Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or infections (STIs) can affect anyone, but the signs and symptoms can be different in males and females.

It is crucial for everyone who is sexually active to be aware of STD and STI symptoms. When a person with an STI receives treatment early, the outlook is usually excellent.

In this article, we look at some of the most common STIs in males. We also explore the symptoms, signs, treatments, and best methods of prevention.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people contract more than 1 million STIs every day, globally.

In some cases, an STI causes no noticeable symptoms, so it is possible to have one without knowing it. It may also be easy to mistake STI symptoms for those of another issue.

Below, learn about common STIs and how they affect males.

Chlamydia is a bacterial STI that passes from person to person through anal, oral, or vaginal sex without a condom. In a male, chlamydia can develop in the urethra, rectum, or throat.

Some call chlamydia a “silent” infection because people are often unaware that they have it. The majority of these infections in males cause no symptoms.

If symptoms do occur in males, they arise several weeks after the infection develops.

Common symptoms of chlamydia in the urethra include:

  • discharge from the penis
  • pain when urinating
  • burning or itching around the opening of the penis
  • pain and swelling in one or both testicles

Chlamydia in the rectum is less common and usually causes no symptoms, but it can cause:

  • rectal pain
  • bleeding
  • discharge

Rarely, chlamydia develops in the epididymis, the tube that carries sperm from the testicles. This can cause:

  • a fever
  • pain
  • in rare cases, fertility issues

Diagnosis

To test for this issue, a healthcare provider usually asks for a urine sample, but they may use a cotton swab to get a sample from the urethra instead.

Treatment

Treating chlamydia with oral antibiotics is relatively straightforward. It may involve taking a single dose or a 7-day course of an antibiotic. Repeat infections are common, however, so it is a good idea to have another test after completing the treatment.

Herpes is an infection with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of the virus, and they tend to affect different parts of the body

HSV–1, also called oral herpes, causes cold sores in and around the mouth.
HSV–2 almost always passes on through sex without a condom and causes genital herpes.

Many people with herpes have no symptoms, and others may have difficulty identifying their symptoms. Mild herpes blisters can resemble insect bites, ingrown hairs, or razor burn.

If they do arise, the symptoms typically appear 2–12 days after the infection develops.

Common symptoms of herpes in males include:

  • painful blisters or open sores in or around the mouth
  • blisters on the genitals, rectum, buttocks, or thighs
  • tingling, itching, or burning sensations around the blisters
  • sore muscles in the lower back, buttocks, and upper legs
  • a fever
  • a loss of appetite

Diagnosis

To diagnose herpes, a doctor can use a blood test or a polymerase chain reaction test. The latter involves checking for signs of the infection in the person’s DNA, and it can be especially useful when the person has no visible symptoms.

If a person has visible sores on or around their genitals, a doctor can test for herpes using a cell culture. This involves collecting a sample of the fluid inside one of the sores.

Treatment

There is no cure for herpes, and outbreaks of symptoms can reoccur over time. Treatments focus on managing the symptoms and extending the time between outbreaks.

Gonorrhea is an infection with Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria. It can develop in the urethra, rectum, or throat, and the bacteria can transmit through vaginal, anal, or oral sex without a condom.

Most males with gonorrhea have no symptoms. When gonorrhea in the urethra does cause symptoms, they usually appear 1–14 days after the infection has developed.

Symptoms of gonorrhea in males include:

  • painful urination
  • white, yellow, or gray discharge from the urethra
  • pain in the testicles
  • itching and soreness in the anus
  • painful bowel movements
  • bloody discharge from the anus

Diagnosis

First, the doctor asks the person about their symptoms and medical history. Next, they order a test, which might involve a urine sample or a swab of the penis, urethra, anus, or throat.

Home testing kits are also available. They involve taking a sample and sending it to a lab, which returns the results to the person directly. If the result is positive, the person needs to see a doctor for treatment.

It is worth noting, however, that the doctor may wish to do another test to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment

Healthcare providers can treat gonorrhea with antibiotics. These can stop the infection from progressing, but they cannot reverse any damage already done.

For this reason, anyone with symptoms of the infection or likely exposure to it should see a healthcare provider for testing right away.

The medical community is becoming increasingly concerned about the rise of antibiotic resistant gonorrhea. This resistance makes successful treatment much more difficult, if not impossible.

Bacteria are also responsible for syphilis, which transmits through vaginal, anal, or oral sex without a condom.

Men who have sex with men (MSM) have a higher risk of contracting syphilis. Almost 70 percent of primary and secondary syphilis diagnoses in 2017 were in MSM.

Syphilis is also known as “The Great Pretender” because its symptoms can resemble those of other diseases. Symptoms usually appear 10–90 days after infection, with 21 days being the average.

