Feature Archive

Get the STD Picture

Think you've got a big sex IQ? Try the STD name game.

By Daniel DeNoon
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

You already know about the birds and the bees. But what about the snakes in the trees? Know your STDs?

Check out the first two words of "sexually transmitted diseases." If you're having sex, you may be at risk. Find out if you know all about STDs -- or if you just think you know. Play the STD name game. It's easy to play. Read through the list of symptoms below. Then name that STD.

STD 1:

It's been three weeks since I had sex with that guy who didn't have a condom. And now I've got something a lot like the flu. I'm running a fever and my head hurts. I'm so tired, I don't feel like doing much of anything. But the last time I had the flu, I didn't have these mouth sores -- or this red rash on my chest. If it's not the flu, what is it?

STD 2:

The woman I slept with last week didn't have any symptoms. And after an awkward phone call, I know she still doesn't. But I got these painful little bumps on my penis. Now the bumps have turned into pus-filled, open sores with raggedy edges. The sores are soft to the touch. And now there's a pain deep under the skin on the inside of my thigh. What's my doctor going to say?

STD 3:

It can't be an STD -- can it? I still think of myself as technically a virgin. I did have sex -- but my lover only put his penis a little way into my vagina. And he doesn't have any symptoms. Maybe this burning feeling when I urinate will just go away. Won't it?

STD 4:

Yuck. It's been about a week since I had sex. Boy, does my crotch itch. When I look down there, I've got blue spots on the skin under my pubic hair. And there are lots of these teensy rust-colored dots. What gives?

STD 5:

I had anal sex with another guy. I put on a condom before sex, of course, but it broke. It's been a few days since then, and now I've got this yellow drip from the tip of my penis. Otherwise, I feel fine. Won't it just go away?

STD 6:

A few months ago, during foreplay, my husband noticed a cluster of blisters on the inner lip of my vagina. It turned into a sore that hurt for about a week and then crusted over and went away. Now it's months later, and I have a nasty blister on my butt. My husband doesn't get any blisters on his genitals, although once in a while he gets a cold sore on his mouth. I don't think it's an STD, do you?

STD 7:

I moped around for more than a month after breaking up with my girlfriend. Just when I started feeling like seeing other women again, I noticed this cluster of moist little sacs of flesh near my vagina. Since then it got a bit bigger and turned whitish. It looks like a little cauliflower! I'm very embarrassed. How can I ever have sex with anybody ever again?

STD 8:

I'm a sexually active man. A few weeks back I noticed small bumps appearing on my groin. Now it's spread to my thighs. The area is a little tender, but it doesn't bother me all that much. I keep waiting for it to go away. Will it?

STD 9:

We didn't have sex, I swear! OK, my boyfriend and I did sleep together in his bed -- with our clothes off. We spooned a lot but we didn't go past second base. And that was over a month ago. Now I'm back at school but I've got this itch on my waist, my groin and the lower part of my butt. It's MUCH worse at night when I go to bed. There are some short, wavy lines on the skin, but the worst are these dozens of itchy bumps. There's no way this is an STD, is there?

STD 10:

I've started seeing this guy I'm crazy about and, yes, we're having sex. Or we were. Now I've got these horrible symptoms. I'm having a lot of greenish yellow, frothy discharge from my vagina. I'm sore all around my vaginal area and upper thighs. My boyfriend is just fine. Is it just me or what?

STD 11:

OK, I had an affair. But I broke it off after just a couple of times. I feel terrible about it. I'll never do it again. Since my wife doesn't know about it, I don't want to hurt her feelings for no reason. Only problem is, about three weeks later I got this sore. Just one of them. It was on my penis, but it didn't hurt at all. I made excuses not to have sex with my wife, and it healed after about a month. I thought it was all over. But now I'm getting these rashes on my palms and soles. Any connection?

Get all the answers on the next page.

Answer for STD 1:

It might be HIV. No, this isn't AIDS -- not yet, and maybe not ever. These are some common symptoms of acute HIV infection. In 50% to 80% of patients, HIV infection starts with these flu-like symptoms. There's nearly always fatigue, fever, and headache. Mouth sores and a rash on the trunk are a tip-off that this isn't the flu. But not everybody with acute HIV infection gets these symptoms.

If you come down with flu-like symptoms two to four weeks after sex with someone who might have HIV infection, see a doctor right away. A normal HIV test won't work. Standard HIV tests look for antibodies in the blood, and your body hasn't made any yet. But there are tests that can tell whether you're infected. If you do have HIV, you may wish to start treatment right away. Studies suggest that treatment during acute HIV infection may be much more effective than later treatment.

Answer for STD 2:

Can you spell chancroid? Chancroid [pronounced SHANG-kroyd] is a bacterial infection. It's spread by contact with the sores. Women may not notice the symptoms until the lymph glands in the thigh -- on one or both sides -- get swollen and painful. If not treated, these glands mat together and form a kind of abscess known as a bubo.

Fortunately, this is a curable infection. See a doctor. And tell your sex partners. Even if a woman doesn't seem to have symptoms, she may have been infected and should get a checkup.

Answer for STD 3:

Many sexually transmitted diseases can cause this symptom. The most common one is chlamydia [pronounced klah-MID-ee-ya]. Any genital, anal, or, less often, oral contact with infected body fluids can result in infection. In a way, you're lucky. Three-fourths of women -- and half of men -- don't have early symptoms of chlamydia. Left untreated, this bacterial infection can spread to the fallopian tubes. This can leave you unable to have children. There are tests. And there is a cure. If you're sexually active -- even if you don't go "all the way" -- you can still get STDs.

