My 17-year-old son had been sexually active for a year when he told me something was wrong “down there.” He said it burned a tiny bit when he peed and his penis was red, irritated and mildly itchy. Of course, I was concerned. He assured me that he was practicing safe sex, but we both agreed a visit to the doctor was in order.
For years my son, husband and I talked about why he needed to wear condoms when and if he became sexually active. I used STDs and STIs as scare tactics against unprotected sexual intercourse. I made the risk of infection the villain in every condom-less sexual warning story I told.
I was confident my son knew how important it was to practice safe sex. So understandably, I wasn’t prepared when he brought the news of a possible infection to me. Instead of panicking, though, I told him not to worry and that I would call his doctor in the morning to schedule an appointment.
An hour later, my son reappeared in my doorway with a look of horror on his face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I’ve been Googling my symptoms,” he told me. “I think I know what I have.”
“What is it?”
“Bacterial vaginosis,” he replied.
I looked at my son for a moment before responding. He was dead serious. His eyes were wide and fearful, and his mouth agape.
Finally, I burst out laughing. My son looked confused.
“Sweetheart,” I said between laughs, “Bacterial vaginosis? VAG-in-osis. Think about it. You don’t have a vagina, dude.”
My son’s cheeks flushed and he smiled.
“Listen, I know you’re worried, and I totally understand. But we will see the doctor tomorrow and he will test you. I’m sorry I laughed,” I said.
The next morning, as promised, we saw his general practitioner and explained his symptoms. My son was tested for a variety of sexually transmitted infections and diseases. After giving him the exam, the doctor told us something that set our minds at ease.
“I don’t think he has an STD. We won’t know till the labs get back but just by the look of things, he might have an allergy to the condoms he’s using, namely the spermicide lubricant on them.”
My son was visibly relieved. He’d talked to his girlfriend and, to be extra safe, asked her to be tested as well. A few weeks later all of their lab reports came back and thankfully, both were 100 percent STD free.
The encounter had me thinking about how I discussed sexually transmitted diseases with my son and how ill-prepared he was. I (rightly) made STDs sound horrific, but didn’t do much to educate him on the symptoms. We decided to sit down together and look over a pamphlet I swiped from the doctor’s office that gave a list of common STDs as well as their symptoms.
My son and I spent the next half hour reading through the pamphlet and then turning to the web for further research. We wanted to know all of the STDs and STIs out there, and discovered a great website, BeforePlay.org that lists them (along with their symptoms) in brutal detail. While it wasn’t fun researching these diseases, I feel my son is far more prepared and educated about the dangers of unprotected sex.
Below is the list of STDs and STIs we found on the web and their accompanying symptoms, but be warned, a few are hard to read without gagging.
- Bacterial Vaginosis (BV): Unusual discharge, strong odor, painful urination, itching, or burning.
- Chancroid: Men will have a painful, erosive ulcer with ragged edges somewhere on the penis.
- Chlamydia: Unusual genital discharge and/or pain and burning when urinating. Women may also have lower back or abdominal pain, nausea, pain during sex, or bleeding after sex and/or between periods.
- Gonorrhea: Unusual discharge from the penis or vagina and pain or difficultly peeing. Men may have swelling in their testicles and women may bleed in between periods.
- Hepatitis A (HAV) and Hepatitis C (HCV): Fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever, dark urine, jaundice and liver enlargement and tenderness.
- Hepatitis B (HBV): Joint pain, skin eruptions, a hive-like rash, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever, dark urine, jaundice, and liver enlargement and tenderness.
- Herpes: Blisters around the genitals or anus.
- HIV/AIDS: Often no symptoms but once it becomes AIDs it can be anything from a fever and rashes to lesions, soaking night sweats and blurred vision.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Genital Warts: There are over 100 types of HPV, but some can cause genital warts or lead to vaginal, anal, throat and cervical cancer.
- Lymphogranuloma Venereum (LGV): A small painless ulcer at the point of infection—it may be so small, in fact, that it goes unnoticed. Swollen lymph nodes are the most common sign and usually appear a week to month later. Stiffness and aching in the groin may also occur.
- Molluscum Contagiosum: Shiny, smooth, white, dimpled bumps, with a curd-like core and itching on the genitals and trunk area.
- Mucopurulent Cervicitis (MPC): For women it can cause bleeding during or after sex, unusual vaginal discharge, spotting between periods, lower abdominal pain or pain during sex.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID): Abdominal, cervical or uterine pain or tenderness, along with fever or chills.
- Pubic Lice/“Crabs”: Itching, blue spots and sores in the infected area. It may also be possible to see grey-white lice or hair nits (the egg form of pubic lice).
- Scabies: Intense itching and a pimply rash. The itching will often be worse at night. Itching and rash often show up on the penis, buttocks, wrist, nipples, waist, shoulder blades, armpits, elbows and between the fingers
- Syphilis: A small, painless, firm sore in or around the vagina, penis, mouth or anus. This can be followed by a rash on the body that’s noticeable on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet. Less commonly: fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue.
- Trichomoniasis: For women there may be a lot of foamy, yellow or green vaginal discharge, swelling of the vulva and labia and painful urination. Symptoms in men may include painful urination with lesions on the penis.
Let’s be real though, none of these descriptions take the place of visiting a doctor to get tested and none of these diseases sound worth the risk of having unprotected sex. They are, however, a great starting point to talk with your teens about STDs and safe sex before they have a freak-out (and play Dr. Google) like my son did.
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