Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

What is an STD?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infectious diseases spread through sexual contact. These infections are very common, especially among young people. The U.S. has some of the highest rates of STDs in the industrialized world.

Anyone who has sex can get an STD, but young people are particularly affected. Two-thirds of STDs occur in people under 25, mostly because young people are more likely to be sexually active. In a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four girls between the ages 14 and 19 were determined to have at least one of four sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): human papillomavirus (HPV), chlamydia, herpes simplex virus, and trichomoniasis.

The rates of STDs are on the rise, possibly because of higher rates of sexual activity with multiple sex partners. Many STDs such as AIDS, herpes, and syphilis can be passed on from mother to the baby at birth. STDs can also cause low birthweight and premature babies. Babies with infected mothers can have problems such as pneumonia, eye infections, and brain damage.

What are the symptoms of STDs?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can include a range of symptoms, or no symptoms at all, which is why they frequently go unnoticed . Signs and symptoms that might mean you or your child has an STD include:

  • abnormal or odd-smelling genital discharge
  • burning sensation during urination
  • open sores or bumps on the genitals or in the oral or rectal area
  • unusual vaginal bleeding
  • pain during sex
  • sore, swollen groin
  • fever

What causes STDs?

Generally, STDs are transmitted by sexual contact, passed from person to person in blood, semen, or vaginal and other bodily fluids. However, sometimes these infections can be transmitted non-sexually — either through blood transfusions or shared needles, or during pregnancy from mother to child.

STDs do not always cause symptoms and are often contracted from people who seem healthy, and who may not even be aware they have an infection. STDs don't always cause symptoms, which is one of the reasons experts prefer the term "sexually transmitted infections" to "sexually transmitted diseases."

How we care for STDs

The prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases is a top priority at Boston Children's Hospital. There are many different types of STDs with varying symptoms and severities, and Boston Children's has different programs that provide young people and parents with the testing, treatment, and counseling they need.

At the Division of Gynecology and the Division of Adolescent/Young Adult Medicine, we encourage parents to talk to their children about sex before they become teenagers or decide to have sex.