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STDs: All Symptoms in a Row

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Every year, more than 100,000 people are tested for an STI. In the Netherlands, the most common STI is chlamydia, but gonorrhea, genital herpes, genital warts, syphilis and HIV are also common. Not all STIs have symptoms and often these symptoms are different for men and women. Some STIs do not cause any symptoms, even though they can cause damage to your health. It is therefore wise to test yourself frequently for STIs if you are sexually active, even if you do not experience any symptoms. STIs are easy to treat, provided you catch them quickly. This article discusses the most common STIs, whether they cause symptoms and, if so, which symptoms these are and whether these STIs cause symptoms in both men and women.

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What is an STI and how do you get it?

An STI, which stands for sexually transmitted infection, is an infection caused by a bacteria, virus, or parasite that is contracted through sexual contact. These infections are transmitted through bodily fluids, such as semen, vaginal fluid, or blood, and are absorbed through mucous membranes or the blood. Some STIs can also be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. Chlamydia is the most common STI in the Netherlands, but gonorrhea, genital herpes, genital warts, syphilis, and HIV are also common.

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How do you recognize an STI?

Not all STIs have symptoms, and those that do may present differently in men and women. Sommige mensen hebben dus een soa zonder dat ze het merken. Bovendien geeft iedere soa ook weer andere symptomen én kunnen deze symptomen ook nog eens verschillen per geslacht. Some common symptoms of an STI include changes in discharge, pain or burning during urination, and skin spots. However, these symptoms can also indicate other conditions, which can make it difficult to recognize an STI. It is important to get tested regularly for STIs, even if you do not experience any symptoms, as some STIs can cause damage to your health if left untreated. Anonymous home STI tests are available for convenience.

Symptoms of various STIs

Symptoms of an STI can vary depending on the type of infection and how quickly the infection develops. The following list provides common symptoms for both men and women, as well as the incubation period, which is the time between unprotected sexual contact and the development of symptoms.

STI Symptoms:

At home chlamydia test

Chlamydia is the most common STI in the Netherlands, ffecting young sexually active people, both heterosexual and homosexual. It can be contracted through direct contact with mucous membranes of someone who has chlamydia, such as the vagina, penis, or anus. If you have sex with someone who has chlamydia, there is a 10% chance of contracting the infection, which is slightly lower during oral sex. The incubation period is between one to three weeks. If left untreated, chlamydia can cause inflammation in the lower abdomen in women, increasing the risk of fertility problems, and inflammation in the epididymis or prostate in men.

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Chlamydia is mostly asymptomatic, with only 10% of women and 50% of men experiencing symptoms.

Women may experience:

  • Increased or changed vaginal discharge.
  • Pain when urinating.
  • Pain in the lower abdomen.
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods.
  • Vaginal bleeding after sexual contact.
  • Blood and/or mucus in the stool.
  • Itching and/or irritation near the anus.

Men may experience:

  • Pain or burning sensation when urinating.
  • Discharge from the urethra, especially in the morning.
  • Pain in the scrotum.
  • Blood and/or mucus in the stool.
  • Itching and/or irritation near the anus.


Gonorrhea is more common among men who have sex with men, but it can also affect heterosexuals. It is transmitted through contact between mucous membranes, including oral, anal, or vaginal contact. If you have sex with someone who has gonorrhea, there is a 50-80% chance of contracting the infection. he incubation period is between two days to two weeks, with an average of eight days. If left untreated, gonorrhea can increase the risk of inflammation in the abdomen, joint inflammation, and eye inflammation.

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Gonorrhea can be asymptomatic in both sexes, but more often gives the following symptoms:

Women may experience:

  • Pain or burning when urinating.
  • Pain during sexual contact.
  • Bleeding after or during sexual contact.
  • Altered discharge, often yellow-green in color and unpleasant smelling.
  • A sore throat.

Men may experience:

  • Pain or burning when urinating.
  • Yellow-green discharge from the urethra.
  • A sore throat.
  • Pain in the anus.
  • Blood or mucus in the stool.

Genital Warts:

Genital warts are caused by a specific type of human papillomavirus and are transmitted through sexual contact or contact with hands or materials. Het virus wordt overgedragen via seksueel contact, maar kan ook overgedragen worden via handen of materialen. Even if you have no symptoms, you can still transmit the virus. The incubation period is between one to eight months, with an average of three months.

Symptoms are the same for men and women:

  • Typical pink or white warts in the genital area with a bumpy surface, like a cauliflower.
  • Sometimes accompanied by itching or a burning sensation.

Genital herpes

Genital herpes can be contracted through anal, oral, or genital contact. Even if someone has no symptoms or skin abnormalities, the infection can still be transmitted. Once infected, the virus remains in the body and can cause symptoms again at a later time. Women are more susceptible to genital herpes, with an incubation period of two to 12 days.


Initial infection with genital herpes causes more severe symptoms than a recurrence. At the first infection, you may experience general malaise, fever, and muscle pain. Women may continue also experience severe pain in the genital area, painful urination, altered discharge, and enlarged lymph nodes. Men may experience pain or burning when urinating. After about a week, the same skin abnormalities develop in the genital area in both sexes,

  • including vesicles filled with fluid that are very painful.
  • These blisters eventually break down, causing sores and wounds, and this is the most contagious phase of the infection, asting about three weeks.

After the initial infection, the virus remains dormant in the body. Recurrences are often milder than the first infection and can be triggered by a weakened immune system due to illness, stress, or medication.

Related tests


Ninety-five percent of syphilis infections occur in men who have sex with men, and 5% of infections occur in heterosexual relationships. Syphilis is becoming increasingly common and is transmitted through oral, anal, or genital sexual contact, or through direct contact with skin lesions associated with syphilis The incubation period can vary widely, from ten to 90 days.

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If left untreated, syphilis can progress through different stages, leading to more severe symptoms. The first stages may be without symptoms in both sexes. The symptoms are the same for men and women:

  • Stage 1: A red, hard spot/sore on the penis, vagina, anus, or mouth, which may not be visible. This spot will go away on its own.
  • Stage 2: General physical complaints such as fever, headache, enlarged lymph nodes, and skin abnormalities, which will also go away on their own.
  • Stage 3: Severe symptoms, which can begin up to 30 years after unprotected sexual intercourse if left untreated. This is called organ syphilis and is a serious medical condition. It can cause diverse complaints to the heart, brain, bones, and skin, and inflammation can occur in almost all organs.


Hundreds of new HIV diagnoses are made in the Netherlands every year. HIV is mainly diagnosed in men who have sex with men and heterosexual people who have sex with someone from an area where HIV is prevalent. The HIV virus is found in blood, semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk. You can contract HIV if your blood comes into contact with any of these fluids. he chance of getting HIV if you have sex with someone with HIV depends on the viral load of the person with HIV, which is the amount of virus in their blood. If someone is not treated for HIV, their viral load is high, and there is a higher chance of infection.