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What is the Definition of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are transmitted sexually by someone who is infected. These infections are usually passed by intercourse, but can also be passed through other types of sex, such as oral sex.

STDs can be caused by viruses or bacteria. If you have ever had sex, you may be at risk for having an STD. You are at higher risk if you have had many sex partners, have had sex with someone who has had many partners, or have had sex without using condoms (rubbers).

Description of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

Sexually transmitted diseases (also called venereal diseases) are among the most common infectious diseases in the U.S. today. At least 20 STDs have now been identified. They affect more than 10 million men and women in this country each year.

It is important to understand at least five key points about all STDs in this country today:

  • STDs affect men and women of all backgrounds and economic levels. They are most prevalent among teenagers and young adults. Nearly one-third of all cases involves teenagers.
  • The incidence of STDs is rising, in part because in the last few decades, young people have become sexually active earlier. Sexually active people today are also more likely to have more than one sex partner or to change partners frequently. Anyone who has sexual relations is potentially at risk for developing STDs.
  • Many STDs initially cause no symptoms. When symptoms develop, they may be confused with those of other diseases not transmitted through sexual contact. However, even when an STD causes no symptoms, a person who is infected may be able to pass the disease on to a sex partner. That is why many doctors recommend periodic testing for people who have more than one sex partner.
  • Health problems caused by STDs tend to be more severe and more frequent for women than men.
  • Some STDs can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a major cause of both infertility and ectopic (tubal) pregnancy. The latter can be fatal to a pregnant woman.
  • STD infections in women may also be associated with cervical cancer. One STD, genital warts, is caused by a virus associated with cervical and other cancers. The relationship between other STDs and cervical cancer is not yet known.
  • STDs can be passed from a mother to her baby before or during birth; some of these congenital infections can be cured easily, but others may cause permanent disability or even death of the infant.
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