STD Symptoms in Men: What to Look For
Sexually transmitted diseases comprise any bacterial, fungal, or viral infection spread through sexual contact, which involves vaginal and anal intercourse as well as oral sex and kissing. Many STDs can be treated using antibiotics, but others are incurable.
A surprising number of sexually active men assume that, if they had a sexually transmitted disease, they would know it, but the fact is that many sexually transmitted diseases do not exhibit immediate or obvious symptoms. Those that do cause symptoms are often mistaken for other, unrelated disorders.
Essentially anyone who is sexually active can get an STD. According to the CDC, men who are gay, bisexual, or otherwise have sex with other men are at a higher risk of contracting any sexually transmitted infection. To help you better understand sexually transmitted diseases, let’s take a look at some common STD symptoms in men and some tips for preventing them in general.
Caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis, chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections for both men and women. A survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported over 1.4 million cases of chlamydia in 2014. It can be transmitted via anal, vaginal, or oral sex.
Most men who contract chlamydia show no obvious symptoms. Others will only exhibit symptoms several weeks after they were already infected. The most common symptoms of chlamydia in men resemble urethritis, or infection of the urethra, which is the tube connecting the bladder to the outside of the body.
Chlamydia can also cause infection of the testes and the epididymis, the tube connecting a testicle to a vas deferens. Other specific signs of STD in men include:
- Swollen testicles
- Discharge from the penis
- Painful urinating
Gonorrhea is caused by a bacterium called Neisseria gonorrheae, which is also known as gonococcus bacteriae, and is one of the oldest known STIs. Contrary to what many people think, you can’t contract gonorrhea from touching a doorknob or toilet seat.
Gonorrhea bacteria can only survive in very specific conditions. They cannot live on the skin of your hands, legs, or arms. They cannot live outside the body for more than a few minutes, and instead favor moist, warm conditions within the body, including the urethra, rectum, and throat.
Similar to chlamydia, gonorrhea often doesn’t exhibit any symptoms. If it does show symptoms, they won’t be apparent until 4 to 8 days after you’ve already been infected. Gonorrhea can also spread throughout the body. Some symptoms of gonorrhea you might want to look out for include:
- Skin rash
- Joint pains
- Pain while urinating
- Swollen testicles
- Yellow, white, or green discharge from the penis
Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus. Herpes around the mouth is usually caused by herpes simplex virus-1, while genital herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus-2. The virus can spread via direct contact with the genitals of mouth of someone who has been infected.
Herpes symptoms aren’t always obvious, and many men won’t show symptoms at all. Herpes is most known for creating characteristic blisters or sores, though many men often mistake these for pimples or other skin conditions. Those who do show symptoms will see them up to two weeks after becoming infected. The first outbreak can feel severe, with symptoms including:
- General malaise
- A loss of appetite
- Swollen, tender lymph nodes around the groin area
- Blisters around the testicles, penis, buttocks, anus, and thighs
- Blisters on and around the mouth, including the tongue, lips, and gums
- Muscle aches and pains in the knees, thighs, buttocks, and lower back
This sexually transmitted infection is actually caused by a parasite known as Trichomonas vaginalis, a single-celled protozoan. It can easily spread via contact with the genitals. It’s considered the most common curable STD with an estimated 3.7 million people in the United States being diagnosed with the infection, though only about 30 percent of those individuals will actually exhibit symptoms. Any noticeable symptoms don’t occur until 5 to 28 days after initial infection, though it may take even longer in some people.
The symptoms of trichomoniasis in men usually resemble those of urethritis. This includes:
- A frequent need to urinate but with very little pee actually coming out
- Burning or painful urination
- Painful ejaculation
- Itching around the genitals
- Discharge from the urethra
Thankfully, this is one of the few sexually transmitted diseases that can be easily treated, often requiring just a single dose of antibiotics. The most common antibiotics administered for trichomoniasis are tinidazole and metronidazole.
Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus, which is spread by coming into contact with the blood or bodily fluids of someone carrying the virus. Although sex isn’t the only way to spread hepatitis B, it is one of the primary means of transmission next to sharing needles. While other sexually transmitted infections tend to center around the genitals, hepatitis B is a disease of the liver, causing dangerous inflammation that may develop into more serious problems.
The symptoms for hepatitis B can be evasive, and most men who do show symptoms often mistake them for the cold or flu. Even if you don’t show symptoms, hepatitis B can still cause damage to your liver if left untreated. Some common symptoms of hepatitis B you should watch out for include:
- Sudden lethargy
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
- Aches and pains in your joints and muscles
- A yellowing of the skin and eyes called jaundice
- Dark urine
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Human papillomavirus refers to a group of over 150 virus strains. Forty of these strains are considered potentially harmful to your health. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, and the CDC suggests that there are over 14 million new cases of the disease every year. It’s suggested that everyone who is sexually active will acquire a strain of the virus at some point in their lives.
