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The Most Common STIs in Men And Their Symptoms

Here's everything you need to know about identifying, curing, and preventing the infections that plague men the most.

Point blank, the statistics on sexually transmitted infections are alarming. There's even a new one you've probably never heard of affecting thousands of British men and women called Mycoplasma Genitalium, according to research from the Oxford University Press.

Researchers analyzed 4,500 urine samples from Britain's third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles and discovered MG was prevalent in up to 1 percent of the population aged 16-44, who had reported at least one sexual partner in the past year. One percent may not seem alarming, but prevalence increased to 5.2 percent in men and 3.2 percent in women who had more than four sexual partners in the past year, and most infected men and women don’t report having any STI symptoms. Over half of the women didn’t have any noticeable side effects, but among those who did, the most common symptom was bleeding after sex. Here’s where you guys should be concerned: Over 90 percent of  MG-positive men reported no symptoms. More research will be conducted to understand the infection, how to test for its presence, and if there are possible long-term complications and problems with resistance. 

But what's arguably worse than the presence of these infections is the serious lack of awareness surrounding the world's perception of their severity, symptoms, treatment, and prevention. 

An online pharmacy company MedExpress led a study, questioning over 2,300 British adults ages 18-65 on their knowledge of STIs. Some of the most shocking signs of ignorance: 15 percent of people believe syphilis is a heavy metal band, nine percent think chlamydia is a flower, 68 percent believe all STIs can be cured, and 53 percent think you can catch an STI from sitting on a toilet seat, the Daily Mail reports

The U.S. may not fall too far behind on the know-it-all scale, so we compiled some of the latest research, statistics, and knowledge on the most common STIs in men. The infographic below comes from Adam & Eve, an American-brand of adult products. Consider it your fast facts warmup before diving into a more in-depth summary of sexual diseases thereafter. All of the provided information comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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What is chlamydia? 
The tricky thing about clamydia is most people who become infected with the STI don’t show signs of it. In fact, only about 11 percent of men (and 14 percent of women) show symptoms, according to research conducted by The International Journal of STD & AIDS. For men who are symptomatic, symptoms can include urethritis—a watery urethra discharge; less commonly, men may develop epididymitis, which can cause unilateral testicular pain, tenderness, and swelling; chlamydia can infect the rectum, causing symptoms of proctitis like rectal pain, discharge, or bleeding; and while it can be found in the throat, as well, there typically aren’t any symptoms.  

How it’s spread:
You can get chlamydia by having unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who’s infected, even if ejaculation does not occur, and you’ve been treated for chlamydia in the past.

How to cure it:
Chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics, and as you’d expect, you should abstain from sexual activity for a full week after you finish the seven-day course of antibiotics or seven days after consuming a single dose. Know that the medication will stop the infection, but it can’t repair any permanent damage done by the disease (this applies more to women), and a repeat infection with chlamydia unfortunately is common. You should be retested about three months after treatment. 

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What is gonorrhea?
Every year, 820,000 Americans contract new gonorrheal infections—about half of which go undetected. Gonorrhea is an STI that affects men and women, usually among the ages 15-24, and can cause genitals, rectum, and throat infections. For men, symptoms include a burning sensation while urinating, a white, yellow, or green discharge, and less commonly, painful, swollen testicles. For women, there typically aren’t symptoms; but when a woman is symptomatic, the side effects are often mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection.

How it’s spread:
You can get gonorrhea by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who’s infected.

How to cure it: 
The CDC recommends the use of two antimicrobial drugs—cephalosporin plus azithromycin—to improve treatment efficacy and slow resistance to medication, which is becoming an increasing concern. Although medication will stop the infection, it will not repair any permanent damage done by the disease.  

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What is genital herpes?
Herpes is an STI caused by the herpes simplex viruses type 1 or type 2 that infects 776,000 people in the United States each year. Typically, herpes is more easily transmitted from men to women than from women to men, and an astounding 88 percent of infected people are unaware of their infection because they have mild to no symptoms, or they mistake them for another skin condition. When symptoms do occur, they typically show up about four days after exposure in the form of fluid-filled cysts around the genitals, rectum, or mouth. These cysts then break (referred to as an episode or outbreak), leaving painful ulcers that take anywhere from two to four weeks to heal. Recurring outbreaks during the first year of infection are common, though the first breakout is associated with the longest duration of cysts or lesions, fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, and headache. Recurring symptoms include mild tingling or shooting pain in their lower extremities in the hours or days before an outbreak. These recurrences are far less common for HSV-1 than HSV-2 and they tend to decrease over time. 

