Signs and Symptoms of STDs

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Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), of which there are many, have a varied set of symptoms. It's possible that you may experience genital itching, discharge, pain, skin changes, or other symptoms—or even none at all.

In fact, some of the most serious infections produce no signs or symptoms until significant damage has occurred, which puts both the person affected and their partner(s) at risk.

Woman discussing health issues with gynecologist
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Only a healthcare professional can confirm whether or not you have an STD. If you think you could have been exposed to an STD, it is important to go and get tested—whether you have symptoms or not.

Frequent Symptoms

Symptoms associated with STDs overlap with those of other conditions, which further stresses the importance of proper testing.

See a healthcare provider if you have any of the following symptoms of STDs.

Discharge

Unusual liquids (discharge) from the vagina or tip of the penis can be a symptom of certain STDs, including:

Vaginal discharge is not the same as normal vaginal lubrication; all women have some discharge. It's only when abnormal/unusual discharge is present that it may signal an STD.

Urethral discharge is pus or other fluids coming out of the tip of the penis.

Odor

Changing vaginal odor is often a sign that you may have acquired a vaginal infection. Some infections that cause the vagina to smell unpleasant are:

  • Trichomoniasis
  • Bacterial vaginosis 

Itching

STD-associated itching is usually around the genitals. The area around the anus may also itch because of an STD.

STDs that cause itching include:

Painful Intercourse

Pain during sex may be a sign of an STD. It may also be a sign of certain non-infectious conditions. New or unusual pain during sex should always be discussed with a healthcare provider.

STDs that can cause pain during sex include:

  • Chlamydia 
  • Trichomoniasis 
  • Chancroid
  • Herpes 
  • Mycoplasma genitalium 

Painful Urination

If it hurts when you pee, you may have an STD, such as:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea 
  • Non-gonococcal urethritis 
  • Trichomoniasis 
  • Bacterial vaginosis 
  • Mycoplasma genitalium 
  • Chancroid 
  • Herpes 

Lumps, Bumps, Sores, and Ulcers 

Not all lumps and sores are infectious, but many are. Some STDs that cause genital ulcers and other bumps or sores are:

  • Syphilis
  • Chancroid
  • Herpes 
  • Lymphogranuloma venereum 
  • Molluscum contagiosum

Genital warts are a common symptom of HPV. Warts may also appear in the mouth and throat.

Pain

As with other infections, some STDs can be painful. Where they hurt depends on the site that has been infected, which may be the vagina, anus, lower abdomen, or throat.

STDs that are sometimes associated with pain include:

  • Chlamydia 
  • Gonorrhea 
  • Trichomoniasis 
  • Chancroid
  • Herpes
  • Lymphogranuloma venereum 
  • Mycoplasma genitalium

Visible Infestation/Parasites

This would occur with:

  • Pubic lice 
  • Scabies

Rare Symptoms

Rashes are a relatively uncommon STD symptom. They can, however, be caused by:

  • Syphilis 
  • HIV (associated with Kaposi’s sarcoma)
  • Scabies

No Symptoms

For many people, an STD can have no symptoms at all. STDs that are commonly asymptomatic include the following.

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea 
  • Non-gonococcal urethritis 
  • Lymphogranuloma venereum 
  • Mycoplasma genitalium 
  • Syphilis 
  • Trichomoniasis 
  • HIV 
  • Herpes 
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C

Take note that most of these are also listed above, only reinforcing how their presentation cannot be guaranteed.

The only way to be certain if you have an STD is to get tested. Having no symptoms may not mean that you are negative.

Complications

Left untreated, STDs can cause long-term health problems. Possible complications include: 

  • Reproductive health problems, including infertility
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and pelvic pain
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Certain cancers, such as HPV-associated cervical and rectal cancers
  • Heart disease
  • Eye inflammation 

Pregnancy Risks

STDs can be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy and increase the risks of pregnancy complications, including miscarriage, stillbirth, and birth defects.

For example, syphilis passed from mother to child, known as congenital syphilis, can cause deformed bones, severe anemia, enlarged liver and spine, jaundice, blindness, deafness, meningitis, and skin rashes. 

In addition, some STDs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes can be transmitted to the newborn during delivery and can lead to eye infections, lung infections, and other health issues.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you have any of the above STD symptoms, have had intimate contact with an infected partner, or engaged in risky sexual behaviors, see a healthcare provider to get tested.

While there is a lot of unfortunate stigma associated with having an STD, it is important to talk openly with your healthcare provider. Keep in mind that their only interest is to make sure that you are well. Details about your symptoms (if any), your sexual history, how you have sex, and the extent to which you protect yourself can be very helpful in the diagnosis process.

STD testing is often covered by insurance or available at a free clinic. It can involve a physical examination, blood work, urinalysis, and cell sample analysis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routine STD screening for all pregnant women and repeat testing for women at high risk for STDs, regardless of whether or not there are symptoms present.

A Word From Verywell

Treating an STD in its early stages can prevent transmission of the infection and prevent serious complications. And recognizing symptoms, if present, can be helpful when it comes to prompting you to get evaluated sooner than later.

But remember: A lack of symptoms does not mean you are necessarily STD-free. If you may be at risk, talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested or visit an STD clinic.

Do not assume your healthcare provider automatically tests for STDs as part of an annual physical or gynecological exam. Some don't.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the symptoms of common STDs?

    Common STD symptoms include: 

    • Discharge from the vagina or penis
    • Genital itching
    • Lumps or bumps
    • Painful intercourse
    • Painful urination
    • Sores or ulcers
    • Vaginal odor
  • How soon do STD symptoms appear?

    It depends on the STD. Some STDs have symptoms that appear in a matter of days, while others can take months to show up.

    For example, symptoms of chancroid, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and genital herpes can appear less than a week after exposure. Symptoms of syphilis and chlamydia can take two or more weeks to appear. Genital warts take three months or more to erupt. 

  • Can you know if you have an STD without being tested?

    No. The only way to know if you have an STD is to be tested. If you have symptoms of common STDs or have been exposed to an STD, see your healthcare provider or free clinic to get tested. If you have an STD, it is important to get treated and abstain from sexual relations until the infection is clear.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Hazel A, Marino S, Simon C. An anthropologically based model of the impact of asymptomatic cases on the spread of Neisseria gonorrhoeae. J R Soc Interface. 2015;12(106). doi:10.1098/rsif.2015.0067

  3. U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: HealthyPeople.gov. Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Congenital Syphilis—CDC Fact Sheet.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. STDs During Pregnancy —CDC Fact Sheet.

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