Human papillomavirus can be categorized as either low-risk or high-risk. The low-risk strains of the virus may cause genital warts, while the high-risk strains can lead to more serious problems in men, including cancer in the anus, penis, or throat. While the virus is spread most commonly through sexual intercourse, it can be simply contracted via skin-to-skin contact.
The vast majority of people who are infected with HPV will not experience any symptoms at all. Warts tend to be the most common symptom in men with HPV. Genital warts or lesions appear flat and flesh-colored or as tiny clusters that look like cauliflower. These appear on the penis or around the anus. You may also get warts in the mouth or in the back of the throat if you perform oral sex on an infected partner.
HPV often resolves on its own. It doesn’t have a cure, but there are vaccines available to prevent HPV that can be administered to boys aged 11 to 21.
Syphilis is one of the oldest known sexually transmitted diseases that is still widely prevalent today. The disease is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. The spirochete bacteria burrows into moist, mucus-covered tissues, like those in the genitals or around the lining of the mouth. It’s considered especially serious for men as it is linked to HIV and can potentially increase a man’s risk of developing HIV.
Syphilis acts in three main stages and a latent stage, each with different symptoms. The first stage is noted by the formation of a chancre, appearing as a small, firm sore wherever the bacteria entered the body. This sore is painless and usually appears around the penis, lips, or anus. This is usually combined with swollen lymph nodes around the affected area.
Syphilis can generally clear on its own during this first phase, though you can also treat it with antibiotics. If syphilis isn’t treated during its first phase, it can develop into secondary syphilis. The symptoms for secondary syphilis can be much more obvious and include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A skin rash on the soles of your feet or on your palms
If the syphilis continues beyond the secondary stage untreated, it enters the latent stage and continues into the tertiary stage. It’s rare for syphilis to reach this stage. In most cases, the syphilis will have resolved itself or been treated.
Tertiary syphilis can lead to much more serious issues, spreading beyond just the genital area. It can damage the nervous system, brain, and heart. It can cause problems in your joints and muscles. If left untreated, it can actually lead to death.
HIV and AIDS
Human immunodeficiency virus is one of the most well-known sexually transmitted diseases. Much like hepatitis, HIV can be spread through any contact with blood or other bodily fluids. The virus mainly operates by weakening your immune system, making it easier for you to get sick and even increasing your risk of developing certain cancers.
It takes about 10 years from initial infection for complete suppression of your immune system. During this time, you may exhibit no symptoms at all. Some people will develop a fever or sickness resembling a flu within the first 2 to 4 weeks after contracting the virus. Once your immune system has been weakened, you can develop some serious issues, including:
- Massive weight loss
- Unusual infections
- Intellectual deterioration
- Certain forms of cancer
When left untreated, HIV can progress to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. This is when your body becomes vulnerable to opportunistic infections due to a heavily damaged immune system.
Thankfully, modern medicine has developed a wide range of medications that allow you to manage HIV and prevent it from progressing to a more harmful point.
Tips for Preventing Sexually Transmitted Diseases
The only true way to completely prevent STDs is to abstain from sex completely. While that’s certainly a valid personal choice, it might not be the best choice for you, which is fine. You can lead a fun and active sexual life while still ensuring good health for you and your sexual partner.
A good place to start is to practice safe sex, and the most popular and effective way for men to do this is using a condom. As a man, be responsible. Learn to put on a condom correctly. Condoms can last longer than you think, but they still have expiration dates. Make sure your condoms haven’t expired. The condom packaging should also be slightly bubbled as a sign that it hasn’t been punctured. Do not open a condom wrapper using scissors or your teeth as you may puncture the condom. Roll the condom onto your penis and leave room at the tip.
Consider using dental dams when performing oral sex and latex gloves when performing any manual manipulation. Try to stick with water-based lubes if you do use lubes to prevent irritation. If you use a condom, avoid any sort of oil-based lubrication, like Vaseline, lotion, or baby oil, as oil can damage the latex in condoms, causing them to tear or break. After sex, wash your genitals with soap and water.
Of course, condoms cannot prevent all STDs, so make sure you get tested for STIs regularly, especially if you have a new partner or are sexually active with multiple partners. Get regular checkups, and be honest with your doctor about your sexual practices.
Most importantly, maintain open lines of communication with your partner. Prior to sex, tell each other what you like, what you don’t like, and any potential history of STDs. Keeping each other informed not only makes things safer, but also allows for a more enjoyable, satisfying experience. For information about what to do if you think you may have an STI or STD, click here.