Many people with a penis are quick to assume that if they had a sexually transmitted disease or infection (STD or STI), they would know it.
While most STDs and STIs 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 STIs in men and people with a penis is crucial for anyone who’s sexually active.
Chlamydia is a bacterial STI that’s transmitted during anal, oral, or vaginal sex with someone who acquired chlamydia. It’s one of the most common STIs in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, 2,457,118 chlamydia diagnoses were reported in the United States in 2018.
Many people who acquire chlamydia don’t ever display symptoms. Others only begin to display symptoms several weeks after transmission.
Common symptoms of chlamydia in those with a penis include:
Less common symptoms can occur when chlamydia has been transmitted through the rectum. These symptoms can include:
- rectal pain
Gonorrhea is a bacterial condition that can affect the anus, throat, or urethra.
It’s transmitted during anal, oral, or vaginal sex with a person who has acquired it. Most people 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:
Hepatitis A is a form of hepatitis caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). Hepatitis A usually requires no treatment and goes away on its own, but it’s highly contagious.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source, 1.4 million people acquire hepatitis A globally annually.
It can be acquired via food, drinking water, raw shellfish, and sexual contact without a condom or other barrier method.
Symptoms of hepatitis A include:
- eating contaminated food
- eating contaminated raw shellfish
- polluted water
- neglecting the use of condoms or other barrier method when having sexual contact with someone who has the virus
- being in contact with contaminated fecal matter
Treatment for hepatitis A usually focuses on reducing any symptoms as there is no official treatment.
People can avoid contracting hepatitis A by using a condom or other barrier method for any sexual contact, including oral and anal sex.
Hepatitis B is a form of hepatitis that is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV).
Unlike other common STIs 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 has acquired the virus.
Even if a person has no symptoms, the virus can continue to damage the liver if it’s left untreated.
This is why it’s important to see a healthcare provider on a regular basis (such as an annual wellness visit) to check for signs and get tested.
When symptoms of hepatitis B are present, they commonly 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 condition that’s 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). Either can also cause blisters on the fingers.
The virus is transmitted through direct contact with the mouth or genitals of a person who has acquired 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 or small water blisters.
Symptoms often occur between 2 days and 2 weeks after transmission. The initial outbreak can be severe.
Common symptoms of herpes in those with a penis 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
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 people will eventually acquire one strain of the virus during their lifetime.
According to the CDCTrusted Source, there are approximately 14 million new cases of HPV every year in the United States. Currently, there are at least 79 million Americans living with HPV.
HPV can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with a person who has acquired the virus and is most commonly transmitted through anal, oral, or vaginal sex.
Most commonly, people with a penis living with HPV won’t have any symptoms at all. For those who do, symptoms can 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)
Unlike other STIs, which can only be prevented through the use of condoms, other barrier methods, or by abstinence, HPV can now be prevented with vaccines.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two HPV vaccines: Gardasil and Cervarix.
They’re 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. The FDA approved Gardasil 9 in December 2014.
Though originally recommended only for ages 11 to 26 years, in 2018, the FDA expanded its approvalTrusted Source of Gardasil to adults up to age 45 years.
Syphilis is a bacterial STI that can be transmitted through anal, oral, or vaginal sex. This ancient disease is still quite prevalent today and increasing in prevalence.
Syphilis is considered one of the more serious STIs in people with a penis because of its link to HIV and the increased risk of developing HIV after contracting syphilis.
Common symptoms of syphilis
Syphilis has four different phases:
Each phase has its own set of symptoms. The symptoms of primary syphilis in men and people with a penis may include:
- a very small, firm, and painless sore where the bacteria entered the body, usually on the penis, anus, or lips that can be easily missed
- swollen lymph nodes in the area near the sore
Symptoms of secondary syphilis may include:
- a skin rash that doesn’t itch, commonly found over the body that includes 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 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 transmission.
Many people can contract an STI without experiencing any visible symptoms. This means that practicing safer sex is crucial if you want to prevent transmission.
The only way to completely prevent an STI is abstinence from any type of sexual contact or contact with open sores and bodily fluids of a person who contracted it. But there are other ways to prevent STIs, 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 STIs.
Some STIs, such as HPV and hepatitis A and B, have vaccines available. It’s important to talk to a healthcare provider about vaccines available to you.
It’s also very important to be tested for HIV regularly if there’s a risk for any STI. Early diagnosis of HIV allows for early intervention of effective antivirals.
The risk of HIV transmission can be lessened by the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is a combination of medications that can reduce the risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV prior to potential exposure with consistent use.
Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a medication that can be taken after potential exposure to prevent transmission. It needs to be taken as soon as possible after the potential exposure and no later than 72 hours after.