause of 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. Other HPV types are associated with genital warts.

The American Cancer Society states that in 2008, 39 percent of cases of oral cancers were linked to HPV. The Gardasil vaccine, intended to protect against four types of HPV, is currently available for girls and young women.

"The thing about the HPV vaccine is that it only covers four of the viruses," OB/GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson says. "There are a lot of other high-risk HPV viruses out there. It's not complete protection against it. The HPV vaccine does not cancel you out from [getting] STDs, and there are a lot of other STDs that are out there."

The Link Between Oral Sex and Cancer

Recent studies indicate that oral sex is nine times more likely to cause oral cancers than smoking and drinking combined. The American Cancer Society states that 39 percent of current cases of oral cancers are linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV). The studies prove that oral sex is not a risk-free practice, as HPV is passed through oral and genital contact. Dr. Bill warns, “If you have a sore in your mouth for a more than two weeks and it doesn’t go away, you need to have it looked at and most likely biopsied.”

“Your risk is greatly increased if you’ve had more than six sexual partners in your lifetime,” Dr. Lisa adds.

Experts hope that the latest research will compel the public to be aware of the insidious and ubiquitous nature of HPV, which causes multiple types of cancer. Dr. Bill adds, “Oral cancer is three times more prevalent than cervical cancer.”

Detection begins in the dentist chair. “You have to have your dentist examine you for oral cancer,” Dr. Bill stresses. “Did you know that 25 percent of new oral cancer cases are not in high-risk groups?” Dr. Bill demonstrates the VELscope system, a machine that uses a blue light to check for abnormal mucosal tissue in the mouth. He says it’s the best way to detect early signs of oral cancer. Be sure to ask your dentist for it at your next checkup.

Oral sex is not a risk-free act. HPV can be passed through both oral and genital contact. The American Cancer Society states that in 2008, 39 percent of cases of oral cancers were linked to HPV. Using a condom or dental dam during oral sex can help protect against some STDs.

Are You at Risk for HPV?
Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease. There are more than 40 strains of HPV, some of which can lead to cervical cancer in women

Learn More about HPV.

Genital herpes, also known as herpes simplex virus 2, is the most common sexually transmitted disease. One out of five men and one out of four women have it and an estimated eight out of 10 people are not even aware they are infected.

Types of Herpes

Herpes Simplex 1
The herpes simplex 1 virus is typically found on the mouth and is also referred to as a fever blister or cold sore. The type 1 Genital herpes, also known as herpes simplex virus 2, is the most common sexually transmitted disease. One out of five men and one out of four women have it.

Herpes Simplex 2 The herpes simplex 2 virus is found on and around the genitals. Symptoms are small, fluid-filled blisters that can break and form crusty sores.

Approximately 45 million Americans age 12 and older are infected with genital herpes. There are two types of herpes simplex virus, HVS-1 and HVS-2. Both strains reside in the dorsal root ganglia in the vertebral column and yield few signs or symptoms. When symptoms do surface, they typically appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals or rectum. When the blisters break, they leave tender ulcers (sores) that may take two to four weeks to heal.

Herpes is caused by a viral infection, but can be an elusive disease as symptoms are not always present.  The virus is very contagious and is spread through skin-to-skin contact and sexual fluids. The virus can be transmitted whether an individual has an outbreak or not, so a blood test and culture is recommended. Correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of genital herpes.

While antiviral medications can shorten and prevent outbreaks, there is no cure for herpes. Once the virus is in your system, it hides in the nerve cells. Outbreaks can occur as seldom as once per year or so often that they seem continuous. What triggers these outbreaks is unknown, but stress is often considered a contributing factor. Doctors can prescribe anti-viral medications such as Valtrex to help control the outbreaks.

OB/GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson explains that, for women, herpes can cause complications during pregnancy which may lead to delivering via C-section and passing the virus to the baby.

If you have an outbreak, do not engage in sexual activities, even if using a condom. You and your partner should always get tested together before starting a sexual relationship.

History of STDs

• Pre-1960s: Syphilis and gonorrhea are the only major STDs
• 1976: Chlamydia is first recognized
• 1982: Herpes becomes prevalent
• 1996: HPV is recognized as the cause of 90 percent of all cervical cancer

Courtesy of Pregnancy Center of Albuquerque

Curable or Not?

• Chlamydia — Yes, with medication
• Gonorrhea — Yes, with medication
• Syphilis — Yes, with early detection and medication
• Herpes — No
• HIV — No

"I cannot tell you, as a doctor, how frustrating it is," Dr. Lisa says. "I saw so many young girls coming into my office, that I went out into the schools to teach. I realized we had to start talking to our teens earlier, before they get to the point where at 15 and 16 they are in my office and they have something that may take away their fertility for the rest of their lives. Even the things like chlamydia and gonorrhea that may be treatable; they can affect your fertility by scarring your tubes and when you finally want to have a child, you can't."

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium treponema pallidum. After being nearly eradicated in the United States, the rates of syphilis infection have risen.

Syphilis can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and contact with an open sore or contact with a skin rash. The bacteria can enter the body through the penis, anus, vagina, mouth or through broken skin. Syphilis is not spread by contact with toilet seats, doorknobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bathtubs, shared clothing, or eating utensils.

The disease progresses in four different stages: primary, secondary, latent and tertiary. The first of which includes one or more painless sores on the genitalia, often followed by a rash. If left untreated, the disease can destroy the central nervous system and severely damage organs.

An infected pregnant woman can pass the disease to her unborn child during her pregnancy. Depending on how long a pregnant woman has been infected, she may have a high risk of having a stillbirth (a baby born dead) or of giving birth to a baby who dies shortly after birth. An infected baby may be born without signs or symptoms of the disease. However, if not treated immediately, the baby may develop serious problems within a few weeks. Untreated babies may become developmentally delayed, have seizures or die.

If you are sexually active, practice safe sex and use condoms. If you've had unprotected sex, get tested.

HIV and AIDSAn estimated 1,185,000 people in the United States are infected with AIDS or the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and more than 25 million people have died from the worldwide pandemic since 1981. Of the 56,000 people who will be infected with HIV in the U.S. this year, nearly 18,000 will be women.

Early HIV Symptoms

• Fever
• Headache
• Fatigue
• Swollen lymph glands
• Rash

Later HIV Symptoms

• Swollen lymph nodes
• Diarrhea
• Weight loss
• Fever
• Shortness of breath

AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. The immune system deteriorates to a point where the body is unable to ward off disease or infection. 

If you are sexually active, it is extremely important to get tested for HIV. "Anytime you have unprotected intercourse, you've got to get tested. Even with protected intercourse, if you've had multiple partners, you should be tested," OB/GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson says.

More on HIV and AIDS.