Answer for STD 4:

Those little rust-colored dots -- sometimes they're whitish-gray -- are lice. If you take a closer look with a magnifying glass, you'll see they look like little crabs. You can get crabs during sex. You can also get them by sleeping in the bed of an infested person. The little bugs have three forms: eggs, a larval stage called nits, and adult lice -- the ones that make you itch. The blue spots are a skin reaction to louse bites. Once you've identified crabs, you can get rid of them. But you'll have to get rid of all the eggs and nits that may have spread to your clothes, bed linens, and other items. After you kill the lice, you'll continue to itch for a while. Hydrocortisone cream can help.

Answer for STD 5:

There are several infections that can cause these symptoms. One of them is gonorrhea, known to many as "the clap." Many people with gonorrhea have no symptoms. Untreated, it can lead to serious infections. Anyone who finds out he or she has an STD should tell all of his or her sexual contacts so they can be tested and, if infected treated. Antibiotic treatment cures gonorrhea. See a doctor.

Answer for STD 6:

Herpes is a viral infection. It comes in two flavors: type 1 and type 2. Herpes type 1 usually causes mouth sores; herpes type 2 usually causes genital sores. However, either virus can infect either place. Herpes can spread during sex, including oral sex. The virus that causes herpes travels up nerves and rests in nerve bundles. When it becomes active, it goes back down the nerves to the skin. Sometimes a person who has had a genital infection has a later outbreak on the buttocks or thighs.

Herpes outbreaks don't always look like blisters. Sometimes it looks like sores, cuts, pimples, or a rash. Genital herpes outbreaks cause pain, aching, itching, burning, and/or tingling on and around the sex organs. Sometimes there can be painful urination and a discharge from the urethra, but this is uncommon.

There's no cure for herpes. But today there are anti-herpes drugs that make outbreaks less severe. They also can prevent new outbreaks and may even make it harder to give herpes to another person.

Answer for STD 7:

The virus that causes genital warts spreads by direct skin-to-skin contact. It's called human papillomavirus or HPV. There are several different kinds of HPV and the feature of the disease depends on the type of HPV. Some kinds are linked to cervical cancer.

Genital warts appear one to six months after HPV infection. There's no cure, but there are treatments. These treatments must be performed or prescribed by a doctor. DO NOT use over-the-counter wart remedies on genital warts. While treatment can make warts go away, they often come back.

It's common to be upset by genital warts. You should avoid sex until all warts are removed. Condoms can prevent HPV spread -- but since they do not cover all of the skin that might be effective, they are not totally effective. But having genital warts does not mean your sex life is over.

Answer for STD 8:

Molluscum contagiosum, once a disease of childhood, is now sexually transmitted among adults. It's caused by a poxvirus. It can be spread through sexual contact, or by contact with other objects, such as towels, used by an infected person.

Each lesion lasts for about six to eight weeks. But since it spreads, it can take two years or more to go away by itself. Your doctor can speed recovery either by surgical or chemical removal of the lesions.

Answer for STD 9:

Sex isn't the only way to get scabies. In fact, this skin-mite infection is hard to get from a brief sexual encounter. But prolonged skin contact does spread infection. If it took a month for symptoms to appear, this must be the first time you've had scabies. People who get it more than once get symptoms in only one to four days.

The mites that cause scabies burrow just under the surface of the skin. Females lay eggs that hatch in a few days. The itching is caused by an allergic reaction. You can't get scabies from a brief contact, such as a handshake, but it spreads in households after prolonged contact with infested bedding, carpets, or furniture.

Your doctor can prescribe treatments that will kill the mites. Even after they're dead, you'll still itch for a while. Doctors usually prescribe corticosteroid ointments to relieve this itching. And don't forget that killing the mites means getting rid of mites hiding in your bed, clothing, etc.

Answer for STD 10:

Men usually don't get symptoms of trichomoniasis infection. But if they look early in the morning, infected men may see a slight mucous discharge from the penis. Sometimes, women get only a slight discharge.

The bug that causes trichomoniasis is a protozoon. See a doctor -- both of you. A single treatment almost always does the trick, if both partners are treated at the same time. Treatment for men usually takes a bit longer. If you have more than one sex partner, all of your partners must be examined and treated.

Answer for STD 11:

Syphilis used to be a terrible thing. It still is -- if not treated. The sore on your penis is called a chancre. It's the sign of primary syphilis. Secondary syphilis comes next. The symptoms begin with a rash, usually starting on the palms and soles. These rashes come and go, but cover various places on the body. Eventually they begin to eat away at mucous membranes. And that's still not the worst of it. Untreated syphilis eventually damages the heart and brain. In fact, if you've already got secondary syphilis the germs that cause the disease may already have invaded your brain.

Fortunately, antibiotics cure the disease. You'll have to see a doctor to get diagnosed and treated. And you'll have to tell your wife. If you've had sex with her, she may be infected.

Originally published April 7, 2003.
Medically updated Jan. 24, 2005.

SOURCES: American Social Health Association web site. The Merck Manual, 17th edition.

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Last Editorial Review: 2/4/2005 2:55:12 PM