Visiting your GP or a sexual health clinic for an STI test can be embarrassing, but if you develop unusual symptoms it’s important to get checked as soon as possible.
Many different kinds of sexual activity can spread infection, and certain STIs can remain symptomless for a long period; this means that it’s possible to spread and contract STIs without having any idea that you’re at risk.
To stay safe, always practise safe sex and familiarise yourself with the symptoms below. The sooner you can spot a problem and get diagnosed, the sooner you’ll have the all clear.
STI Symptoms in Men & Women
Certain STI symptoms affect men and women in the same way. These symptoms include:
- Pain or a burning sensation while urinating
- Itching or tingling sensation around the genitals
- Blisters, sores or lumps around the genitals or anus
- Black powder or white dots in your underwear
Pain while urinating can indicate chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhoea, trichomonas and mycoplasma .
Itching or tingling around the genitals can indicate genital warts, genital herpes, trichomonas, pubic lice and scabies.
Blisters, sore or lumps around the genitals or anus can indicate genital warts, genital herpes and syphilis.
Black powder or white dots in your underwear can indicate pubic lice.
STI Symptoms in Men
In men, the main STI symptoms to watch out for are:
- Discharge from the penis
- Pain or tenderness in the testicles
- Inflamed foreskin
Discharge from the penis that is white, yellow, green, cloudy or watery can indicate chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomonas and mycoplasma.
Pain or tenderness in the testicles can indicate chlamydia and gonorrhoea.
An inflamed foreskin can indicate trichomonas.
STI Symptoms in Women
In women, the main STI symptoms to watch out for are:
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Irregular bleeding i.e. between periods or after sex
- Heavy periods
- Pain during sex
- Pain in the pelvic region
Unusual vaginal discharge that is yellow, green, watery, frothy or has a strong, unpleasant smell can indicate chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomonas, mycoplasma or bacterial vaginosis (gardnerella).
Irregular bleeding, heavy periods and pain during sex or in the pelvic region can indicate chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomonas and mycoplasma.
For more information on the STIs listed above, consult this guide from the NHS.
Unusual STI Symptoms
In 2016, there were almost 6,000 diagnoses of syphilis in England, marking a 12% increase from the previous year . This is significant because syphilis is one of the less easily recognised STIs.
The symptoms of syphilis are unusual and distinctive. In the early stages of the infection people often experience the following:
- A small painless sore, which usually appears on the vagina, penis or anus (but sometimes around the mouth or on the fingers or buttocks)
- Swollen glands in the neck or armpits
This stage of the infection can last up to eight weeks; if it progresses it can cause further symptoms:
- A blotchy red rash, often appearing on the hands or feet
- Skin growths on the vulva or anus
- Flu-like symptoms
- White patches in the mouth
- Swollen glands
- Patchy hair loss
The good news is that, because syphilis is bacterial, it can be treated with antibiotics. If you have had syphilis for less than two years, the treatment is slightly easier , so if you notice any symptoms you should get checked as soon as possible.
Syphilis aside, some STI symptoms can be unusual because of where they occur, not what they look like.
Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are two STIs that can cause infection in the rectum, eyes or throat, usually as a result of anal or oral sex . If you have had sex with someone who may be infected, look out for:
- Pain or discharge from the rectum (usually after anal sex)
- Pain or redness in the eye (if vaginal or seminal fluid has come into contact with your eye)
- Pain in the throat (usually after oral sex)
Perhaps the most unusual “symptom” of all is…no symptoms! Many STIs can remain symptomless for a long time, so if you’ve had unprotected sex, or simply haven’t been checked in a while, it’s a good idea to get a full screen.