7 STIs That No One Ever Talks About
Gonorrhea. Chlamydia. Herpes. HPV. Those are the sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that people talk about a lot. When you go for your annual checkup, those are the ones they’re checking for. They’re the ones you learn about the most in sex ed; the ones that pop up in articles all the time; even the ones that the CDC tracks the closest. But they’re not the only STIs out there. Nope, sorry to tell you, but there are whole bunch of other ones that it seems like no one ever talks about.
Of course, when I say “no one,” I don’t literally mean no one. Health care professionals certainly talk about these other STIs, both amongst each other and with clients. However, they’re just not as well known, for whatever reason, by the general public. Maybe because some aren’t as common? Or because their names are hard to say? (Not that “chlamydia” is particularly phonetic…)
I can’t say definitively why these STIs aren’t as well known as some other ones but as a certified sex educator, I can say that it’s important for any sexually active individual to know about all of the risks out there. If we’re going to make informed choices about our sex lives, we have to have all of the information about potential risks. So, with that in mind, here are the STIs that no one ever talks about.
Chancroid is caused by a bacterial infection and it creates open sores and bumps on the genitals. Those sores can bleed or produce a fluid that spreads the infection during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It can also be spread via skin-to-skin contact. Symptoms usually show up one day to a few weeks after exposure and can be treated with antibiotics.
For men, sores with a soft, grayish-yellow center and sharp edges are common. For women, look for four or more red bumps. However, chancroid isn’t common in the United States — you’re more likely to encounter it in developing nations.
While you might never have heard of trichomoniasis (trich, for short) you probably know someone who’s had it. That’s because it’s the most common curable STD in the United States. It’s caused by a tiny parasite called trichomonda and it’s transferred via ejaculate and vaginal fluids. It doesn’t usually show up in the anus or the mouth.
A lot of people who have trich don’t show any symptoms at all — and men and other people with penises usually don’t have symptoms, even if they’re carriers. But if someones does have symptoms, those include pain and burning when they pee, swelling around the genitals, and pin during sex. For people with vaginas, symptoms also include a “green, yellow, gray, frothy, and/or bad smelling discharge,” according to Planned Parenthood. Blood in vaginal discharge can also be a sign that someone has trich.
Trich is treatable with antibiotics, and it’s usually just one big dose. And if you want to avoid trich, follow good safer sex practices, including using condoms, not sharing sex toys, vagina-to-vagina rubbing, and not touching someone’s genitals with someone else’s fluids on your hands.
3. Mucopurulent Cervicitis
Mucopurulent Cervicitis (trying saying that one 10 times fast) is actually an STI that’s caused by other STIs. Basically, if you leave another illness untreated — like chlamydia or gonorrhea — you can get mucopurulent cervicitis. If you have a cervix, that is.
Mucopurulent cervicitis might have no symptoms but can also come with bleeding during or after sex, a change in vaginal discharge, spotting, or lower abdominal pain. It’s treatable with antibiotics, but left untreated it could lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which is covered below.
4. Molluscum Contagiosum
Molluscum contagiosum is an STI that’s also not an STI. By that I mean it can be spread both from sexual contact and totally non-sexual skin-to-skin contact. It looks a little funny but it’s totally harmless — and it can go away through freezing (cryotherapy) or without treatment.
Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a virus that lives on your skin. It makes little bumps on your skin that usually don’t hurt, but can sometimes be itchy or sore or even swell up a bit.
5. Lymphogranuloma Venereum
Lymphogranuloma venereum is another STI with a long name that virtually no one has heard of. It’s a chronic infection of the lymphatic system with is caused by three different types of the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. (Which, it’s important to note, is not the same bacteria that causes chlamydia.) It’s more common in men than in women, more common in South than North America, and the biggest risk factor is being HIV-positive.
Symptoms of lymphogranuloma venereum include drainage from the lymph nodes into the skin, pain when having a bowel movement, small painless sores on the genitals, swelling and redness of the genitals and groin, swollen groin lymph nodes, and blood or pus from the rectum. Sounds scary, but you’ll be happy to hear that it’s also treatable with antibiotics.
Scabies is another skin-to-skin STD that is caused by a parasite and passed during sex, although it can also be passed in non-sexual ways. (Which is why, in addition to being an STD, it’s also common in children.) Scabies cause really intense itching and usually also come with a rash. If you’ve never had them before, it can take as long as two to six weeks for symptoms to show up but if you have had them before, symptoms can appear in as little as two hours after exposure.
Scabies are treatable, with a cream that you have to wear from head to toe for eight to 14 hours, and a single dose antibiotic that can be taken orally. As with pubic lice, you also have to make sure you clean all of your clothing, bedding, and towels with hot water or dry cleaning.
7. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is caused by other other STIs (and other infections) going untreated. It affects cisgender women and other people with uteruses. A lot of people with PID don’t have symptoms and don’t realize they have it until they try to get pregnant and have fertility issues. However, if someone does have symptoms, they can include pain in the lower abdomen, fever, a change in discharge or odor from the vagina, pain and/or bleeding during sex, burning sensation when peeing, and spotting between periods.
PID is treatable with antibiotics but, unfortunately, there’s no way to do undo any damage that it’s already done to your reproductive system.
With all of these STIs — and all of the ones that aren’t on this list — your best bet is to practice safer sex. However, if you do end up with one of these, don’t freak out. And try really hard not to fall into shaming yourself in any way. Remember: Human beings pass germs and viruses to each other all the time. And, sometimes, they’re passed via their genitals. It’s no more shameful than getting a cold.