The symptoms of syphilis progress in stages known as primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. Each stage has its own unique set of symptoms that can last for weeks, months, or even years.

The symptoms of primary syphilis include:

  • a small, firm sore where the bacteria initially entered the body, usually on the penis, anus, mouth, or lips
  • sores can also appear on the fingers or buttocks
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck, groin, or armpits

Secondary syphilis can cause the following signs and symptoms:

  • skin rashes on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
  • large gray or white lesions in the mouth, anus, armpit, or groin
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • a sore throat
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • hair loss
  • muscle aches

The latent, or “hidden,” stage of syphilis, during which there are no visible symptoms, can last for several years.

Tertiary syphilis is very rare. It can cause severe health complications that affect multiple organ systems. The symptoms of tertiary syphilis include:

Diagnosis

Healthcare providers are likely to run blood tests or examine some of the fluid from a sore to check for syphilis.

Treatment

A healthcare provider may recommend an antibiotic called benzathine benzylpenicillin to treat primary, secondary, and early latent syphilis. People who are allergic to penicillin will need to use a different antibiotic, such as doxycycline or azithromycin.

Although antibiotics will prevent the infection from progressing, they cannot repair any permanent damage resulting from the infection.

People also use the term “HPV” to refer to the infections that these viruses cause.

HPV is a common STI that typically affects people in their late teens and early 20s. Males with HPV may never develop symptoms, or the symptoms may arise months or even years after the infection develops.

The most common symptoms of HPV in males are warts in the mouth or throat and genital warts — small bumps around the penis or anus.

HPV is unusual among STIs because vaccines can prevent it. These are Gardasil and Cervarix, and they are effective against HPV types 16 and 18, high-risk strains that can lead to certain types of cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that children aged 11–12 years receive the HPV vaccine and that all males up to the age of 45 years get vaccinated if they have not yet done so.

Diagnosis

There is currently no HPV screening or tests for males. A healthcare provider may be able to make a diagnosis based on any genital warts that are present.

Treatment

Most cases of HPV resolve without treatment and cause no complications. However, if the infection persists, and the person does not receive treatment, it can lead to problems, including certain types of cancer.

No HPV treatment has received formal approval, but there are ways to manage any symptoms and complications. For example, topical and oral medications can treat genital warts.

HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune cells. It spreads through some, but not all, bodily fluids, including semen, vaginal and anal fluids, and blood.

Having sexual intercourse without a condom is the most common method of transmission.

Many people with HIV experience flu-like symptoms within 2–6 weeks of developing the infection. Common symptoms of HIV in males are:

  • a fever
  • a sore throat
  • a rash
  • headaches

Other symptoms may include:

  • fatigue
  • joint and muscle pain
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • nausea and vomiting

Diagnosis

Doctors can test a person’s blood for HIV antibodies. They perform the test more than once before confirming a positive result. Home testing kits are also available.

Current HIV tests make it possible to detect HIV in under 2 weeks. People with known risk factors should undergo testing more often.

Treatment

While there is no cure for HIV, treatments can prevent symptoms and transmission. They can also keep the infection from progressing to cause AIDS.

The treatments are called antiretroviral therapy, and they reduce the amount of the virus in the body. When the amount is so low that a test cannot detect it, this eliminates the risk of transmitting HIV.

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver, often due to a viral infection. One of the most common hepatitis viruses is the hepatitis B virus (HBV). It can pass on through blood, semen, and some other bodily fluids.

Healthcare providers classify each HBV infection as either acute, meaning that it is temporary and will last for a few weeks, or chronic, in which case it is a severe, lifelong condition.

Most people with hepatitis B have no symptoms. People with symptoms may easily mistake them for those of cold or flu, and they tend to appear about 90 days after the HBV infection develops.

Hepatitis B signs and symptoms include:

  • a fever
  • fatigue
  • a loss of appetite
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • muscle and joint pain
  • jaundice, which causes dark urine and yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes

A vaccine can prevent hepatitis B, and the WHO recommend that all infants receive at least three doses of this vaccine.

Diagnosis

Healthcare providers look for signs of liver damage, such as jaundice. Some tests that can help diagnose hepatitis B include:

Treatment

There is currently no treatment for acute hepatitis B. Medications can treat chronic hepatitis B, and research in this area is ongoing.

People with chronic hepatitis B need regular checkups for signs of liver disease.

STIs often cause no symptoms in males, which makes it hard for health authorities to estimate the real number of cases.

When they receive treatment, people with STIs have a good outlook. If a person does not receive treatment, these infections can become chronic conditions, and some can cause dangerous complications.

People can prevent STIs by using barrier protection, such as condoms or dental dams, during sex. Also, vaccines can prevent HPV and hepatitis B.

Anyone who is sexually active should undergo regular testing for STIs. This will ensure quick detection and treatment and help prevent the infections from passing on.