What are sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
Sexually transmitted infections, commonly called STIs, are diseases that are spread by having sex with someone who has an STI. These conditions are also known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). You can get an STI from sexual activity that involves the mouth, anus, vagina, or penis.
STIs are serious illnesses that require treatment. Some STIs, like HIV, cannot be cured and are deadly. By learning more about STIs, you can learn ways to protect yourself from these diseases. STIs include:
What are the symptoms of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
Sometimes, there are no symptoms. If symptoms are present, they may include:
- Bumps, sores, or warts near the mouth, anus, penis, or vagina
- Swelling or redness near the penis or vagina
- Skin rash
- Painful urination
- Weight loss, loose stools, night sweats
- Aches, pains, fever, and chills
- Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
- Discharge from the penis or vagina (Vaginal discharge may smell bad.)
- Bleeding from the vagina other than during a monthly period
- Painful sex
- Severe itching near the penis or vagina
- Discharge from the penis
- Discharge from the vagina that is different than usual (different odor, color, amount, or associated with irritation)
Diagnosis and Tests
How can I know if I have a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
Talk to your healthcare provider. He or she can examine you and perform tests to determine if you have a sexually transmitted disease. If you think that you have an STI, it's important to see your healthcare provider. Treatment can:
- Cure many STIs
- Lessen the symptoms of STIs
- Make it less likely you will spread the disease
- Help you to get healthy and stay healthy
- Provide you with information on how you can prevent getting and spreading STIs
Management and Treatment
How are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) treated?
Many STIs are treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are medicines that are given as a shot or taken by mouth.
If you are given an antibiotic to treat an STI, it's important that you take all of your medicine, even if the symptoms go away. Also, never take someone else's medicine to treat your illness. By doing so, you may make it more difficult to treat the infection. Likewise, you should not share your medicine with others.
How can I protect myself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
Here are some basic steps you can take to help protect yourself from STIs:
- Consider that not having sex is the only sure way to prevent STIs.
- Use a latex condom every time you have sex. (If you use a lubricant, make sure it is water-based.)
- Limit your number of sexual partners. The more partners you have, the more likely you are to catch an STI.
- Practice monogamy. This means having sex with only one person. That person must also have sex with only you to reduce your risk.
- Choose your sex partners with care. Don't have sex with someone whom you suspect may have an STI.
- Request that your sex partner get tested before having sex with them for the first time.
- Get checked for STIs. Don't risk giving the infection to someone else.
- If you have more than one sex partner, always use a condom.
- Don't use alcohol or drugs before you have sex. You may be less likely to practice safe sex if you are drunk or high.
- Know the signs and symptoms of STIs. Look for them in yourself and your sex partners.
- Learn about STIs. The more you know about STIs, the better you can protect yourself.
How can I prevent spreading a STI?
- Stop having sex until you see a healthcare provider and are treated.
- Follow your health care provider's instructions for treatment.
- Use condoms whenever you have sex, especially with new partners.
- Do not resume having sex unless your healthcare provider says it's okay.
- Return to your health care provider to get rechecked.
- Be sure your sex partner or partners also are treated.
The Centers for Diseases Control (CDC) recommends that a screening test for HIV infection be performed routinely in all individuals age 13 to 64. Some national guidelines actually have extended this recommendation up to age 75 due to the increased rates of HIV infection in the elderly. Additionally, if you visit your doctor for treatment of STIs, the CDC recommends routine screening for HIV during each visit for a new complaint, regardless if you do or do not practice behaviors that put you at risk for HIV infection.
Where can I learn more about sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
CDC Hotline: 800.232.4636
- Marrazzo JM, Holmes KK. Sexually Transmitted Infections: Overview and Clinical Approach. In: Kasper D, Fauci A, Hauser S, Longo D, Jameson J, Loscalzo J. eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2015. library.ccf.org Accessed 5/8/2015.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs): Diseases & Related Conditions Accessed 5/8/2015.
- Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc. STDs Accessed 5/8/2015.
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Accessed 5/8/2015.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.
This document was last reviewed on: 04/14/2015