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Navigating STDs in the 21st Century

According to the CDC, the number of STD cases in the US reached an all-time high in 2015, after an increase on the previous high of 2014. Americans suffered 1.5 million instances of chlamydia, with those aged 15 to 24 suffering the most. It’s clear that STDs are a serious problem in the US, but how as a 21st-century woman are you supposed to navigate them? 

The most common STDs and how to spot them

It’s crucial that you have a basic understanding of the most common STDs, what they look like, and how they can spread.

HPV (Human Papillomavirus)

This one is almost unavoidable. Almost every sexually active woman in the US will have some form of HPV at some point, and most of the time, it has no effect whatsoever. You can get it via vaginal, oral or anal sex and from kissing. While most forms of it have no effect or symptoms, some can cause genital warts and even cancer. However, the cancers are prevented by Cevarix, Gardasil, Gardasil-9. Women should get vaccinated between the ages of 11 and 26.


This is the most commonly reported STD in the US. It spreads through vaginal or anal sex and occasionally through oral sex. Symptoms vary – sometimes you will notice an unusual discharge from your vagina or a burning sensation when you pee. However, 25% of women and 50% of men will see no symptoms. The danger of chlamydia is that, if untreated, it can render women infertile and infect unborn babies. It is treated with antibiotics.


This is the second most commonly reported STD in the US. It spreads via the same means as chlamydia and exhibits similar symptoms – unusual discharge and pain when peeing and sometimes no symptoms. If left untreated, then it can lead to more serious infections of the uterus and fallopian tubes, as well as causing infertility and infecting unborn babies. It is also treated with antibiotics.


There were 88,042 cases of syphilis reported in the US in 2016, so it is much less common than either chlamydia or gonorrhea. Potentially fatal if left untreated, syphilis is a disease of four stages. The first stage’s main feature is a sore that can look like a cut, an ingrown hair or a bump. The second stage leaves you with a rash and sores on your vagina, anus or in your mouth. The third stage is when the disease goes dormant for many years and symptoms disappear – only 15% of people go beyond this stage. The fourth and last stage, if it progresses, will happen 10 to 30 years after the original infection. It’s the most dangerous stage because the infection can spread to parts of the body such as the eyes, brain, nerves, heart, liver, blood vessels, bones and joints. Antibiotics will clear up syphilis quite easily.


Coming in both HSV-1 and HSV-2 forms, herpes causes painful blisters around the vagina or anus. It spreads easily via skin-to-skin contact. This is a virus that cannot be cured, just managed with medication. The blisters will come and go and the infection spreads easily when they are there.


This is a bacterial infection that causes discharge and painful genitals. Often there are no symptoms. It only spreads through vaginal sex. If infected with this during pregnancy, it could cause premature birth. Antibiotics will clear it up after a week.

How to avoid STDs

In this age of Tinder hook-ups, people must be even more careful when it comes to avoiding STDs. Remember that the only time unprotected sex is safe is when it’s between you and your partner and you have both tested negative for STDs in the last six months. Make sure that you avoid a false positive from your STD test results when you get tested.

Condoms are the best method (besides abstinence) of avoiding STDs. Make sure that you know how to use them correctly – hold the tip of the condom before unraveling it to make sure that it is not inside out. Another thing to do is make sure that you wash before and after sex, as well not using the same towels as your partner or wearing their underwear.


STDs are a serious risk to every woman who has or has had an active sex life. Thankfully, there are ways of spotting them and there are several methods of preventing them. Be smart about it and you’ll be able to navigate the 21st century without running into problems with STDs.

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