Worried about the genital rash or discharge? Is it an STD? and if so which STD when many cause the same symptoms? Below, we compiled a comprehensive list of 22 reasons that includes both sexually transmitted diseases and a smart symptom checker to help you answer these questions. To make it easier for you, we have ranked the STDs from the lowest risk to the highest, with each section explaining the cause, symptoms and severity.
It’s important to remember that only a doctor can diagnose an STD. If you believe you’ve been exposed to an STD, schedule an appointment as soon as possible and avoid all types of sexual contact until you’ve been examined.
Symptoms of STDs In Men - Overview
First, let's begin with an overview before we dive into the details.
Three types of STD symptoms in men - they can be:
- localized to the genitals, such as sores or blisters on the penis
- due to inflammation of the urethra, causing burning after urination and discharge
- Systemic, with symptoms such as having flu like symtpoms such as fatigue, lethargy, nausea, or fever.
Specific examples of STD-like symptoms include:
- rash on the penis
milky white discharge
- green discharge
- yellow discharge
- cottage cheese discharge
white creamy discharge
swollen glands in the groin
- genital sores
What causes these STD symptoms in men?
Most STIs are spread through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Whether men having sex with men or with women, both parties are at risk for an STD if contact takes place without a condom, dental dam, or other types of protection. Even these kinds of protections cannot protect you from all Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) such as HPV, herpes, or public lice, for example.
Low Risk Reasons for STD Symptoms in Men
Low risk: Easily managed with over-the-counter (OTC) medications
Candidiasis is a genital infection caused by the overgrowth of yeast, or Candida. Though it is more common in women, thrush in men can be a problem.
Yeast needs a warm, moist, and dark environment to thrive. Though rare, it’s possible to get a penis yeast infection or anal yeast infection. Even less common is a yeast infection on the face. This can also cause an infection of the foreskin in men who are not circumcised.
Symptoms of a yeast/candidiasis infection include a rash, irritated skin, itching around the head of the penis, a lumpy discharge, or discomfort when urinating. You can try a local anti-fungal treatment to get rid of a penile yeast infection, but go to a doctor to confirm if it's the case. The doctor can also prescribe an oral yeast infection medication that can be taken to get rid of the bacterial infection internally.
Epstein-Barr virus vs chronic fatigue syndrome
Epstein-Barr Virus, more commonly known as EBV or mono, is a viral infection that can cause mononucleosis (mono for short). It can be spread through kissing or sharing a glass or silverware. The virus is also found in semen, so it can be spread through sex.
Symptoms can take several weeks to appear and include extreme fatigue, sleeping for hours and hours on end and still feeling tired, fever, rash, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes (especially in the neck), and sore or weak muscles.
People often confuse Epstein-Barr virus with chronic fatigue syndrome, though doctors believe they are not related. The two differ in duration and frequency of the symptoms. For example, can you get mono more than once? In most people, they only develop Epstein-Barr Virus symptoms once and typically experience mono symptoms months after the initial infection event. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, on the other, leads to fatigue for over six months and relapses are common.
There is no cure for mono but, rather, rest, fluids, and a calm, healthy lifestyle with lots of rest, hydration, and good nutrition, as well as getting some sunlight for restorative vitamin D are recommended while the body recuperates.
Molluscum contagiousum displays itself as papules, or pearl-like bumps, on the skin. It’s a viral infection that’s more common in children, as it is part of the pox virus family, but it can also be spread in adults through sexual contact. Those with a compromised immune system, such as people with HIV or AIDS are more likely to be infected.
The papules that present with molluscum contagiousum are usually painless but can itch as well. They usually have a dimple or depression in the middle and though they start out firm, they typically become soften over time. Treatment is usually not necessary, as the papules disappear within a few months. But in extreme cases, scraping or freezing can be performed to accelerate recovery from the condition.
Usually managed as an outpatient by your doctor with prescription medication
Trichomoniasis in men
Trichomoniasis symptoms in men include urethritis, including burning and itching from the urethra. Discharge with trichomoniasis is common as well. Some men do not experience any trichomoniasis symptoms, making the infection easy to spread.
Trichomoniasis treatment includes antibiotics, like tinidazole or metronidazole. It should be noted that the use of antibiotics can make you more susceptible to other STIs and that it is important to practice safe sex or abstain while receiving treatment.
HSV-1 or oral herpes
HSV-1 is a virus that causes cold sores around the mouth. It’s also known as oral herpes. What does herpes look like? Herpes on the face or mouth will appear red, swollen, and sore. They’re usually located directly on the lip and can break open and scab.
It is possible to have herpes on the tongue along with the throat or even the esophagus, though this is rare. There is a oral herpes medication available that can both treat and help prevent outbreaks. However, there is no cure for HSV-1, and infected individuals can struggle with outbreaks for the rest of their lives.
