Sexually-transmitted diseases (often referred to as STDs or STIs) are very common. They’re usually transmitted through skin-to-skin contact — through unprotected vaginal or anal sex, for example — and it’s possible to have an STD without knowing it since it might not present obvious symptoms.
But what are the STDs that most commonly affect the male population? Any sexually-active male is at risk of contacting an STD if not taking the necessary precautions, and it’s important to know how to spot the signs of the most common types of infection, as well as how to prevent and treat STDs.
Let’s explore some of the most common STIs in men, uncover some of the telltale symptoms, and offer some effective treatment and prevention options.
Chlamydia is one of the most common STDs in men. It’s passed on through unprotected sex, and occurs most frequently in teens and young men. Many people with chlamydia present no symptoms at all, so it’s not always possible to tell if you might have it.
What causes chlamydia in men?
Chlamydia in men is caused by an infection of the urethra (the tube that passes through the penis and drains urine from the bladder). The infection is passed from one person to another trough unprotected sexual contact.
Male chlamydia symptoms:
- Pain when urinating
- White, cloudy or watery discharge from the penis
- Pain in the testicles
Chlamydia treatments for men:
- The antibiotic Doxycycline is normally the first choice treatment for chlamydia.
- Azithromycin is a macrolide-type antibiotic that is highly effective at treating a range of infections, including chlamydia.
Gonorrhoea (sometimes referred to informally as ‘the clap’) is the second-most common bacterial STD in the UK, and it most frequently affects men under the age of 25 — though any sexually active person can contract the infection through unprotected sex.
What causes gonorrhoea in men?
Gonorrhoea is usually caused by bacteria found in discharge from the penis and in vaginal fluid. It is passed between sexual partners through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex.
Male gonorrhoea symptoms:
- Thick green or yellow discharge from the penis
- Pain when urinating
Gonorrhoea treatments for men:
- Gonorrhoea is most commonly treated with an antibiotic injection, after which symptoms should clear within a few days
- If you think you may have gonorrhoea, you can purchase an at-home gonorrhoea test kit to be sure
Genital herpes is a common STD in men, and it’s often characterised by the appearance of small blisters around the genitals, anus or thighs. Herpes is very contagious, and once you’ve caught the virus, you’ll likely experience recurrent episodes for the rest of your life.
What causes genital herpes in men?
Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and is passed on through skin-to-skin contact with the affected area (including vaginal, oral and anal sex).
Male genital herpes symptoms:
- Small blisters around the genitals or anus
- A burning or itching sensation around the genitals
- Pain when urinating
Genital herpes treatments for men:
- Aciclovir is an antiviral treatment used to prevent or treat infections such as cold sores and genital herpes
- Instillagel is a local anaesthetic gel that relieves the symptoms of genital herpes by numbing the skin
- Lidocaine is a local anaesthetic ointment that is applied directly to the skin to provide relief from sores
Genital warts are caused by a type of human papillomavirus (HPV) and are among the most common STDs in men. They appear as small fleshy bumps around the genital area. Genital warts are usually painless, but in some cases they can become itchy or inflamed.
What causes genital warts in men?
Genital warts are more commonly passed on through skin-to-skin contact. This includes vaginal sex, anal sex, and in very rare cases oral sex. After you get the infection, it may take weeks or even months before symptoms appear.
Male genital warts symptoms:
- One or more painless lumps around the penis or anus
- Itching or bleeding from the penis or anus
- A change to your normal flow of urine (for example, it's begun to skew sideways)
Genital warts treatments for men:
- Aldara is an effective topical cream treatment for external genital and perianal warts
- Condyline is a topical solution used to treat genital warts in both men and women
- Warticon cream or solution is a suitable treatment option for genital warts that appear on the external skin of the penis or groin (not the anus)
Urinary tract infection (UTI)
While not strictly classed as a sexually-transmitted infection, a UTI can occasionally be caused by sexual intercourse. When you have sex, thrusting can introduce bacteria up the urethra and into the bladder, increasing the risk of a contracting a UTI.
What causes UTIs in men?
Aside from sexual intercourse, prostate problems can also cause UTIs in men. An enlarged prostate (common in older men) can block the flow of urine, which can increase the risk of bacteria entering the urinary tract.
Male UTI symptoms:
- A frequent or urgent need to urinate
- A burning or stinging sensation during (or just after) urination
- Cloudy urine with a strong odour
- A fever accompanied by a high temperature
- Pain in the lower back or stomach (just under the ribs)
UTI treatments for men:
- MacroBID is the recommended first-line antibiotic treatment for relieving UTIs (though men should always visit their GP if they have a UTI)
- Paracetamol can be taken up to 4 times daily to reduce the pain and high temperature caused by a UTI
- Drinking fluids regularly will ensure you pass pale urine regularly throughout the day
Preventing STDs in men
Sexually-transmitted diseases are fairly common in men, but most of them can be prevented by practicing safe sex and good hygiene. To reduce your chances of contracting an STD, take these preventative steps:
- Use condoms: while condoms can’t guarantee that neither you nor your partner will contract an STD, they can reliably prevent infections and unwanted pregnancies.
- Maintain good hygiene: it’s important to practice good hygiene before and after having sex to reduce your risk of getting an infection. Wash before and after, and don’t share towels with your partner.
- Be honest with your partner: have an open conversation with your partner about your sexual health history, so you can understand whether there’s an increased risk of either of you contracting an infection through sex.
- Get tested: if you’ve had unprotected sex or you think you may have an STD, book an appointment at your local sexual health clinic. They can test for specific STDs, or use general screening tests to identify multiple STD types.