November 27, 2019
The Truth about STDs in Men
Guys are overall less likely to contract an STD… and to seek treatment for it.
I have some bad news. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are rising again in the United States. According to the annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), syphilis and gonorrhea reached the highest number of reported cases to the CDC since 1991. Chlamydia cases were the highest ever reported to the CDC at 1.7 million people infected. And while it is generally true that men are overall less susceptible to contracting an STD than women, it is also true that men are less likely to seek treatment for an STD early on – which can have severe and lasting health consequences.
As mentioned, a woman is more likely to contract an STD from a man than the other way around. This is primarily due to the anatomical structures of the vagina. The vagina’s mucous membranes make it more susceptible to infection than the penis, which has tougher outer skin and a smaller entry point. However, the anatomical structures of the anus are the same in males and females, where again, the mucous membranes inside the anal cavity put it at an increased risk of contracting a disease. This is an essential distinction for men who engage in anal intercourse with other men. The chances of contracting an STD are higher in this population.
While women may be more likely to contract an STD from a man, they are also more likely to visit the doctor when symptoms from that STD arise. This is probably no surprise. Under most circumstances, men are less likely than women to see a health care provider, especially in situations where the genitals or reproductive health are involved. I know this fact is the brunt of many jokes about guys, but it shouldn’t be. Leaving an STD untreated can result in a multitude of lasting and tragic health consequences. For men, these complications can include future infertility as well as a higher risk of developing anal cancer, depending on the type of STD contracted. As a urologist, it is heartbreaking to treat patients later in life for a catastrophic illness that might have otherwise been prevented or easily treated in their younger years.
Though abstinence is the only 100% fool-proof method for preventing the spread of STDs, it isn’t a realistic option. Men should know that they have a responsibility to themselves and to their sexual partners to maintain their sexual health. If you aren’t in a long-term, monogamous relationship with an equally-committed partner, it is essential to request STD screening at every physical, annually. If you aren’t getting an annual physical, make it a priority. However, if you are experiencing signs or symptoms of an STD – pain while ejaculating or urinating, foul-smelling discharge from the penis, or sores or bumps on or around the genitals, these warrant a trip to your health care provider sooner than your annual visit. Don’t wait. Though some cannot, many STDs can be easily treated with antibiotics.
Of course, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ as the saying goes, so it is true in the case of STDs. When engaging in sex with a partner, always wear a condom. Do not engage in sex with a partner who has visible bumps, sores, or lesions on their genitals – even if you plan to wear a condom. Condoms may protect the skin surrounding the penis, but the parts of the genitals that are exposed can still be susceptible to disease infection.
It’s going to take a considerable effort to reverse the scary rise in STDs in our country. But gentlemen, you can help. Take responsibility for your sexual health. Engage responsibly in intercourse, get tested for STDs, and help prevent their spread by using condoms always. I know these aren’t fun articles to read, but they’re vital, and there is much you can, and must, do to aid in the reversal of this epidemic.