Most sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) affect both men and women, but in many cases the health problems they cause can be more frequent and severe for women.
However, this does NOT mean that men can ignore signs and symptoms of STDs.
In fact, the most important thing sexually active men can do is get regular STD tests to protect themselves and their partners.
Common STDs in Men
Some of the most common STDs may not produce signs or symptoms in men, but they can certainly infect men and lead to more serious complications when not detected.
Just because there are no symptoms, does not mean that there will not be complications.
Below, see a list of some of the most common STDs in men, including their symptoms, how they are diagnosed, and how they are treated.
Many men with gonorrhea often experience no symptoms at all.
However, when men do have symptoms, they can include:
- Painful or burning sensation when urinating
- White, yellow, or green discharge from the penis
- Painful or swollen testicles (less common)
Testing for gonorrhea can be done through a simple urine test, or by swabbing the infected site, including the genital area, rectum, or throat.
Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics.
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection caused by chlamydia trachomatis.
In men, chlamydia symptoms, when they occur, can include:
- Burning sensation during urination
- Unusual discharge from the penis
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Pain in or swelling of the testicles
In men, chlamydia is diagnosed through a urine test or swab of the urethra.
If there’s a chance the infection is in the anus, throat, or eyes, these areas may be swabbed as well.
A chlamydial infection can be treated with antibiotics such as azithromycin taken in one dose, or doxycycline, taken twice a day for seven days.
Syphilis symptoms can be hard to notice, and may come and go over time.
The disease can also go through several stages with different symptoms in each.
Those stages include:
- Primary stage: A sore appears that can look like a cut or an ingrown hair. You are most contagious when the ulcer is present. There can be one sore or many, and they are usually painless, firm, and round.
- Secondary stage: In this stage, a rough, red rash appears on one or many areas of the body. It is not itchy or painful, and it can sometimes be so light it is unnoticeable. In this stage, you could develop reddish-brown spots on the palms of your hands or soles of your feet, or develop large grey or white lesions around your groin, mouth, nose, or armpits. This stage can also include hair loss, sore throat, fever, headaches, fatigue, and swollen glands.
- Latent stage: The third stage is called the latent stage because symptoms often disappear. This stage can last many years. In this stage, syphilis is usually no longer contagious.
- Late stage or tertiary syphilis: This stage of syphilis can be fatal as it causes serious issues in different organs like the heart, brain, eyes, ears, and nervous and muscular systems. Some symptoms of this tertiary stage include dementia, vision problems or blindness, trouble controlling muscular movements, and numbness in various parts of the body.
If you are in the primary or secondary stage of syphilis, a doctor or other health care provider may be able to diagnose you by looking at your sores or rashes.
Others may scrape the chancre and study the cells under a microscope to look for spirochetes (the bacteria that causes syphilis).
You can also be diagnosed through blood tests.
There are various treatment options for syphilis depending on the stage of disease.
Both late and early stages can be effectively treated with an injection of the antibiotic penicillin.
If you’re allergic to penicillin, there are other antibiotic options that are also effective.
Men with genital herpes can develop blisters on their penis, scrotum, anus, buttocks, and inner thighs.
Other symptoms may include:
- Tingling, itching, or burning for several days before sores develop
- Pain or burning during urination
- Headaches or body aches
- Lack of appetite or nausea
During your exam, your doctor or other health care provider will check your body for any visible sores or blisters.
If you are experiencing an outbreak, they may obtain a sample of fluid from any open sores or blisters and send the sample to a laboratory for analysis.
If there are no sores present for your doctor to swab, you may be asked to undergo a blood test to determine whether you have the antibodies that indicate the presence of an HSV-2 infection.
There is currently no cure or vaccine for HSV-2.
If you are diagnosed with genital herpes, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications like acyclovir (Sitavig, Zovirax), famciclovir, or valacyclovir (Valtrex) to decrease the duration of the outbreak and active symptoms.
Medications may be taken orally as a pill, applied topically as a cream, or even given intravenously.
Hepatitis A & B
Men who have sex with men are at increased risk of becoming infected with both the hepatitis A virus and the hepatitis B virus.
