STDs in men: Here’s everything you need to know
Table of Contents
- Written by Hannah Kingston - Updated on August 4, 2021
- Medically reviewed by Dr Andrea Pinto Lopez, M.D.
Wondering if STDs in men are different to STDs in women? Or which STD most commonly affects men? What about the symptoms? Here is everything you need to know.
STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) in men may be contracted when you have sexual contact with an infected partner, this can include vaginal, oral or anal sex with another person who has an STD.
STDs are also known as STIs (sexually transmitted infections). There are three different types of STDs, which include bacterial (STDs that are caused by a bacteria), viral (STDs that are caused by viruses) or parasitic (STDs that are caused by parasites.)
In this article, we will break down how males get an STD, what they are caused by, the symptoms, how long it takes for the symptoms to come about, and when you should get tested.
How do men get an STD?
STDs in men are most commonly caused by unprotected sex with an infected partner, however there are a number of different ways that a male can contract an STD. The most important step you can take to protect yourself is to understand how it happens, and put prevention methods in place.
Men can contract an STD by:
- Having unprotected sex with someone who has an STD.
- Coming into contact with infected fluids including blood, semen or vaginal fluids.
- Coming into contact with an infected sore or open wound, for example, mouth to genital contact.
- Using a needle that has been used by an infected person for recreational drug use or other purposes.
- Coming into contact with infected blood or body parts, for example, through a blood transfusion or organ donation.
If you have found out that you have an STD, or you are experiencing worrying symptoms, it can be a scary experience. It’s important to know that sexually transmitted diseases are quite common. There are 20 million STD cases diagnosed in the United States each year, with over half of all cases diagnosed in the 15-24 year old age group according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The symptoms of STDs don’t always appear immediately after a person has contracted one. Signs and symptoms often take some time to develop, this length of time is often referred to as an “incubation period”.
In some STIs, the body may start to create antibodies during the incubation period. This period ends when symptoms start to appear, which can range from a few days to even many years, depending on the disease.
Quite often, there will be no symptoms associated with an STD, in this case the STD is referred to as asymptomatic. However, even asymptomatic people can continue to spread an STD to other people. For this reason, it is so important to regularly attend sexual health screenings, or take an at home STD test.
The symptoms of an STD in males vary. Some of the most common symptoms of STDs in men include:
- Burning or pain during urination
- Pain in the abdomen
- Pain during sex
- Pain in the testicles
- Unusual discharge from the penis
- Lumps or bumps on the genital area
- Sores or ulcers on the genital area
When it comes to understanding STDs in men, it’s important to know which types of STDs you may be at risk of contracting, as well as what you can do to protect your sexual health.
STDs in men: Which STDs can affect males?
- Herpes (1& 2)
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Chlamydia in men
According to the World Health Organisation, chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD in the world.
Chlamydia often doesn’t carry symptoms, which is why it is so important to regularly get tested.
In women, untreated chlamydia can cause a condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). According to the NHS, this is a serious condition that can lead to complications such as:
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Ectopic pregnancy
In rare cases, chlamydia can also cause fertility problems in men; research suggests that the condition may have a negative impact on sperm health.
Incubation period: 7-21 days
Caused by: A bacteria -Chlamydia trachomatis
Symptoms of chlamydia in males may include:
- Pain during urination
- Pain in the abdomen
- Pain in the testicles
- Discharge from the penis
- Pain in the rectum
- Discharge from the rectum
Chlamydia is most commonly contracted through vaginal and/or anal sex, however it can also be contracted through oral sex. Chlamydia may have a long-term impact on your sexual and reproductive health if it is not treated, as well as epipidymitis, prostate gland infection and reactive arthritis.
Gonorrhea in men
Gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported notifiable STD in the world according to the World Health Organisation.
Gonorrhea is an STD that affects the urethra, rectum, and throat. In men, the infection tends to start in the urethra, the tube which helps urine to exit the body. Gonorrhea is colloquially known as “the drip” or “the clap” due to the fact that the most common symptom is an unusual discharge or drip from the penis.
Incubation period: 1-14 days
Caused by: A bacteria -Neisseria gonorrhoeae, also known as gonococcus
Symptoms of gonorrhea in males:
- Painful, burning sensation when you urinate
- A sore throat (in cases of pharyngeal gonorrhea)
- Penile discharge which may be white, yellow, or green
Gonorrhea is most commonly contracted through vaginal, anal and/or oral sex.
Syphilis in men
Syphilis is passed from person to person via contact with a syphilis sore, oftentimes, syphilis sores can be painless, which makes them harder to detect. Syphilis sores may be found around the penis, rectum, anus and even the mouth.
According to the CDC, the highest incidence of syphilis in the United States are among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM). Syphilis is an STD that can be broken into four stages; primary, secondary, latent and tertiary. The symptoms depend on the stage of syphilis that you are experiencing.
Due to the fact that syphilis can be passed on so easily and unknowingly, it’s so important to have open and honest conversations with your sexual partners, practice safe sex and get tested regularly, this is especially true for syphilis as the number of primary and secondary cases of syphilis in the United States have been on the rise since 1991 according to the CDC.
