Many sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can cause itching, burning, or pain.
Some people refer to all sexually transmitted health issues as STDs. “Disease” refers to a clear medical problem that causes symptoms — such as itching. For this reason, we use “STD” below.
But it is worth noting that many of these issues, including some we describe, often cause no symptoms. For this reason, there is a growing preference for the broader term “STI” which refers to “sexually transmitted infections.”
In this article, we explore which STDs can cause itchiness, the treatments, such as antibiotics, and when to contact a doctor.
Some of the most common types of STDs that may cause genital itchiness include:
Chlamydia is an infection with Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria, and it is the most frequently reported bacterial infection in the United States.
Chlamydia often affects the cervix. Without treatment, it can cause many long-term health conditions, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, as well as an increased risk of infertility and ectopic pregnancy.
Most people with chlamydia experience no symptoms. For those who do have them, vaginal symptoms of chlamydia may include unusual discharge associated with itchiness, as well as a burning sensation while urinating.
Penile and testicular symptoms may also include unusual discharge and a burning sensation while urinating, as well as pain and swelling in either or both testicles.
To diagnose chlamydia, a doctor takes a swab and sends it to a lab for testing. If the bacteria are present, the doctor typically prescribes a single dose of the antibiotic azithromycin or a longer dosage of the antibiotic doxycycline.
Before and during treatment, hold off on having sex to prevent the bacteria from passing to partners. It is usually safe to have sex 1 week after finishing the treatment.
Gonorrhea is especially common in people aged 15–24. Like chlamydia, gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that often affects the cervix, and without treatment, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease.
More than half of all females with gonorrhea may have no symptoms — while about 90% of males with the infection experience symptoms.
Most people do not experience itchiness as a result of gonorrhea unless the infection reaches their rectum.
Signs of a rectal infection include:
- itchiness around the anus
- painful bowel movements
To diagnose gonorrhea, a doctor either sends a swab or a urine sample to a lab for testing. Treatment involves an injected dose of ceftriaxone and prescription azithromycin.
To prevent the infection from passing to others, wait 1 week after treatment before having sex.
Trichomoniasis is a common STD caused by a microscopic parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis.
Around 3.7 million people in the U.S. have this STD, but only 30% develop symptoms. These usually appear within 5–28 days of contact with the parasite. However, some first experience symptoms much later or have symptoms that come and go.
Penile symptoms may include:
- itchiness or irritation inside the penis
- burning while urinating or ejaculating
- penile discharge
Vaginal symptoms may include:
- itching, burning, redness, or soreness around the genitals
- urinary discomfort
- a change in the thickness, color, and smell of discharge
Once lab tests confirm that the parasite is present, a doctor usually prescribes metronidazole or tinidazole.
It is safe to have sex again 1 week after the end of treatment. Return to the doctor after 3 months to ensure that the infection has not reoccurred.
Genital herpes is an infection with the herpes simplex virus type 1 or 2.
It is common in the U.S., with around 1 in 6 people aged 14–49 having the condition. Most people experience mild symptoms, if any, and some may be unaware that they have herpes.
If a person does experience symptoms, they may refer to this as an “outbreak.” Further outbreaks can follow the first, but these are usually shorter and less severe.
Symptoms of genital herpes can include:
- one or more blisters, which may be itchy, around the genitals or rectum
- blisters that are painful and seep liquid when they break
- a fever, body aches, or swollen glands during the initial outbreak
Doctors can diagnose herpes by looking at the sores, if any are present, and asking questions about the symptoms. Lab tests can confirm the diagnosis, and in some cases, the doctor may ask for a blood test.
Once a doctor has diagnosed herpes, they may prescribe antiviral medication. This cannot cure herpes, but it reduces the chances of the infection passing on to others.
HPV is most likely to pass on through penetrative sex, but it can transmit through other forms of sexual contact.
Symptoms of genital warts include:
- small or large clusters of warts in the anal or genital area, such as the penile shaft, vagina, or labia, which can sometimes bleed
- itchiness, color changes such as redness, and discomfort
A doctor may be able to diagnose the issue with a visual examination. They may also take a sample of one wart, a biopsy, for testing.
There is no cure for HPV. Most warts go away without treatment within 18–24 months.
Among the many treatments are cauterization, freezing, and laser therapy. The aim of these is to remove the warts, which may return.
Anyone who is sexually active should undergo regular testing for STDs. Testing is particularly important for people who:
- believe that they are at risk
- have symptoms
- have a partner with a diagnosed STD
Some STDs can cause long-term health effects if the person does not receive treatment. Most of the time, treatment involves a short course of antibiotics or another medication.
While many STDs cause no symptoms, several common ones can cause vaginal, penile, or anal itchiness. Usually, the treatment involves a relatively short course of medication.
Overall, testing is key for anyone who is sexually active.