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Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

What are STIs?

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are infections that you get from having sex (oral, vaginal, anal). STIs affect young people more than the general population: young people under the age of 25 account for HALF of the 20 million new cases of STIs in the US every year. STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis, HIV, HPV, hepatitis B, trichomoniasis, and mycoplasma genitalium. STIs can have both immediate and long-term effects, and treatment is different for different STIs.  Learn more about specific STIs below.

All STIs affect EVERYONE - people of all genders and sexual orientations! STIs can be prevented by using condoms during all sexual activity, making sure you and your partner both test for STIs before you start having any kind of sex (oral, anal, vaginal) with any new partners, and limiting the number of partners you have. While many STIs do not show symptoms, they do real and lasting damage to your fertility and wellbeing!

How do I know if I have an STI? 

You might not see symptoms. Read below about potential symptoms of each STI. You could have an STI and NEVER have symptoms, so just get tested! It’s easy and you’ll know for peace of mind.  


You AND your sexual partner need to get tested and treatment if you do test positive. If you're the only one who gets treatment, your partner will keep infecting you over and over again

Did you know?

Often, STIs do not show any symptoms! That is why it is better to just get tested, and you can do so for free through Violet. 


Common symptoms of an STI include:

  • pain or burning while peeing

  • discharge from your vagina or penis that looks or smells different than usual

  • sores in or around your vagina or penis

  • pelvic pain (pain between your belly button and vagina - like period cramps)

Some Key Terms
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: infections in the female reproductive parts (uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries)

  • Preterm birth: having your baby too early - "preemie baby" 

  • Infertility: can't get pregnant

  • Discharge: any liquid or mucus that comes from your vagina and penis

  • Genital: refers to your vagina or penis, and the areas around them

About the STIs


How can I avoid getting it? Using condoms during all sexual activity and dental dams during mouth-to-vagina or mouth-to-anus sex. 

Where can I be infected? Rectum (anus), vagina, mouth/throat.

Will I see symptoms? Most people don't feel any differently and don't notice anything different with their body (especially people with uteruses!)

Potential symptomsDischarge that is yellow or green, burning when you pee.


How can I avoid getting it? Using condoms during all sexual activity and dental dams during mouth-to-vagina or mouth-to-anus sex.

Where can I be infected? Rectum, vagina, mouth/throat.

Will I see symptoms? In males, symptoms can show up anywhere from 1 to 10 days after infection. In some cases, symptoms take even longer to appear. For females, most do not experience symptoms. 

Potential symptoms? Abnormal genital discharge, pain or difficulty with peeing. 

Genital herpes

How can I avoid getting it? Using condoms during all sexual activity. During an outbreak (when you have symptoms), avoid having sex, because condoms may not fully prevent transmission. You can also take a prescription medication to help avoid an outbreak. 

Where can I be infected? Rectum, vagina, vulva, skin around the genitals, mouth/throat. 

Will I see symptoms? Many people show few or no symptoms. If you develop sores, you may already be contagious.

Potential symptoms? Painful blisters or sores in the genital area and/or in the mouth; tingling or burning in the legs, buttocks, or genital area before the blisters show up. 


How can I avoid getting it? Using condoms during all sexual activity and dental dams during mouth-to-vagina or mouth-to-anus sex.

Where can I be infected? Vagina, penis, anus, rectum (butt), mouth, or lips. 

Will I see symptoms? There are many different symptoms you may experience, anywhere from 10-90 days after exposure and lasting anywhere from 3-6 months.

Potential symptoms? Pain on the penis, vagina, skin around the genital area, in the mouth, or on the lips.



How can I avoid getting it? Condom use during all sexual activity.

Where can I be infected? Rectum, vagina.

Will I see symptoms? Trich is the most common STI, and over 70% of infected people do not see symptoms.

Potential symptoms? Itching, burning, irritation, swelling, redness or soreness of the genital area, discomfort when you pee or have sex, burning after ejaculation for men, discharge from penis or vagina (discharge could become very thin or increase in volume; may change color or have an unusual fishy smell).


Human Immunodeficiency Virus

How can I avoid getting it? Condom use during all sexual activity and dental dams during mouth-to-vagina or mouth-to-anus sex. HIV is also spread via blood, so use clean needles (do not share) if injecting drugs or other substances. PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is also an option and is highly effective for preventing HIV - learn more here.

Where can it be carried? Bodily fluids (semen, vaginal fluids) and blood. 

Will I see symptoms? Usually, no symptoms show until a long time after infection. 

Potential symptoms? Approximately 2-4 weeks after infection, you may have flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, etc.).

Hepatitis B

How can I avoid getting it? Condom use during all sexual activity and dental dams during mouth-to-vagina or mouth-to-anus sex. There is also a Hepatitis B vaccine - you receive the first dose as a baby, and should receive a booster during your teen years. Hep B is also spread via blood, so use clean needles (do not share) if injecting drugs or other things.

Where can I be infected? Rectum, vagina, mouth.

Will I see symptoms? Symptoms will appear anywhere from 2-5 months. 

