Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can be transmitted without sex, that is, without intercourse. Even grandma kissing you at Christmas might pass on cold sores (a herpes virus). Venereal diseases are often undiagnosed or hidden by symptoms that are common to other diseases. You can have an STD and never know it.
STDs are more common than you might think. It is largely the stigma and fear around these diseases that prevent their early detection and treatment. Testing usually consists of a simple blood or urine test. It is not complicated now to know what is going on in your body. But if you don’t get tested you are putting yourself and your loved one at risk. If STDs are caught in the early stages they are easier to treat. You want to take care of these infections before they begin to undermine your health.
I had a patient in his 50s who came to be seen for a recurring rash on his back. He had it for years and had never been told what it was. I knew in a second it was a herpes infection that had migrated from an earlier contact. Most likely it had been a genital contact with someone who didn’t even know they had herpes. He might have been spreading his infection also, not knowing he was doing so. We tested him and it came back positive. Some people don’t want to know they have “VD,” but he was glad because then he could be treated effectively rather than being treated for a rash and never getting better.
A landmark paper was published the Journal of the American Medical Association which showed for the first time the fact that patients with genital herpes “shed” virus from the genital tract, even when they don’t have any obvious symptoms. They found that if the cultures were done daily for 100 days in these women, every single patient demonstrated shedding of the virus at some time.
According to the ACOG [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists] Committee on Adolescent Health Care and Committee on Gynecologic Practice, “Couples may engage in noncoital (that is, sex without intercourse) sexual activity instead of penile-vagina intercourse hoping to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy. Although these behaviors carry little or no risk of pregnancy, women (and men) engaging in noncoital behaviors may be at risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases.” These include mutual masturbation, oral sex and anal sex. The risk of passing on STDs is increased by the fact that the public is not familiar with many of the common symptoms of STDs or that they resemble other illnesses like the flu or more common skin eruptions.
Next: Signs and Symptoms of STDs