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Syphilis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, HPV and Herpes: Know Your Most Common STDs

It is Important for GLBT Teens to Understand STDs Besides HIV


std testing

Getting tested for STDs is a great way to stay healthy.

Image (c) Kristin Brenemen

Though the GLBT community spends a lot of time talking about HIV, there are many other STDs (sexually transmitted infections) that gay teens should know about including HPV, syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes.

Viral Infections

Viral STDs are caused by viruses. Some can be prevented with a vaccine and others can be treated. Many run their course in the body and then leave you. But a virus cannot be cured and some will stay in the body forever. The best example of a virus like this is HIV, which causes the disease AIDS.

Here are some viral STDs:

  • HIV. HIV stands for the human immunodeficiency virus, and it can lead to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). HIV can be transmitted through unprotected vaginal, anal and even oral sex. It can also be passed by sharing needles and sometimes a pregnant or nursing mother can pass the virus to her baby (though we have good ways to prevent that now). HIV attacks the immune system, and AIDS occurs in a person who is HIV positive, whose immune system has been seriously weakened, and who contracts what is known as an "opportunistic infection." Many people with HIV do not have symptoms.
  • Herpes. Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV1 primarily affects the mouth and HSV2 primarily affects the genitals. However, oral sex can pass herpes between mouth and genitals. Herpes can cause lesions on the affected areas. Though most contagious when lesions are present, in rare cases it can even be passed when there is no visible sore. The first herpes outbreak is often the most serious and outbreaks often lessen in their frequency and intensity over time. Though not curable, herpes can be treated with medication.
  • Human Papillomavirus. There are many different strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Some affect the genitals and many do not. HPV can be spread through skin to skin contact, so condoms do not offer complete protection. They do, however, offer some protection. Some strains of HPV cause genital warts, some cause cervical or anal cancer, and many do no harm. An HPV vaccine, that can prevent many of the most dangerous strains is available. However, since it does not prevent all of them, sexually active teens should still practice safe sex.
  • Mollescum Contagiosum. Though the name makes it sounds really serious, mollescum contagiosum does not usually cause serious complications. Rather, the virus typically causes a rash that looks like small raised dimpled papules. These may be found on the genitals or elsewhere. Mollescum contagiousm usually clears up without medical intervention. However, if the rash remains, a dermatologist should be consulted. Mollescum contagiosum can be speread through skin to skin contact.
  • Hepatitis. There are three types of hepatitis, A, B and C. A is usually passed through feces, B through sexual fluids and even saliva, and C is passed through blood. Hepatitis is a serious condition that affects the liver and can make someone very sick. Vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B.

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial STDs are caused by bacteria and they can generally be cured with antibiotics. Here are some bacterial infections:

  • Chlamydia. Chlamydia can be passed through semen and vaginal fluids. Many people do not have symptoms of this STD, but left untreated it can cause some long term problems. Symptoms of chlamydia can include discharge from the penis or vagina, pain with urination, and in women, pain with vaginal penetration.
  • Gonorrhea. Gonorrhea can be passed through semen and vaginal fluids. It is also possible to get gonorrhea in the throat from oral sex performed on a man. Many people do not have symptoms of this STD, but left untreated it can cause some long term problems. Symptoms of gonorrhea can include discharge from the penis or vagina, pain with urination, and in women, pain with vaginal penetration.
  • Syphilis. Syphilis is passed through direct contact with a syphilis sore. Sores occur mainly on the external genitals, or in the rectum. They may also be found on the mouth. There are three stages of syphilis and many people who have syphilis do not symptoms for years, yet they may still develop serious health issues if they do not get treated.


A parasite is an organism that needs a host to survive. Sexual contact can pass some parasites. Here are a few:

  • Pubic Lice / Crabs. Crabs are basically very small insects that live in the pubic hair. Pubic lice feed on blood and are usually spread through sexual contact. They can be treated with special shampoo or by removing the pubic hair.
  • Scabies. Scabies are a microscopic mite that burrows under the upper layer of the skin where it lives and lays its eggs. It can cause itching and a noticeable rash and can be spread by any direct contact with an infected person.

These are just some of the more common STDs that teens should know about. This information should not be considered a substitute for obtaining accurate medical advice from a health care provider.

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