Men have good reason to be concerned about sexually transmitted infections and diseases—whether a viral infection such as herpes, a bacterial infection like syphilis, or HIV/AIDS—as they have been on the increase in recent years. The time to worry about STDs is not at the moment of intercourse. You need a game plan long before you get into bed with someone.

To stay safe in today’s sexual environment, men must communicate with their partners about their sexual histories, know the basics about the most commonly transmitted diseases, and always take precautions to protect themselves.

Communicate about Sexual Histories

Know your potential sex partner as well as possible before having sex and have the patience and courage to ask probing questions about that partner’s past sexual practices and previous partners. You must make a sound judgment about the truthfulness of your potential partner’s answers.

With regard to HIV/AIDS transmission, when you are sexually intimate with any given partner, you are potentially linked to every previous sexual encounter in which your partner has ever indulged. Next time you consider having a one-night stand with a stranger or sleeping with a new partner on a whim, think of the risk. Delaying gratification could end up saving your life.

On the other hand, if you are the carrier of any kind of sexually transmitted disease, your absolute duty is to be open and honest with potential partners. If you take sound medical precautions, engage only in safe sexual practices, and exercise sensible sexual judgment, you can be free of fear when you become intimate.

Know the Basics

While significant progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain STDs, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates that 20 million new infections occur each year in the United States alone. Here are some basic facts you should know about the most commonly transmitted STDs:

  • Chlamydia: This bacterial infection remains the most commonly reported infectious disease in the United States. In men, it can cause pain and swelling of the testicles, as well as nonspecific urethritis, an inflammation of the male urethra. Even without symptoms, the infection can still be transmitted. Symptoms are likely to include a watery discharge and burning when you urinate. A simple urine test can detect chlamydia, and the organism can then be effectively treated with antibiotics.
  • Gonorrhea: This is the second most reported genital infectious disease in the United States. An infected patient usually has a yellowish and pus-like discharge. While gonorrhea is easily cured, untreated cases can lead to serious health problems. Fortunately, gonorrhea can usually be cured with oral or injected antibiotics. Drug resistance, however, is becoming an increasingly important concern, especially among men who have sex with men, where resistance is eight times higher than among heterosexuals.
  • Syphilis: This genital ulcerative disease usually begins with a simple sore. If diagnosed early and treated, the sores will usually disappear. If missed, the infection can linger without symptoms and develop into secondary syphilis, characterized by painful, highly contagious open sores. Untreated syphilis is rare today. But like many other STDs, syphilis facilitates the spread of HIV.
  • Genital Herpes: At least 45 million people in America are infected by this virus, and approximately 30 percent of adults carry the antibody. Herpes can lie dormant for long periods of time, only to break out in blister-like lesions during periods of stress, exhaustion, or illness. Symptoms might also include fever, headache, a burning sensation while urinating, and discharge. When the blisters appear, the infection is highly contagious. Although herpes is not curable, or even preventable, in almost all instances it is no more than a transient annoyance in healthy men and women.
  • Genital Human Papillomavirus (HPV): This is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. About 79 million people in the country are currently infected, and about 14 million more get infected each year. Most HPV infections do not cause any symptoms and will clear up on their own, but HPV can cause cervical cancer in women and penile cancer in men. The only practical solution is the newly developed HPV vaccine, which is an inactivated (not live) vaccine that protects against four major types of HPV. The HPV vaccine is routinely recommended for females nine through twenty-six years of age and for males thirteen through twenty-one years of age.
  • HIV/AIDS: HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is found in bodily fluids and attacks the cells of the immune system. An HIV infection can develop into AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), leaving the body so vulnerable to bacteria, viruses, and parasites that the outcome is almost invariably death. The CDC recommends that people protect themselves by limiting their number of sexual partners, never sharing needles, and using condoms consistently. Though the development of highly effective treatment regimens is prolonging the life of HIV-positive patients far beyond what we were capable of doing even fifteen years ago, there is still no cure. Extreme caution in both your choice of sexual partners and your sexual menu is your only defense.

Take Precautions to Protect Yourself

When in doubt about a partner’s past sexual history, you should heed the usual advice about using condoms or avoiding intercourse. Condoms may cramp your style (some patients compare it to taking a shower with their socks on), but your life is at stake. You can love sex even with latex. If you play by the new ground rules, you can still exercise your sexual power to your heart’s content. You just have to do it with discernment, caution, and care.

Photo by Courtney Walker, CC BY 2.0