How it’s spread:
The virus is spread through contact with any cuts or lesions, oral or genital secretions, or mucosal surfaces. Note: Herpes make it easier for you to transmit and acquire HIV sexually; the risk is two- to four-fold. 

How to cure it: 
Unfortunately there is no cure for herpes, but antiviral medications can prevent or shorten the outbreaks for the period of time you’re taking medication. The daily use of antiviral medication can reduce the likelihood of transmission to other sexual partners as well. 

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What is syphilis?
Syphilis is an STI caused by bacteria that is divided into three stages in adults. The primary stage is associated with the appearance of a single sore—at the location where syphilis entered the body—called a chancre, which is typically painless, small, solid, and raised. The chancre sore lasts three to six weeks and heals on its own, regardless if you’re treated. But if you don’t receive any treatment, the infection will progress to the secondary stage. 

The secondary stage is marked by the appearance of rashes on various areas of the body, and sores in the mouth, vagina, or anus when the primary stage is healing, or several weeks after the chancre has healed. The rash may not be itchy, but it usually appears as rough, red or reddish-brown spots on the palms of your hands and the bottoms of your feet. Other times, rashes associated with secondary syphilis are incredibly faint, so they’re not noticed, or they resemble rashes caused by other diseases. Additionally, large, raised, white or gray lesions called condyloma lata may develop in warm, moist areas like your mouth, underarms, or groin. You may experience fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, hair loss, headaches, weight loss, and fatigue. If these symptoms are ignored without treatment, the infection will progress to the third stage of the disease. 

Though not common, the third stage of syphilis begins when all the other earlier symptoms disappear. (If you never receive treatment, you can have the infection in your body for years without any symptoms.) If it does happen, it’ll occur 10-30 years after your infection began, and the symptoms are very serious. They include difficulty coordinating your muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, blindness, dementia, damage to your internal organs, even death. 

How it’s spread: 
You can get syphilis by direct contact with a syphilis sore during unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

How to cure it:
Syphilis can be cured with the right antibiotics, but like the other common STIs, treatment cannot undo any permanent damage that’s already been done. 

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What is HIV?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, and unlike other viruses, our bodies can't get rid of it. Once you’re infected with HIV, you have it for life, and it can lead to AIDS. 

Within two to four weeks after being infected with HIV, you may experience flu-like symptoms; this is the body’s natural response to the infection, though some people may not have this symptom. At this stage, the virus uses immune system cells in your body to clone itself, effectively destroying them in the process. Note: Your ability to spread HIV is highest during this stage because the virus is so highly concentrated in your blood. In time, your immune response will bring the virus levels in your body back down to a stable amount, and your immune system cells will begin to increase, but they may not return to their original amount. This is known as the acute infection stage. 

Next comes the clinical latency period, which is sometimes called chronic HIV infection, because the virus reproduces at very low levels. You may not exhibit any symptoms or feel sick, and if you’re on an antiviral treatment, you can live several decades while in this stage. If you’re not taking any medication, you might still be able to live for several decades, but toward the middle and end of this timeframe, your immune system cell count will drop, and your immune system will become too weak to protect you. 

The last stage of infection is AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Your immune system is badly damaged at this point and you become vulnerable to infections and related cancers known as “opportunistic illnesses.” Once your immune system cells fall below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood, you’re considered to have progressed to AIDS. Without any form of treatment, you’ll survive for about three years. But if you fall victim to an opportunistic illness, your life expectancy without treatment falls to about one year. 

How it’s spread:
You can contract HIV by having sex or sharing drug equipment like needles with someone who has the virus. Only fluids such as blood and semen can transmit HIV from one infected person to another.

How to cure it: 
HIV is almost universally fatal because it eventually runs down your immune system, resulting in AIDS, and people with AIDS need treatment to prevent death. Antiretroviral therapy can prolong your life expectancy and lower your chance of infecting others, but for the most part, there is no safe and effective cure for HIV. 

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