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Home / STIs / STI symptoms & how to spot an STD

STI symptoms & how to spot an STD

If you get infected with a sexually transmitted infection (STI, also known as STD), this infection can remain in your body without showing any symptoms for a long time. Therefore it is important to get tested regularly if you have unprotected sex with changing partners. Should you start noticing any STI symptoms, you should get tested as soon as possible to avoid long-term complications. You can find out which symptoms are commonly associated with sexually transmitted diseases below.

What are the most common STI symptoms?

Although common symptoms of STDs are often mild and can indicate a variety of conditions, they can help you to spot an existing infection and commence treatment as soon as possible. Common STI symptoms to look out for are listed below.

STI Symptom Checklist

Symptoms in women

  • Bleeding during sex
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Pain during sex
  • Pain in the lower abdomen

Symptoms in men

  • Penile discharge
  • Testicular pain

Symptoms in both men and women

  • Pain when urinating
  • Itching in and around the genitals
  • Tiny black or white dots in your underwear
  • Sores, blisters and lumps in and round the genitals or anus

You should go to your doctor or sexual health clinic for an STI test, regardless of whether you experience symptoms or not, if you suspect that you have an STI. In general it is recommended that individuals should go for annual STI tests if they have multiple sexual partners, even if they use protection.

You should also go for an STI test if your current sexual partner has had unprotected sex with a another person, your sexual partner is displaying symptoms or you are planning on having a baby in the future and you may have been at risk of an STI.

Which STIs can I get tested for?

The most common STIs that are tested for are:

These are more likely to spread if you don't use a condom during sex with an infected partner, although infections such as genital herpes, genital warts and pubic lice can also spread if an area of skin comes in contact with the infection that's not under the protected barrier of the condom. HIV is also commonly passed to new people by coming in contact with infected blood.

Not all these infections are included in the full screen STI test offered by your sexual health clinic, although gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis and HIV make up part of the routine check. If you've had sexual intercourse with someone who you believe may have been exposed to hepatitis C through recreational drug use, for example, you'll be provided with the opportunity to request a test for this specifically. Tests for genital herpes won't usually be done, unless you are experiencing symptoms such as sores around the genital area and the anus.

Should I get tested?

If you ticked the box next to any of the above symptoms, then it's recommended that you get an STI test. You may wish to do a home STI test, which allows you to collect a sample at home and send it to an independent laboratory for analysis. Alternatively, going to a sexual health clinic isn't as invasive as many people think. You'll simply have to complete a questionnaire and then provide a urine, swab or blood sample or have your genitals examined, based on the symptoms you are experiencing.

If you do not have any symptoms, but think that you may have caught a sexually transmitted infection, the safest option is to speak to your doctor. Many STIs can be cleared up quickly with the help of medications if they are detected early. However, if they are left it is possible that they can lead to complications that can affect your general as well as reproductive health. Even viral STIs like genital herpes and genital warts can be controlled to the extent where they are hardly noticeable, but it's important to take the step and get tested so that you can be placed on the right treatment course.

Medically reviewed by
Dr. Caroline Fontana Written by our editorial team
Last reviewed 10-03-2023

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