Most men are quick to assume that if they had a sexually transmitted disease (STD), they would know it.
While most STDs do cause symptoms, many are easily mistaken for other conditions. In some cases, there are no symptoms at all.
Understanding the risks and knowing the signs and symptoms of common STDs in men is crucial for any man who is sexually active.
Chlamydia is a bacterial STD that is transmitted during anal, oral, or vaginal sex with someone who is infected with chlamydia. It’s one of the most common STDs in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1,598,354 chlamydia infections were reported in the United States in 2016.
Many people who become infected with chlamydia don’t ever display symptoms. Others only begin to display symptoms several weeks after becoming infected.
Common symptoms of chlamydia in men include:
- pain when urinating
- penile discharge
- swollen testicles
Less common symptoms can occur when chlamydia has infected your rectum. These symptoms can include:
- rectal pain
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that can affect the anus, throat, or urethra. It’s transmitted during anal, oral, or vaginal sex with a man or woman who has been infected. Most men with gonorrhea don’t display any symptoms at all.
For those who do, common symptoms include:
- pain when urinating
- a green, white, or yellow discharge from the penis
Less common symptoms can include:
- swollen or painful testicles
- painful joints
Hepatitis B is a form of hepatitis that is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Unlike other common STDs that can produce more obvious symptoms focused around the genitals, hepatitis B causes a dangerous inflammation of the liver.
You can contract hepatitis B by coming into contact with the blood or bodily fluids of a person who is infected with the virus.
Many people infected with hepatitis B won’t display symptoms at all. Those who do, often mistake symptoms for a cold or the flu. Even if a person has no symptoms, the virus can continue to damage the liver if it’s left untreated.
When symptoms of hepatitis B are present, common symptoms include:
- loss of appetite
- feeling lethargic
- low-grade fever
- muscle and joint pain and aches
- jaundice (yellow hue to the skin and dark urine)
Herpes is a viral infection that is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Herpes may affect the mouth (oral herpes or HSV type 1) or the genitals (genital herpes or HSV type 2).
The virus is transmitted through direct contact with the mouth or genitals of a person who has been infected with the virus through sexual intercourse or oral sex and kissing. While types of HSV prefer certain locations, either type can be found in either location.
The symptoms of herpes can be difficult to spot. Many people won’t have any symptoms at all. Those who do will develop blisters that are often mistaken for other skin conditions like pimples. Symptoms often occur between two days and two weeks after infection. The initial outbreak can be severe.
Common symptoms of herpes in men are:
- tingling, itching, or burning of the skin in the area where the blisters will appear
- blisters on the penis or testicles, or on and around the anus, buttocks, or thighs
- blisters on the lips, tongue, gums, and other parts of the body
- aching muscles in the lower back, buttocks, thighs, or knees
- swollen and sometimes tender lymph nodes in the groin
- loss of appetite
- feeling unwell
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is a term used to refer to a group of viruses that comprises more than 150 strains. While most of these strains are quite harmless, 40 are considered potentially harmful. These are classified as being either low-risk or high-risk strains.
HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases today. Most men and women will eventually acquire one strain of the virus during their lifetime. According to the CDC, there are approximately 14 million new cases of HPV every year in the United States. Currently there are at least 79 million Americans infected with HPV.
The low-risk strains may result in genital warts in some people, while in men the high-risk strains could lead to cancers of the anus, throat, and penis. HPV can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with a person who has been infected with the virus and is most commonly transmitted through anal, oral, or vaginal sex.
Most commonly, men infected with HPV won’t have any symptoms at all. For those who do, symptoms include:
- genital warts (flat and flesh-colored or clusters of tiny bumps described as having a cauliflower appearance)
- warts in the mouth or throat (spread through oral sex with an infected partner)
Unlike other STDs, which can only be prevented through the use of condoms or by abstinence, HPV can now be prevented with vaccines.
There are two HPV vaccines that have been approved by the FDA: Gardasil and Cervarix. They are both effective in the prevention of HPV types 16 and 18, which are high risk and responsible for causing most cervical cancers (70 percent), and types 6 and 11, which cause over 90 percent of genital warts.
A new version of Gardasil, called Gardasil 9, protects against five more strains of the virus. Gardasil 9 was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December 2014. It’ll eventually replace the older version of the vaccine.
Though originally recommended only for females age 11 to 26, Gardasil has now also been licensed for use in boys and men age 11 to 21 to prevent genital warts.
Syphilis is a bacterial STD that can be transmitted through anal, oral, or vaginal sex. This ancient disease is still quite prevalent today. Syphilis is considered one of the more serious STDs in men because of its link to HIV and the increased risk of developing HIV when infected with syphilis.
Common symptoms of syphilis
Syphilis has four different phases: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. Each phase has its own set of symptoms. The symptoms of primary syphilis in men may include:
- a very small, firm, and painless sore where the bacteria entered the body, usually on the penis, anus, or lips
- swollen lymph nodes in the area near the sore
Symptoms of secondary syphilis may include:
- a skin rash that doesn’t itch, commonly found on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
- sore throat
- swollen lymph nodes
Less common symptoms of syphilis
Latent syphilis is the stage that occurs after the symptoms of secondary syphilis have stopped and the STD has gone untreated.
Tertiary syphilis is the fourth stage. It’s rare, as few people actually enter the fourth stage even when the syphilis is left untreated. It can cause serious complications, including:
- damage to the heart
- damage to the nervous system, including the brain
- joint damage
- damage to other parts of the body
Syphilis can cause serious medical issues and death if it reaches this stage, even several years after infection.
Many people can be infected with an STD without experiencing any visible symptoms. This means that practicing safe sex is crucial if you want to prevent STD infection.
The only way to completely prevent an STD is abstinence from any type of sexual contact or contact with open sores and bodily fluids of an infected person. But there are other ways to prevent STDs too.
Condoms during intercourse and dental dams or barriers during oral sex are proven effective when used correctly. Refraining from sex with multiple partners and instead opting for a monogamous sexual relationship can also help to prevent STDs.