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STIs Information Center

What is an STI?(formally referred to as an STD)

STI stands for "sexually transmitted infection." STIs are infections that are passed from person to person during sexual activity (vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse). Some STIs are curable, while others are not. It is estimated that more than 19 million new cases of STIs occur in the U.S. every year. Millions of these new cases occur among teenagers.

Who can get an STI?

Anyone who engages in intimate sexual contact can get an STI.

How do I know if I have an STI?
  • Since many STIs do not have any obvious symptoms, the only sure way to know if someone has an infection is by having a medical exam or a lab test.
  • It is important to know that someone can get infected with an STI and not realize it for period of time. This is a risky time since an infected person can unknowingly pass the STI on to a partner.
  • Getting tested is key to stopping the spread of infection.
Who can I talk to if I think I have an STI or want to learn more about prevention?
  • It is important to talk to your doctor to help diagnose you and to discuss treatment options. This service is available at M.S. Shook Student Health Service. An appointment is recommended as acute care and injury problems have priority with work-in appointments. Most STIs are not considered acute care. A fee for this service is possible. As a courtesy to you we will do one free gonorrhea and chlamydia test per academic year. There are small charges for other tests.
  • If you are a teenager, it's best to talk to a parent. If you don't feel like you can, try talking to a teacher, school nurse, family doctor, clergy, or other responsible adult.
Do latex condoms protect me from getting an STI?
  • Latex condoms significantly reduce your risk of getting most STIs, including HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), if you use them correctly every time. But latex condoms don't eliminate risk completely.
  • Both male and female plastic condoms (made from polyurethane) provide some protection, but not as much as latex condoms.
  • Though condoms can help protect you, research shows that they do not provide full protection against some STIs, such as human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • It's important for you to know that "skin" condoms (made from animal membrane) don't protect you at all.
Are there other ways to prevent STIs?
  • STIs can be spread with non-penetrative sexual practices like mouth-genital and mouth-anus contact
  • Use of dental dams can prevent transmission of sexually transmitted infections during oral sex. A dental dam is a small thin square of latex that you can use as a barrier over any surface you are going to put your mouth on to keep your bodily fluids to yourself. (Latex free versions also exist.)
  • Use of gloves or finger cots (finger condoms) can prevent transmission of sexually transmitted infections with hand to genital or hand to anal contact. They can be found on line for purchase.
  • Mutual use of sex toys, vibrators, etc. can transmit sexually transmitted infections from one partner to another. Best practices would be for each partner to have their own appliance to use. Not using a product for 24 hours or greater after another person has used it will also greatly reduce transmission issues. If a vibrator or other product is shared, it's best to clean the product between users.
  • Most toys can be easily cleaned using an antibacterial sex toy cleaner. These cleaning products can typically be found in many adult stores. If specialized products are not available, you could also use mild unscented soap and warm water. Vibrators may be made out of different materials (silicone, plastic, etc.). Most manufacturers will include cleaning recommendations for each particular product in the package insert. If you no longer have the packaging, you can likely find guidance on the manufacturer's website for best ways to cleanse the product.
  • Be aware that Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) has been shown to reamain on toys even after cleaning.
What can happen if I get an STI?
  • Each STI has its own set of symptoms. However, many STIs can lead to similar long-term consequences, particularly if the STI goes untreated.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can damage fallopian tubes and make it difficult or impossible to have a baby, (a problem called "infertility.")
  • PID can cause chronic pain in the lower abdomen.
  • PID can make women much more at risk for tubal pregnancies. Tubal pregnancy, also called ectopic pregnancy, is a condition in which the pregnancy grows in the fallopian tube instead of in the uterus. This problem is dangerous and requires immediate medical care.
  • Infection with some types of HPV has been linked to cancer of the cervix, vagina, penis, anus, and oropharynx (throat).
  • Males and females who are infected with STIs can transmit the infection to their partners. If pregnant, women can then transmit the infection to their babies.
  • If a person is infected with an STI they have a greater chance of contracting another STI.
  • STIs caused by bacteria (like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis) can usually be cured with antibiotics. If they are not treated early, serious long-term problems can develop, like pain and infertility.
What are some symptoms of common STIs?
  • 3/4 of infected females and 1/2 of infected males have no symptoms
  • Discharge from the genital organs
  • Burning with urination
  • In females, lower abdominal and/or back pain and pain during intercourse
  • Epididymal pain in men
  • Discharge from the genital organs
  • Burning or itching during urination
  • Pelvic pain
  • Females frequently have no symptoms
  • Epididymal pain in men
  • Painless sores on genitals (10 days to 3 months after infection)
  • Rash (3 to 6 weeks after sores appear)
  • No symptoms may appear for years until symptoms of AIDS occur.
  • Eventual presenting symptoms are typically opportunistic infections-- (unexplained pneumonia, skin infection, etc)
  • Genital warts (sometimes warts are not visible)
  • Can lead to cervical cancer
  • Not everyone with HPV has symptoms - including those infected with the types of HPV linked to cervical cancer
Genital Herpes
  • Itching, burning, or pain in the genital area
  • Blisters or sores (sores may heal but can reappear throughout your life)
STI Prevention
To Learn More

In order to learn about all of the symptoms of STIs, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (opens in a new tab). If you experience any of these symptoms go to a docotor or clinic as soon as possible to be tested and treated.

Source: U.S. Department of Human Resources: Office of Public Health and Science (opens in a new tab)

Page content reviewed: 06/04/18 fwg