Note that though HSV-1 mainly affects the mouth area, it can also be transmitted via oral sex to cause genital herpes.
HSV-2 or genital herpes
HSV-2 is very contagious and can be spread through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. You cannot experience a genital herpes transmission through kissing alone. So if the question is “can you get herpes from a toilet seat?” or from kissing, the answer is no.
If you’re wondering how to test for herpes, you’ll need to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Signs of herpes in men include flu-like symptoms, nausea, muscle aches, difficulty urinating, and a tingling or burning sensation where blisters appear. Blisters can appear both in and outside of the penis, along the scrotum, inner thighs, and anus.
The first outbreak is usually the worst, with subsequent outbreaks less severe. How long does a herpes outbreak last? Most last between five and 10 days. There is medication available that can help prevent outbreaks and shorten current outbreaks.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a common STD. There are several types of HPV, and all cause different symptoms and conditions. Only some strains of the virus cause genital warts. In men, genital warts appear as soft, raised bumps, usually on the penis or anus. They are usually described as having a cauliflower-like appearance.
If you’re wondering, “Does HPV go away?” or “Is HPV permanent?”, the answer is that in most cases, the body can clear the infection on its own, and without treatment. But some deal with genital warts for years. There is no recommended HPV test for men at this time, which is part of the reason the STD is so common. There are vaccines available against certain strains of HPV, so speak to your doctor to see if you qualify.
Pubic lice, sometimes known as crabs, are parasites that find a home in the genital area, though they can also be found on the legs, mustache, or beard of a man. Signs include genital itching and visible lice. The lice can spread through sexual contact but also through coming into contact with contaminated clothing or bed linens.
Prescription lotions can be applied to eliminate the lice but retreatment is often needed. Someone with pubic lice should avoid sexual contact until the lice have been cleared and treat all infected clothing and bedding.
Scabies are caused by parasites. While the parasites can be spread through sexual contact, it is more common to contract them during non-sexual skin-to-skin contact.
Scabies causes a pimply rash and itching that usually gets worse at night. The location of the discomfort can be almost anywhere, including the penis, buttocks, waist, shoulder blades, and between the fingers. Symptoms can take up to six weeks to appear after infection. Prescription creams can eliminate scabies. Other precautious should be taken to prevent reinfection, such as treating infected clothing and bedding.
Mycoplasma hominis can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to many other STDs. In men, symptoms include foul-smelling discharge from the penis along with a burning sensation during urination. Your doctor can test your urine for this, if your symptoms are consistent with this infection. Treatment is with antibiotics.
In men with a compromised immune system, joint pain and respiratory problems are also possible symptoms. The infection is curable with antibiotics.
Ureaplasma is a common infection that’s spread through sexual contact. Symptoms aren’t always noticeable, but the signs of ureaplasma in men include burning or pain while urinating, difficulty urinating, and penile discharge. Antibiotics are needed to clear the infection. Though there are few serious symptoms associated with the infection, having ureaplasma does make it easier to contract other STIs. Your doctor can test your urine for this, if your symptoms are consistent with this infection. Treatment is with antibiotics.
Chancroid is an infection that causes sores near the genitals. In men, small red bumps begin to develop on the penis and scrotum. These bumps turn into open sores within a few days. The ulcers usually have a soft center and bleed easily if touched. General swelling in the groin also occurs.
Fluid samples are needed to diagnose chancroid and medication can clear up the infection quickly, though it usually clears on its own. Medication decreases the risks of scaring though and is advised.
The first symptom of granuloma inguinale is a small blemish on the skin. It’s not usually painful but as it continues its cycle, it becomes more prevalent. It can spread, eating away at surrounding tissue and then eroding the skin. Ulcers can spread from the genitals to the thighs or anus. The ulcers can grow deeper and become more painful if not treated.
The infection is diagnosed through the presence of Donovan bodies, or organisms that can be seen during microscopic viewing of human tissue. Antibiotics can be used to treat the infection. Early treatment is always ideal.
The Zika Virus has been a main focus of the news in recent years. It was first isolated in 1947, but it only began spreading to the Western Hemisphere in 2013.
At first, it was believed that the virus could only be spread through the bite of an infected mosquito, but recent research has discovered that the Zika Virus is spreadable through sexual contact as well. While the Zika virus isn’t considered dangerous for men (symptoms include fever, rash, and joint pain), birth defects in children can occur if Zika is transmitted to a pregnant woman.
Medium Risk Reasons for STD Symptoms in Men
May require an ED visit or hospitalization, prescription medication usually needed
Chlamydia in men
Chlamydia is a common bacterial infection. Symptoms of chlamydia in men do not always present symptoms themselves, but chlamydia discharge is one of the signs of chlamydia in men. Antibiotics for chlamydia are available. Azithromycin for chlamydia is the most commonly prescribed treatment. Reinfection is common, though, if both partners are not being treated simultaneously.
