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Dr. Patricia Shelton

Dr. Patricia Shelton

Mar 25, 20227 min read

How long does it take for an STD to show up?

The information provided herein does not constitute an expert or medical advice, nor intended to replace such advice.


There are many different ways that you might get exposed to a sexually transmitted disease (STD). It could happen through unprotected sex with a new partner, after a condom breaks during a sexual encounter, or after a partner cheats on you. STDs can be transmitted through vaginal, oral, or anal sex, or even through touching of genitals without penetration.

After a possible exposure to an STD, many people are understandably worried about what might happen next. Can STD symptoms appear immediately, or will it take some time? What should you watch out for? When can you get a test to find out if you’ve been infected?

How early can STD symptoms appear?

There are several different diseases that can be transmitted through sex, and the STD symptom timeline will be different for each specific disease. In general, however, there aren’t immediate signs of an STD. Each disease has an incubation period, which is usually a few days to a few weeks. During this time, the infection is getting established in the body, and is not yet causing symptoms.

In some cases, symptoms may appear after a few days to a few weeks. In other cases, a person might never have any symptoms from their STD, or the symptoms might be so mild that they’re easy to overlook.

This is why it’s very important to get tested. Even if you don’t notice any symptoms, you still might have an STD. Similarly, if your partner tells you that they don’t have any signs of having an STD, they might actually have an infection that they don’t know about. Even if you trust that your partner is honest, you still need to get tested to be sure. Encourage your partner to get tested too.

How fast can STD symptoms occur? The STD symptom time frame varies from one disease to another. Men and women experience somewhat different symptoms from the same disease, and the symptoms will also vary depending on the type of sex you had (vaginal, oral, or anal). For certain diseases, like gonorrhea, symptoms may occur within 2-5 days after exposure. For others, it takes 2-4 weeks or even longer for symptoms to show up. In some cases, symptoms may not become obvious until years later.

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First signs of STD female

Depending on how you acquired the disease, symptoms can show up in the pelvic area, anus, or mouth. The early signs of STDs in women may include:

  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Blisters or a rash on the vulva (the outer female genitals)
  • Itching or irritation of the vulva or vagina
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting between periods
  • Pain or burning with urination
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Pain in the pelvic area
  • Sore throat
  • Pain, bleeding, or discharge from the rectum
  • Fever or other general flu-like symptoms

Although these signs may be apparent within a few days to weeks after sex, it’s also very possible for an STD to cause no symptoms at all. Even if you don’t have any symptoms, an STD can still cause long-term consequences, such as permanent infertility.

First signs of STD male

For men, the symptoms can also be apparent in the genitals, anus, or mouth. The beginning signs of STDs can include:

  • Rash, bumps, blisters, or sores on the penis
  • Discharge from the penis
  • Itching or irritation at the tip of the penis
  • Pain or burning with urination and/or ejaculation
  • Pain or swelling of the testicles
  • Sore throat
  • Pain, bleeding, or discharge from the rectum
  • Fever or other general flu-like symptoms

Just as in women, an STD may not cause any noticeable symptoms in men, but can still cause long-term health complications even if there are no symptoms.

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How soon can you be tested?

To know for sure whether you have an STD, you’ll need to get tested. This allows you to catch the disease in its early stage, when it is easiest to treat. Even if you don’t have any warning signs of an STD, getting a test is still very important. There can be long-term consequences of an untreated STD, including infertility and other serious health problems.

How long do STDs take to show up on a test? It depends on the specific infection. Most STDs can be detected within two weeks after exposure. For some, such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C, it can take four weeks or even longer for the test to turn positive. With HIV, it depends on the type of test that’s being used, but it can take up to three months for the test to show the infection.

In general, it’s best to get STD testing two to three weeks after a potential exposure. If the test is negative (meaning that it shows no infections), but you’re particularly worried about a certain infection, then you might want to be retested a few weeks later. For example, if your partner tests positive for an STD but you test negative, then you might want to retest a few weeks later to be sure.

Even if you don’t have a known exposure, it’s still recommended that you get STD testing on a regular basis if you’re sexually active and are not in a stable monogamous relationship. Regular condom use helps to reduce the risk, but condoms aren’t perfect. For many people, it’s recommended to get STD screening tests once a year, even if you always use protection during sex.

Can you get an STD test at home?

You have a few different options when it comes to STD testing. One option is to go to your doctor or to a clinic for in-person testing. Some people prefer this, especially if they have a regular doctor that they know and trust. Others would rather avoid the hassle and potential embarrassment of going to a clinic and getting tested in person.

STD testing can also be done at home, through a home testing service. The test will be mailed to your door, in discreet and unmarked packaging. You’ll take some samples and return them through the mail. With certain services, if you do test positive, you can also get medication to treat the disease through the mail. These services allow a patient to get tested and treated in the convenience of their own home, without revealing anything about the process to the people that they live with.

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How long should I wait after unprotected sex to get tested for STDs? Planned Parenthood (2020). https://www.plannedparenthood.org/blog/teens/ask-experts/how-long-should-i-wait-after-unprotected-sex-to-get-tested-for-stds. Accessed December 22, 2021

Sexually transmitted disease (STD) symptoms. Mayo Clinic (2020). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sexually-transmitted-diseases-stds/in-depth/std-symptoms/art-20047081. Accessed December 22, 2021.

STD testing: What’s right for you? Mayo Clinic (2020). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sexually-transmitted-diseases-stds/in-depth/std-testing/art-20046019. Accessed December 22, 2021.

STI screening timetable. University of Oregon (no date). https://health.uoregon.edu/files/STI_screening_timetable.pdf. Accessed December 22, 2021.

Time periods of interest: HIV, STDs, viral hepatitis. North Dakota Department of Health (2018). http://www.ndhealth.gov/hiv/Docs/CTR/TimePeriodsReference_HIVSTDsHep.pdf. Accessed December 22, 2021.

Which STD tests should I get? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/screeningreccs.htm. Accessed December 22, 2021.

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