Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, are diseases that primarily spread through sexual contact. STDs can be bacterial, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, or viral, including herpes, HIV, and HPV. Transmission may involve body fluids (blood, saliva, semen, vaginal secretions) or direct skin-to-skin contact. It's also possible for a mother to pass some STDs to her child in utero, during childbirth, or through breastfeeding.

Consistent use of condoms and other barriers can help prevent STDs, but they are not a guarantee or equally as effective for all infections. While abstinence is the only way to prevent STDs altogether, knowing the risk factors for transmission can help you protect yourself if you are sexually active.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do STDs go away?

    Most sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) do not go away on their own without treatment. Bacterial STDs, such as syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea, require treatment with antibiotics to clear. Viral STDs, such as herpes and HIV, are treated with antiviral medications to address symptoms, prevent recurrent outbreaks, and halt disease progression.

  • How do STDs start?

    Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that are spread through intimate contact including vaginal, oral, or anal sex and foreplay. Some STDs are spread through body fluids including blood, saliva, semen, and vaginal secretions, while others are spread through skin-to-skin contact. STDs can produce obvious symptoms such as genital itching, discharge, or sores, however, people can have an STD with no symptoms.

  • How often should you get tested for STDs?

    All sexually active men and women should be tested for STDs from time to time, but how often depends on your lifestyle. People who have multiple sex partners, sexually active gay and bisexual men, and women under 25 should be tested annually. STD testing is recommended for all pregnant women. In addition, all sexually active people from ages 13 to 64 should be tested for HIV at least once.

  • How can STDs be prevented?

    The only sure way to avoid getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) is to abstain from all intimate contact. For most people, that isn’t practical, but fortunately, STDs are largely preventable. Consistent and correct use of condoms helps, but they are not equally effective for all infections. Understanding how STDs are spread and taking appropriate precautions reduces the risk of STD transmission.

  • How much does it cost to get tested for STDs?

    The cost of testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) depends on a few factors. Under the Affordable Care Act, some STD tests fall under preventive care and must be covered by insurance free of charge under certain circumstances. For example, sexually active women under 25 get free preventive screenings for chlamydia and gonorrhea each year, and HIV and syphilis screenings are free for all men and women.

  • What STDs are not curable?

    Some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are easily treatable, while others are not. Bacterial STDs can be cleared with antibacterial treatment, but viral STDs are more difficult to treat. Currently, hepatitis B, herpes simplex virus (HSV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and human papillomavirus (HPV) are incurable. Antiviral medications are used to treat the symptoms or halt the progression of these diseases, but there is no cure.

Key Terms

Page Sources
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  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine: Sexually transmitted diseases. MedlinePlus. Updated September 29, 2020.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevent. How you can prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Updated March 30, 2020.

Additional Reading