Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
STIs are infections that are passed from person to person through sexual activity, including vaginal, anal, or oral sex. They are sometimes called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Many people with an STI have no signs or symptoms. You can feel healthy and not know that you have an STI.
If symptoms are present, they may include:
- Discharge from the penis
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Burning during urination
- Intense itching
- Sores on or around the vagina, penis, or anus
- Stomach cramps unrelated to menstrual cycle
The only way to know if you have an STI is to get tested.
Sexual Health Clinics
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Sexual Health Clinics provide low- and no-cost confidential services for STIs, including HIV. Services include testing, treatment, and prevention. Anyone 12 years and older who wants testing for HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, or syphilis can receive these services at our clinics, even if they have no symptoms.
Because many people with an STI have no signs or symptoms, you shouldn’t wait until you feel sick to get tested for STIs. A urine test may not be enough — you might need throat and anal tests. If you use it, check it!
- If you are a man or transgender person who has sex with men, you should get tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV every three to six months.
- If you are a sexually active woman under 25 years old, you should get tested at least once a year for chlamydia and gonorrhea.
- If you are a sexually active woman 25 years or older, and you have risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners, you should get tested at least once a year for chlamydia and gonorrhea.
- If you are a pregnant woman, you should get tested for syphilis, HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and Hepatitis B early in your pregnancy with repeat testing as needed.
- If you have condomless sex with multiple partners, you should get tested for HIV at least once a year.
- If you are HIV-positive, you should get tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis at least once a year.
- If you have an HIV-positive sex partner, you should get tested for HIV every three to six months.
- If you share injection drug equipment, you should get tested for HIV at least once a year.
Not having sex is the only sure way to avoid getting an STI. For many people, this is not a realistic option. There are other ways to prevent STIs:
- Use condoms as often as possible. Condoms are highly effective at preventing many STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV. Condoms can prevent STIs during vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
- Consider PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to prevent HIV. PrEP is a daily pill that greatly reduces the risk of HIV infection. Talk to your regular doctor or nurse, or find one of the many clinics with experience providing PrEP in NYC.
- Take emergency PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) if you are exposed to HIV. PEP can stop HIV infection if started within 36 hours but not beyond 72 hours of exposure to HIV. Go to an emergency room, clinic or NYC Sexual Health Clinic and ask for for emergency PEP to prevent HIV, or call the NYC PEP Hotline at (844) 3-PEPNYC (844-373-7692). The Hotline is available 24/7 and can help you get started on PEP right away.
- Get vaccinated. Some STIs can be prevented with a vaccine, including HPV (Human Papillomavirus, a virus that causes cancer and genital warts), Hepatitis A, and Hepatitis B (viruses that cause liver cancer).
- Get tested regularly. Sex is safer and more enjoyable when you and your partner(s) know that you do not have an STI.
Many STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis can be cured.
STIs that are caused by viruses, including HPV, genital herpes, and HIV cannot be cured. There are medications you can take to manage symptoms and complications of these STIs.
Untreated STIs can have lasting effects on the body. Some can cause damage to your vision, hearing, brain, and cardiovascular system. They can make you more likely to get or spread HIV. Many STIs can cause infertility (inability to get pregnant). Some infections can also be passed from a pregnant mother to her baby, leading to birth defects or stillbirth.
See below for additional information on complications of specific STIs.
More on STIs