Unfortunately, when you’re sexually active at all, you’re going to have to deal with STDs. No, we don’t mean you’re destined to get one, but you do have to “deal” with their existence. You have to learn the symptoms, know how to protect yourself, and have conversations with your partners about them. It seems like a total pain, but if you are aware of the lesser-known STD symptoms and how to get tested for them, you can avoid actual pain in some cases. Because that’s the thing: Many STDs don’t have noticeable symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people that have herpes don’t even know they have it.
The first thing to remember about STDs is not to freak out.
STDs are serious, but until you’ve walked into a clinic and gotten tested, you do not know that you have one. So, if you’ve had a scare — like a partner disclosing to you too late, or not being strict about using a condom — the first step is to call a doctor or clinic, and make an appointment to get a test.
Many of the lesser-known symptoms of certain STDs can also be signs of something else, like endometriosis or even a urinary tract infection, so don’t go jumping to conclusions. But be vigilant when it comes to protecting yourself and taking care of your body — it’s the only one you have! Here are some things to look out for that could be an STD symptom.
1. A really strong vaginal odor.
Our vaginas are beautiful and complex, and this includes the way they smell. It’s totally normal if your vagina smells different throughout your menstrual cycle — there’s supposed to be a smell! But if you’re noticing your own vaginal odor is particularly strong, something could be up. It’s not the end of the world, it could be something as common as bacterial vaginosis, which occurs when the bacteria in one’s vagina isn’t balanced. An STD test and a visit to an OB-GYN will soothe your fears.
2. If you feel crazy fatigued all the time.
Being fatigued is way different than being just tired. Fatigue is more consistent and makes moving around or just *being* feel impossible, like when you have a really high fever. If you feel fatigued, there are tons of things it could be, so get to a doctor and have them look at all of your symptoms together along with getting an STD test. Fatigue can occur when your immune system’s being attacked, which can happen when you’re dealing with HPV, HIV, or really, most STDs.
3. If you notice a persistent, pimply rash.
Rashes are never great, in general. But some lesser thought of STDs, like scabies (which can also be passed through non-sexual skin contact) show up in the form of an itchy, pimply rash. It doesn’t even have to be around your genitals — scabies can show up around your nipples, wrists, or other parts of your body. Go get an STD test, and then go to the dermatologist.
4. If you’re experiencing any pain during sex.
You shouldn’t be experiencing any pain during sex, but if it hurts (and not in a sort of kinda good way), you should go get checked out. Pain during sex is a symptom of many STDs for women, or it could be fibroids or something else. See your gyno.
5. If you’re bleeding between periods.
Bleeding in between periods is something you definitely want to talk to your doctor about, no matter what. But when you do that, they should propose a gonorrhea test or full STD work up since it’s one of the symptoms women might notice first and not pick up. The trick is to catch it early, since most types can be cured with treatment, according to the CDC, but it can get dangerous as it progresses.
6. If you’re peeing (or just feel the urge to) way more than usual.
An urge to urinate frequently is a symptom of many STDs, from herpes to chlamydia. So when you tell your doctor this is happening, make sure they’re listening and giving you a chance to opt in for some bloodwork.