Gonorrhea, sometimes called the clap, is another bacterial infection that doesn’t always show symptoms in men. Urethritis is the most common sign in men, causing burning or pain when urinating. Discharge is also common.
But gonorrhea can develop elsewhere in the body as well. Oral gonorrhea, or gonorrhea of the throat can develop when one has gonorrhea. Gonorrhea can also infet or spread to the anus, causing bleeding, discharge, and rectal pain. Treatment for gonorrhea includes antibiotics. If not treated, gonorrhea can cause other symptoms like joint pain or uncomfortable rashes.
Hepatitis A virus (HAV)
Hepatitis A virus, of HAV, is an inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. Symptoms include jaundice, stomach pain, smaller appetite, nausea, fever, and diarrhea. Is Hepatitis contagious? Yes, a Hepatitis A transmission can occur during sex, especially during oral and anal contact.
Hep A transmission can also occur when infected food or drink is ingested. There is no treatment for Hepatitis A, but symptoms usually resolve on their own with no significant impact to one’s health. There is a Hepatitis A vaccine available, which is the best preventive measure to take.
Hospitalization needed, usually not life threatening but could be
Syphillis is a There are three stages of syphilis, a bacterial infection. The first of the syphilis stages includes the development of a chancre, or a painless ulcer, typically in the genital region. It develops up to three months after the infection and resolves within six weeks. Should a chancre develop, ask for a syphilis test immediately as the infection can be treated with antibiotics at this stage.
If syphilis is not diagnosed and not treated in the chancre phase, the second stage begins with the disease spreading to other organs, causing serious side effects like kidney disease or swollen lymph nodes. If still not treated, the final stage can develop several years later. Blindness and deafness can occur in a syphilitic individual.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV)
In the United States, babies are vaccinated against Hepatitis B at birth. But there are still cases each year. Hepatitis B transmission can occur through sexual activity and intravenous drug use. Hepatitis B symptoms in men include fever, lowered appetite, vomiting, stomach pain, dark-colored urine, clay-colored stools, joint pain, and yellowing of the eyes or skin.
Hepatitis B treatment includes rest and close monitoring. There is no Hepatitis B cure. But nearly all healthy adults who succumb to a Hep B transmission naturally recover within a year.
High Risk Reasons for STD Symptoms in Men
Life threatening and death is possible, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) care often needed
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
Wondering what does HIV stand for? It’s the abbreviation for human immunodeficiency virus. It is possibly the most feared STD though far from the most common STD. The infection is spread through sexual contact between men, or by sharing needles.
Signs of HIV in men can take several weeks to develop. HIV symptoms in men include flu-like symptoms, including a fever, sore throat, rash, weak muscles, and low energy.
If you believe that you were exposed to HIV, do not engage in sexual activity with an HIV-negative partner until you have been evaluated. Today’s HIV medications are extremely effective and can help an infected individual lead a relatively normal life.
AIDS, or auto immune deficiency disorder, is the advanced stage of HIV. In this stage, the body’s immune system drastically weakens. The number of CD4 cells in a blood test is the main difference between HIV and AIDS. When the number dips below 200 in an HIV-infected patient, they are diagnosed with AIDS.
HIV/AIDS symptoms are similar, with AIDS symptoms in men including chronic fatigue, rapid weight loss, shortness of breath, night sweats, lesions in the mouth or genitals, and the presence of an AIDS rash. There is no cure for AIDS. But with HIV treatment prolonging or halting the development of HIV into AIDS, many HIV-positive patients lead a relatively long and healthy life.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV)
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that affects the liver. HCV in men does not always show symptoms, but it can be a dangerous infection if untreated. Men who engage in sexual activity with other men are typically at a higher risk of contracting HCV. But Hepatitis C can spread in non-sexual ways as well, such as using a razor of an infected individual.
There are two types of Hepatitis C. Acute Hepatitis C usually resolves on its own while chronic Hepatitis C can remain in the body for lengthy periods of time, potentially leading to severe liver damage or liver cancer. If you do display symptoms, they will include clay-colored bowel movements, loss of appetite, fever, dark-colored urine, yellowing of the skin, stomach pains, and low energy. Blood tests are used to diagnose the infection.
Treatment for chronic Hepatitis C includes antiviral medications and consistent monitoring. In rare cases, liver transplants are recommended. As a male, it is important to seek a diagnoses and treatment immediately if you suspect you’ve been infected with HCV as men have a more difficult time fighting the virus compared to women.
The best treatment for STI’s remains prevention. There are now new vaccines to help prevent Hepatitis A and B, some strains of HPV, new drugs that prolong the life of AIDS patients, and therapies for those infected with HIV to prevent the condition from developing into full blow AIDS.
There are also new therapies available for Hepatitis C patients, that can enable even people with advanced Hep C the opportunity to live a long life.