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. When it comes to long-term health effects, these diseases are particularly concerning:

  • HIV and AIDS.

    Women make up a quarter of people living with AIDS in the United States. Women of color are disproportionately affected.

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV).

    It’s the most common STD in the United States. Most sexually active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives. Certain types of HPV can cause cervical cancer.

What you can do to help prevent or treat STDs

  • Know and limit your partners.

    Your partner’s sexual history is as important as your own.

  • Learn to use latex condoms correctly.

    Use a condom every time you have sex. If using lubricant, make sure it's water-based. Keep in mind that condoms lower — yet don’t eliminate — the risk.

  • Get immunized.

    Vaccines are available that prevent certain types of HPV.

  • 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 – 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, starting at 21 years old. Pap tests may detect changes to the cervix caused by HPV.

  • STD screenings.

    If you're sexually active or develop symptoms, ask your doctor to test for STDs.

  • HIV tests.

    Every woman should be tested for HIV at least once. If you practice risky sexual behavior or have multiple sex partners, you may need to get tested more often.

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