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Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) often have no symptoms – especially in women. You might not know you have an STD until a serious condition is present.

It's important to be aware of all types of STDs, but pay special attention to:

  • HIV and AIDS. Women make up a quarter of people living with AIDS in the United States. That rate is increasing, especially in women of color.
  • Genital human papillomavirus (HPV). The most common STD in the United States, HPV affects over 50% of sexually active men and women. Certain types of HPV can cause cervical cancer.

What you can do to help prevent or treat STDs

The following safe-sex tips can help you prevent STDs.

  • Learn to use latex condoms correctly. Use a condom every time you have sex. If using lubricant, make sure it's water-based.
  • Wash and urinate before and after sex. Don't share towels with your sex partner.
  • Know your partners. Avoid having sex with anyone who trades sex for money or drugs, has genital sores or has multiple partners.
  • Wait. Consider not having sex or waiting to have sex until you're in a committed relationship.

Although some STDs, including HIV, HPV and herpes, cannot be cured, many can if diagnosed early. Treatment can vary by type, but don't try to treat an STD on your own. See your doctor for help.

How to talk to your doctor

Be honest with your doctor about your sexual activity, especially if you've had sex without a condom or with someone you think may be at risk for STDs.

To help ensure early detection of STDs, consider getting regular screenings such as:

  • Pap tests. Get Pap tests every one to three years once you're sexually active or by the time you're 21 years old. Pap tests will detect changes to the cervix caused by HPV.
  • STD screenings. If you're sexually active or develop symptoms, ask your doctor to test for chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital warts and other STDs.
  • HIV tests. Every woman should be tested for HIV at least once. If you practice risky sexual behavior or have had multiple sex partners since your last test, get tested once a year.

See your doctor right away if you have unusual pain, discomfort, blisters, sores or bleeding in your genitals. And until you see your doctor, don't have sex or engage in any type of sexual activity.