The symptoms of both diseases are similar and can include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Dark urine
- Bloated and tender abdomen
- Yellowish-tinged skin and eyes
Your doctor or health care provider will need to perform a blood test to diagnose hepatitis A or B.
Most people with hepatitis A or B will recover without treatment within 4-8 weeks after symptoms start.
There are vaccines against both hepatitis A and B.
These vaccines have been shown to be very effective at preventing infection.
Most men who acquire human papillomaviruses (HPV) won’t develop symptoms, and the infection frequently resolves on its own.
However, if HPV does cause symptoms, they come in the form of warts, lumps, or sores on the penis, scrotum, anus, mouth, or throat.
The genital warts are bumps or clusters of bumps that can vary in size and shape.
They can be flesh-colored or red, large or small, and raised or flat.
Some may be clumped like a cauliflower.
In men, genital warts form around the penis or the anus.
Other strains of HPV don’t cause warts, but cause cellular changes that increase the risk of developing genital and/or oral cancers.
Some health care providers offer anal Pap smears, similar to the cervical Pap smear done in women, for men who could be at increased risk for anal cancer.
This includes men who are immunocompromised due to HIV/AIDS and men who receive anal sex.
In addition, health care providers can diagnose HPV in men by examining genital, anal, and oral warts, if present.
The majority of HPV infections clear on their own.
For those who develop warts requiring treatment, there are many options including:
- Cryotherapy: This uses liquid nitrogen to freeze warts off.
- Electrocautery: This uses electrical current to burn warts off.
- Laser therapy: Light is used to vaporize warts.
- Medicated cream: The cream is applied directly to warts.
HPV-related cancers are also highly treatable as long as they are detected early.
Most men do not experience HIV symptoms for a long time after they’re infected.
It can take 10 years or more for HIV to show any symptoms—or much, much longer than that for people who take HIV medicines.
In the first 2-4 weeks after being infected with HIV, you may experience:
These flu-like symptoms are your body’s first reaction to the HIV infection.
Over time, the damage HIV does to the cells in your immune system can lead to AIDS.
A test must be performed to diagnose HIV.
There are several types of tests including a cheek swab or a blood test.
If you get tested shortly after exposure, a time known as the “window period,” you may still test negative which is why it’s important to get tested regularly—especially if you think you’ve been exposed to HIV.
There is no effective cure for HIV, but with proper medical care, you can control the disease.
HIV is treated with a combination of drugs called antiretroviral therapy (ART). If you’re diagnosed with HIV, you should start your ART right away and take the medication as directed by your doctor to keep your CD4 cell count up and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Trichomoniasis rarely causes symptoms in men, but when it does, they can include:
- Genital discharge
- Burning in the urethra with urination or after ejaculation
- Itching or irritation inside the penis
For men, a doctor may be able to diagnose trichomoniasis by examining the penis and using a swab to take a sample from your urethra.
They may also take a urine sample to identify the parasite under a microscope.
In some cases, your doctor might recommend a lower dose of metronidazole.
Both you and your partner (or partners) will need treatment.
Complications of Untreated STDs
In some cases, untreated STDs will go away on their own, but in others, they can lead to more serious conditions that can even be fatal.
These complications can include, but are not limited to the following:
- Gonorrhea: Infertility
- Chlamydia: Infertility
- Syphilis: Blindness, loss of motor skills, dementia, and damage to the heart, brain, eyes, kidneys, and bones
- Genital herpes: Bladder problems, meningitis
- Hepatitis A & B: Cirrhosis, liver cancer
- HPV: Cervical cancer, anal cancer, penile cancer, throat cancer
- HIV: Reduced life expectancy, opportunistic infections
- Trichomoniasis: Increased risk of HIV
Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of contracting an STD.
Here are some ways you can protect yourself:
- Use a condom correctly every time you have sex
- Have a small number of partners
- Get vaccinated
- Keep an open dialogue with your partner
- Get tested regularly
When to See a Doctor
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, especially in your genital area, or if you think you may have been exposed to an STD, make an appointment with your doctor or health care provider right away.
Be honest with your doctor about your sexual activity and tell them you want to be tested.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Protect Yourself from Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. (2021).
The Lowdown on How to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases. (2021).
HPV (Human Papillomavirus). (2021).
Trichomoniasis – CDC Fact Sheet. (2021).