Incubation period: 3 weeks - 20 years (the incubation period depends on the stage of the syphilis diagnosis)
Caused by: Abacteria - Treponema pallidum
Symptoms of syphilis in males depend on the stage and severity of the condition.
A chancre, also called a sore is usually the first sign of syphilis, chancres usually appear around the genitals or mouth. They are firm to touch, round and painless.
Sometimes the chancre will not be visible, which is why it can be easily passed from one person to the next, through skin to skin contact.
Symptoms are rare during the primary stages of syphilis, but if they do appear, it will usually be in the form of a chancre.
If you do not receive a diagnosis for primary syphilis, you may develop secondary syphilis.
The most common symptom of secondary syphilis is usually a rash that eventually covers the whole body, including the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. This rash is typically reddish brown in color, and it heals without leaving scars.
Other symptoms of secondary syphilis in men include:
- Muscle aches
- A sore throat
- Loss of appetite
Latent syphilis, which is sometimes referred to as the hidden stage of syphilis, describes the period of time in which there are no symptoms of the condition, this period can last anywhere from 1 to 20 years after the initial infection occurs.
Tertiary syphilis often occurs in the years following infection. If the condition has not been diagnosed, it can affect the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones and joints.
If left untreated, syphilis can cause serious health complications. Tertiary syphilis can be treated with antibiotics (usually IV penicillin) to prevent further damage to your body; however, antibiotics won’t reverse damage that has already occured.
Herpes (1 & 2) in men
There are many different types of herpes virus, but herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 are responsible for the majority of infections in humans.
According to WHO, HSV-1 is mainly transmitted through oral contact. HSV-2, on the other hand, is spread through genital and anal contact. Both types of herpes virus can be trasmitted during oral sex.
Both herpes 1 & 2 cannot be cured but they can be managed for better health outcomes down the line.
An estimated 3.7 billion people under age 50 (67%) have HSV-1 infection globally and an estimated 491 million people aged 15-49 (13%) worldwide have HSV-2 infection according to the World Health Organization.
According to the CDC, 11.9 % of persons aged 14 to 49 years have HSV-2 infection (12.1% when adjusted for age). However, the prevalence of genital herpes infection is higher than that because an increasing number of genital herpes infections are caused by HSV-1.
Incubation period: 2-12 days.
Caused by: A virus - Herpes simplex virus (HSV)
Symptoms of herpes 1 & 2 in males may include:
- Small bumps on the genital area, sometimes appearing as a cluster of blisters
- Blisters that appear as a cluster on or around the mouth
- Ulcers around the genital or mouth
- Sores on the buttocks, anus, thighs or mouth
- Intense itching in the affected area before the blisters appear
In many cases, there will be no symptoms of herpes 1 or 2, so you could unknowingly pass or receive the virus from an infected partner. For this reason, it is so important to attend sexual health screenings regularly, or take an at home STD test.
HIV in men
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is an autoimmune condition which can develop to a condition called AIDs. In simple terms, HIV causes AIDS, a condition which interferes with the body’s ability to fight infections.
You can contract HIV from unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex, injection drug use, and exposure to contaminated body fluids or blood.
Previously HIV could also be acquired through blood product transfusions or organ transplants, however in most countries, blood and organs are now thoroughly screened for HIV so this is no longer a great cause of concern when it comes to contracting the virus.
In 2018, the rate of HIV was highest for persons aged 25-34, followed by the rate for persons aged 35-44. In 2018, the rate for males was 5 times the rate for females.
Incubation period: 14-28 days
Caused by: A virus - Human immunodeficiency virus
Symptoms of HIV in males may include:
- Headaches and/or difficulty concentrating
- Night sweats
- Lymph nodes swelling
- A dry cough and/or sore throat
- Muscle and/or joints pain
- Thicker nails
HIV can be managed with antiviral medications, however there is currently no cure for AIDS.
Hepatitis in men
According to the CDC, gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men are more likely to contract viral hepatitis A, B and C. About 10% of new hepatitis A and 20% of all new hepatitis B infections in the United States are among gay and bisexual men.
Hepatitis A can be spread through the consumption of small amounts of fecal matter, as well as contact with contaminated objects, food and drink. Hepatitis A can also be contracted via sexual contact.
Hepatitis B can be spread through contact with contaminated semen or blood. Hepatitis B can also be spread through sexual contact, and the sharing of needles. In women, hepatitis B can be transferred from mother to child.
Hepatitis C is most commonly spread through sharing needles, syringes or other injecting equipment. Though it is rare, hepatitis C can sometimes be contracted through sexual contact, especially rough sex.
Incubation period: 60-150 days
Caused by: Hepatitis viruses, HAV, HBV, HCV
Symptoms of hepatitis in males may include:
- Pain in the abdomen
- A change in appetite
- Darker urine
- Joint pain
- Fatigue or weakness
- Yellowing of the skin and/or eyes (jaundice)
Hepatitis doesn’t always cause symptoms and can pass in a few months without treatment (acute infection). Those who go untreated with a lifelong infection, and without appropriate treatment and care may experience liver damage and even death.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) in men
It may surprise you to know that men may also be at risk of contracting HPV, though it is harder to diagnose in men. Usually HPV will not cause any symptoms in men but if there are symptoms, they could be mistaken for a simple lump, bump or spot.
