What to know about STDs

We tell you about what causes STDs and how to get care.

November 4, 2020


A sexually transmitted disease (STD) is an infection caused by bacteria or a virus. An STD is also known as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) because you can have the infection without disease symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Infection (CDC), the following groups of people have a greater chance of getting an STD: 

  • Young people
  • Gay men
  • Bisexual men
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM)

Half of the nearly 20 million new STD cases are among young people ages 15 to 24. 

How are STDs spread?

STDs are spread by oral, genital or anal sex. 

What are examples of STDs?

Some examples of STDs are chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes (HSV) and human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common STD. Seventy-nine million Americans have HPV.

How can you stop STDs?

You can get an STD from skin-to-skin contact or other mucous membrane contact during sex. There are several ways to protect yourself and others from STDs, including:

  • Abstinence — not having sex
  • Using a barrier while having sex, such as a condom or dental dam

Condoms and dental dams can be used for oral, genital and anal sex. Regular testing is also important in stopping STDs, especially if you have multiple sex partners. 

Why is early detection important?

If you have an STD and don’t get medical care, you can end up having problems that are even more serious, such as: 

  • Cancer
  • Easier sexual transmission of HIV infection
  • Problems during or after pregnancy
  • Reproductive health problems or not being able to get pregnant

What tests can you get?

The types of tests and screening you may need and how often you need them depends on your age, sexual behaviors and how likely you are to get an STD.

Don't assume that you're getting STD testing every time you see a doctor, have a gynecologic exam or get a Pap test. If you think you need STD testing, talk to your doctor about your concerns and what tests you would like or need.

How do you get tested?

Ask your health care provider about getting tested for STDs. Your provider can help you decide if there are any tests you need and, if so, which ones.

Does your insurance pay for testing?

You'll need to ask your insurance company if they cover STD testing. Your insurance company will confirm which tests are paid for under your plan. They will also help you find a doctor in your network who can complete the test for you.


By Amy Treakle, MD

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The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.