Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

sexually transmitted diseases, legs of man and woman, both have a tattoo on one leg

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are and always have been a relatively common event affecting women and men at various stages of life. The diagnosis of an STD is challenging emotionally, as well as having the actual physical issue to deal with. Words like chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and others are terms you just don’t want to hear. But a clear understanding and effective treatment can reduce the impact of a sexually transmitted disease on your health.

How do I get an STD?

The simple answer is through sexual activity with another person. This can occur whether the partner is of the opposite or same sex. STDs are transmitted through unprotected sex, also referred to as unsafe sex.

How would I know if I might have an STD?

The answer here is not straight forward. You might notice abnormal physical symptoms such as pelvic pain, bleeding between your periods or after sex, increased vaginal discharge that may be offensive or causing itch or burning. There may be pain when emptying your bladder. Anal pain or discharge may sometimes indicate a problem too. Sometimes there can be sores externally, like blisters. Sometimes glands in the groin areas at the tops of your thighs can be tender or swollen.

STDs can also present orally with a sore throat and systemic symptoms like fever and headache. You might not have any symptoms, but on reflection be concerned about recent sexual encounters you have been involved in with a new partner when adequate protection was not used. 

What are the most common sexually transmitted diseases called?

That depends on the nature of your symptoms and examination findings but the common ones are; chlamydia (often referred to as PID), mycoplasma genitalum, gonorrhoea and herpes. Unfortunately, cases of syphilis are on the increase in Australia, rather than being the stuff of history books. Viral illnesses such as Hepatitis B and C, and HIV can also be contracted through vaginal, oral or anal sex.

What should I do if I am worried I might have an STD?

The most important thing is to see your doctor and be open about your symptoms and concerns. Don’t be embarrassed. There really isn’t anything most doctors have not heard, and we are there to help you with your health problems regardless of the nature, and not pass judgement.

What does the doctor do at the appointment?

After taking a careful history I would normally perform a gentle careful examination and take relevant swabs looking for different types of infections. These swabs and some blood tests usually give us the answers we need within 24-48 hours and can direct appropriate treatment for you. This will often be as simple as a  course of antibiotics or antiviral treatment.

Do I need to tell my sexual partner?

Yes, definitely.
Your partner will need to see his or her doctor, be tested and treated too. If this does not happen then

  1. Their health will suffer and,
  2. They will pass it back to you, or on to someone else.

There is no place for secrets here, and little point in playing the blame game. Often, STDs are asymptomatic and men and women can be unaware they are carrying an infective agent in the genital tract. Often the tests are normal and provide relief from anxiety over the possibilities.

How can I avoid sexually transmitted diseases?

You can reduce your risk of anSTD significantly by practicing safe sex. This involves using condoms during penetrative acts. Equally it’s about communication, getting to know your partner and a little of each other’s history if it’s relevant.

Having STD screening at the doctors. When you’re starting a new relationship, and you have any concern that you or your partner might be carrying something. This is simply responsible adult behaviour and a very common type of consultation at the GP or gynaecologist.


Don’t delay if you have abnormal symptoms. It’s not only bad for your short term health, but a delay in diagnosis and treatment can have serious long term effects on other things; including your fertility. You have no reason to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about seeing the doctor; it’s just a part of our routine work.

To make an appointment, call the rooms.

Author: Dr Peter England, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist.
Read more about Dr Peter England

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