Many men think that if they had an STD, they would know it. The truth is that it’s not always obvious. The signs that usually alert men to an infection—bumps or rashes on the genitals, discharge, discomfort or itching in the penis or testicles, or pain while urinating or ejaculating—can be mild and easily mistaken for other conditions.
Unfortunately, a lack of symptoms doesn’t mean you don’t have an STD. Often, common sexually transmitted diseases can show no symptoms at all. Even if a man shows no symptoms, an STD infection can continue to progress, causing serious harm and long-lasting or irreversible effects if left untreated.
Getting tested is not only quick and easy, it’s the only way to know for sure if you do or do not have an STD.
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STD symptoms in men usually take a few days or weeks to develop but can take up to months or years (if there are symptoms at all).Understanding STDs, their risks, and symptoms helps you pay attention to your body and recognize when something’s wrong. That said, the only way to be sure of your STD status is to get tested regularly, especially after unprotected sex.
Chlamydia is one of the most common STDs in men and women. It’s caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis and can be spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Most men who have a chlamydia infection show no obvious signs, though some develop symptoms within several weeks of infection.
According to the CDC, if a man experiences chlamydia symptoms, they typically are due to one of two complications:1
Gonorrhea is another common bacterial STD that is transmitted during oral, vaginal, or anal sex.
Many men with gonorrhea are asymptomatic (showing no symptoms). When a man does show symptoms, they usually begin two to seven days after infection, though it can take as long as 30 days.2
Gonorrhea symptoms in men include:3
Herpes is a common viral infection that is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Herpes may affect the mouth (oral herpes) or genitals (genital herpes). The virus is spread through skin-to-skin contact with the mouth or genitals of someone who has herpes or contact with infected saliva or genital secretions. It can spread through kissing or during oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Any form of sexual contact with or without protection could result in herpes. While HSV-1 usually affects the mouth and HSV-2 usually affects the genitals, both strains can appear either or both locations.
Many men with herpes don’t show any symptoms at all, so they don’t know they have it. When symptoms do occur, it’s common for people to mistake them for other things like pimples or ingrown hairs. The first time a person shows genital herpes symptoms is called the “initial outbreak,” and it can be severe, with subsequent outbreaks being less intense. Often, an initial outbreak occurs 2-12 days after infection, but some people can go months or even years before having an initial outbreak.4
Signs of herpes in men include:
Herpes sores usually heal within a few weeks. Even when an outbreak goes away, the virus stays in your body for life. This means herpes outbreaks come and go. The virus can flare up weeks, months, or even years later and cause sores again.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, destroying the CD4 cells (also called T cells). It is mainly spread by having anal or vaginal sex or sharing injection drug equipment with someone who has HIV. Over time, HIV weakens the body’s ability to fight off infections and disease.
Men with HIV usually feel healthy for a long time after infection, so they may be unaware they have it. Some men don’t have any symptoms at all during the early stage of HIV. When early HIV symptoms appear, they are usually mild and unspecific, making them easy to overlook, endure, or mistake for something less serious.5
In the first 2-4 weeks after HIV infection, men may experience flu-like symptoms such as:
When men have HIV and aren’t on HIV treatment, the virus damages the body’s immune system and eventually progresses to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). When someone has AIDS, the immune system is too weak to defend against infection, making it more likely to develop severe illnesses from opportunistic infections—diseases that a healthy immune system is usually able to fight off.
AIDS symptoms in men include6:
Syphilis is a bacterial STD that is spread through direct contact with a syphilitic sore, known as a chancre. These chancres can pop up on or around the genitals, in the vagina, around the anus, in the rectum, or in and around the mouth. This means that syphilis may be transmitted during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
In men, syphilis symptoms can be difficult to notice. Often, people don’t even know they have syphilis because symptoms can be mild, hidden in hard-to-see places, or easily confused with other things like pimples and rashes. According to the CDC, symptoms usually begin between 10-90 days after infection. Over time, the infection will go through a few different stages, which have varying symptoms. There may be times when someone with syphilis has no symptoms at all.
Syphilis symptoms in men include 7:
Chancres last 3-6 weeks before healing on their own. Symptoms can come and go, but an untreated infection stays in the body and can damage the nervous system, brain, and other organs. This can lead to serious problems like blindness and paralysis.
Viral hepatitis is an infection that causes liver inflammation and liver damage. It can be either acute (lasting less than 6 months) or chronic (lasting more than 6 months). The most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Hepatitis A is spread by ingesting infected fecal matter and during any sexual activity (including oral-anal contact) or when eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B and C can be spread through contact with infected blood, such as sharing needles, or having sex with an infected person.8
Hepatitis symptoms usually don’t appear until a few weeks or months after infection. Often, viral hepatitis is silent, and some men with viral hepatitis don’t show symptoms or know that they are infected. Symptoms can take decades to appear.
Hepatitis symptoms in men include:
If you are experiencing symptoms of an STD, it’s important to get tested. Untreated STDs can cause serious health complications, and having sex could spread your STD to other partners. Most STDs are easily curable or treatable when detected early.
Even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms, you can’t tell for sure if you have an STD or not. It’s common for STDs to show no symptoms or have symptoms that go unnoticed.
Regular STD testing is important if you have sex, whether you seem healthy or not. Getting tested is the only way to know if you have an STD, and it’s an important part of looking out for your health and being responsible.
Medically Reviewed by J. Frank Martin JR., MD on February 13, 2020Written by Taysha on January 25, 2020