According to the CDC, human papillomavirus (HPV) is so common that almost all sexually active people will contract at least one type of HPV during their lifetime.
Incubation period: 1 month - 10 years depending on the strain of the virus.
Caused by: A virus -Human papillomavirus
Symptoms of human papillomavirus (HPV) in males may include:
- Warts on the penis, scrotum, anus or groin
HPV is most commonly contracted through vaginal and/or anal sex. Although most people with HPV will clear the infection on their own, it’s still important to monitor any possible symptoms of this condition, such as skin changes or warts.
Certain strains of HPV have been found to have a strong correlation to penile, anal, and head and neck cancers. HPV is also the cause of all cases of cervical cancer in women, and asymptomatic men can still spread the virus to their partners.
Trichomoniasis in men
Trichomoniasis is the most common curable STD in the United States. In men, inside of the penis (urethra) is the most likely body part to be affected by the parasite.
3.7 million people have trichomoniasis in the United States, however 70% of cases will be asymptomatic (not have any symptoms) according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Incubation period: 5-28 days.
Caused by: A parasite - Trichomonas vaginalis
During sex, the parasite usually spreads from a penis to a vagina, or from a vagina to a penis. It can also spread from a vagina to another vagina. It is not common for the parasite to infect other body parts, like the hands, mouth, or anus.
Symptoms of trichomoniasis in males may include:
- Itching and/or a burning sensation inside the penis
- Burning after urination
- Burning after ejaculation
- Unusual discharge from the penis
If left untreated, trichomoniasis could lead to prostatitis, epididymitis, urethral stricture disease, and infertility, potentially resulting from decreased sperm motility and viability
Ureaplasma in men
Ureaplasma is a group of tiny bacteria that live within the respiratory and urinary tracts of both men and women. Ureaplasma bacteria play a role in helping you to fight infections, digest food and maintain a healthy reproductive system.
Ureaplasma rarely causes symptoms in males or females, however, it can cause some discomfort if left undiagnosed and/or untreated.
Incubation period: 7 days - several months
Caused by: A bacteria - Ureaplasma urealyticum and Ureaplasma parvum
Symptoms of ureaplasma in males may include:
- Painful urination
- Pain in the abdomen
- Unusual discharge from the tip of the penis
Ureaplasma is generally contracted through vaginal sexual contact with an infected partner, it is easy to treat with a course of antibiotics.
It’s important to note that the above facts are not here to scare you, they are here to educate and help you to make informed decisions when it comes to your sexual health.
If you are practicing safe sex and are regularly getting tested, you have nothing to worry about. As a regular rule of thumb, you should aim to get tested at least once a year.
Outside of your yearly sexual health screening, there are also some other instances in which you should get tested, which include:
- You have had unprotected sex
- You are planning on having a family
- Your partner has multiple sexual partners
- You have multiple sexual partners
- Your contraception has failed (the condom has broken or fallen off)
Maybe you have never attended a sexual health screening. Sexual health screenings should become a routine part of your yearly health checkup up. They are nothing to be scared of, and what’s more, now it’s possible to do a sexual health screening from home.
If prevention methods have failed, early detection is the next best step in the right direction. There are a range of at home STD testing options which you can use to get answers from the comfort of your own home.
How to prevent getting and STD
Always make sure that you wear a condom
You should also use a male condom or dental dam during oral sex.
Speak openly with sexual partner(s)
You may be filled with dread at the thought of speaking about your sexual history with a new partner but it’s important to know that they are being safe when it comes to their sex life so you can stay safe while having fun.
Keep track of your sexual partner(s)
Keeping track of your sex life is important in monitoring your sexual health. Each time you have sex, make a note of it, if you notice signs and symptoms, you will be better able to retrace your steps.
Get screened at least once a year
Whether you’re having a little or a lot of sex, you need to ensure that you are getting screened on a yearly basis. Sexual health screening should be just as regular as going to your physician or dentist for a check up, and once you do get screened on a regular basis, you will have far better peace of mind and confidence in the fact that you have nothing to worry about.
Interested in giving at-home STD testing a try? Read: 6 Best At-Home STD Test Kits in 2020.
6 Best At-Home STD Test Kits in 2020 - www.stdwatch.com
Chlamydia - Everything you need to know - www.stdwatch.com
Chlamydia - www.cdc.gov
Gonorrhea - Everything you need to know - www.stdwatch.com
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) - www.who.int
Gonorrhea - my.clevelandclinic.org
New CDC Report: STDs Continue to Rise in the U.S. - www.cdc.gov
Herpes Simplex Virus - www.who.int
U.S. Statistics - www.hiv.gov
Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet - www.cdc.gov
HPV (Human Papillomavirus) - my.clevelandclinic.org
Trichomoniasis - CDC Fact Sheet - www.cdc.gov
Which STD tests should I get? - www.cdc.gov
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