Potential symptoms? Fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, stomachaches, dark urine, grey poop, and yellow eyes/skin.


Human Papillomavirus

How can I avoid getting it? Condom use during all sexual activity, and getting the HPV vaccine.

Where can I be infected? Vagina, cervix, genital area, anus, rectum (butt), mouth, throat. 

Will I see symptoms? Many types of HPV cause no symptoms, but some types can. 

Potential symptoms? Genital warts inside or on the outside areas of the genitals. 

Mycoplasma Genitalium


How can I avoid getting it? Condom use during all sexual activity.

Where can I be infected? Rectum, vagina.

Will I see symptoms? Many people do not have any symptoms. 

Potential symptoms? Discharge from the penis (watery discharge) or vagina; discomfort, burning, stinging, or pain when you pee. For women, pain and/or bleeding during/after sex; bleeding between periods, and pain in your pelvic area below your belly button.


Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

Many of the STIs mentioned above can cause PID. PID can develop if an STI spreads from your genital area to your uterus or "womb" (where babies grow), ovaries (the organs that hold your eggs), or fallopian tubes (the tubes your eggs travel through to get to your uterus). 


Common symptoms:

  • pelvic pain (pain below your belly button, similar to period cramps)

  • fever

  • vaginal discharge

PID can cause problems with fertility, tubal pregnancy, chronic pelvic pain, and need for pelvic surgeries. This is why STI testing and getting treatment is very important.

More about HIV

Human Immodeficiency Virus

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How is it spread?

HIV is an important STI because it can be transmitted through both sexual fluids (semen, vaginal fluids) and blood. This means that it can be transmitted through any sexual activity in which you come in contact with sexual fluids - not just penetrative sex. If you have even a small cut on your hand, and you touch a sexual fluid, you can contract HIV. HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva, sweat, or tears. You cannot get HIV from touching, hugging, eating/drinking with, or sharing toilet seats with someone who has HIV. Consistent and proper condom use can help act as a barrier from HIV while engaging in sexual activity, but before you have sex (oral, vaginal, or anal) with a new partner, you should both test for HIV. 

Risk Factors and PrEP

There are a number of factors that might make someone more likely to contract HIV. If you meet some of these higher-risk factors, you may qualify for PrEP. PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, and is an oral pill that is taken to help protect you in the case of a future exposure to HIV. If you are interested in learning more about PrEP, talk to a Violet provider to determine if PrEP is right for you!

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U=U Campaign

Undetectable equals un-transmittable! For people living with HIV who take their antiviral medications properly, they can get their HIV viral load below a certain level, called "undetectable." Studies have shown that this level means that while you are still living with HIV, the amount of virus in your blood is low enough that you will not transmit HIV through blood or sexual contact. This campaign aims to reduce the stigma of living with HIV, and encourage those living with HIV to follow their medication routines so that they are able to get their viral load to an undetectable level! Keeping an undetectable viral load also helps keep the person living with HIV healthy. If you are living with HIV, talk to a Violet provider to be connected to social support groups. 

HIV Testing

Note: It is important to get tested and treated because HIV can progress to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) if left untreated. A person can have HIV without developing AIDS, but it is not possible to have AIDS without first having HIV.

HIV vid
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HIV is also unique because it can sometimes take up to 3 months after exposure to HIV for a test to detect that you have HIV. There are different types of tests - some that look for the virus itself, and some that look for antibodies (cells your body makes to fight the virus). You can order an oral swab test (you just swab around your mouth and gums) through the Violet Kit store. If this test is positive, make sure you talk to a doctor to get follow-up testing and medication. You should also notify anyone who has been in contact with your blood or sexual fluids. You can use this anonymous platform, Tell Your Partner.

If you are concerned about being exposed to HIV, a blood test is the most reliable and best method to detect HIV earlier than the oral swab test - talk to a doctor to get this test. You can also go to your local health department or Planned Parenthood to get a blood test.


More about HPV

Human Papillomavirus

Pap Smears

A Papanicolaou (Pap) smear screens for cervical cancer.


A Pap smear can detect small changes in the cells on your cervix that could turn into cancer. A Pap smear is recommended once every 3 years when you turn 21.

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Most of the time, HPV goes away by itself within two years and does not cause health problems. However, persistent infection with high-risk types of HPV can cause cancer in different parts of the body, such as cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat. 


*Note that some images of female reproductive anatomy may be considered "graphic." Please take your surroundings into consideration.


HPV vaccination is essential in preventing HPV infections and precancers. The HPV vaccine was approved by the FDA in 2006. 

You can get your HPV vaccine NOW from any doctor! The vaccine is free for everyone under the age of 26. The next time you see your doctor, ask them to start the vaccine. The vaccine protects you against the most common high-risk types of HPV that cause cancer.


Meites E, Szilagyi PG, Chesson HW, Unger ER, Romero JR, Markowitz LE. Human Papillomavirus Vaccination for Adults: Updated Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices MMWR. 2019;68(32);698-702.

Jug R, Bean SM. Bethesda system. website.

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