Ever heard of mycoplasma genitalium? I had never heard of it either! That is, until a few weeks ago when I was scrolling through Instagram and a sex education account I follow posted about it. Mycoplasma genitalium, also known as MG, is a sexually transmitted infection that can be spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex, as well as rubbing up on someone that is infected. It is spread through sex fluids, so it is not just spread through penetration alone. 

What are the symptoms of mycoplasma genitalium?

Similar to many other sexually transmitted infections, MG can oftentimes be present with no symptoms at all. In mild cases, it can clear up on its own. It is also not included in the standard STD screening provided at sexual health clinics or doctor’s offices. It is often only tested for if you present symptoms or specifically ask to be tested for it. If you have a penis, symptoms include watery discharge from the penis and burning, stinging, or pain while you pee. If you have a vagina, symptoms include abnormal discharge from your vagina, pain during sex, bleeding after sex or between periods, and pain in your pelvic floor or lower abdominals. There is not a test specifically for MG that is approved by the FDA, but it can be tested through a urine sample or via a swab test, swabbing the vagina, cervix, or urethra.

If left untreated, MG can cause urethritis, which is an irritated, swollen, and itchy urethra. It can also cause pelvic inflammatory disease in people with vaginas. It can lead to an inflamed cervix as well. Because it is a bacterial infection, it is treated with antibiotics, however, it is often tricky to treat in one round. Traditionally, antibiotics treat bacterial infections by damaging the walls of a cell, but pesky ‘ole MG doesn’t have cell walls, so it often takes a few rounds of different antibiotics to completely get rid of it. 

How can we prevent mycoplasma genitalium?

Safer sex practices such as condoms, gloves, and dental dams can decrease the chance of spreading MG, but since it can also be spread through sex fluids being rubbed on someone else during sexual activity, it’s possible it can still be spread even if someone is practicing safer sex. Since MG is not tested for unless specifically asked about, it’s important to stay in tune with your body and changing symptoms. A doctor would likely test for the standard STDs like gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, HPV, and HIV first, and if those came back negative and symptoms persisted, an MG test would likely be the next step. You can also specifically ask your doctor for an MG test if you suspect you might have it.

Treatments for mycoplasma genitalium

As with all STDs, if you find out you have it, you need to inform your sexual partners so they can also get tested, even if you use barrier methods for safer sex. Having an STD is not a big deal, and can be treated. In this case, MG is treated with antibiotics, just like infections in other parts of the body would be treated. Practice safer sex with condoms and barrier methods every time, stay in tune with changes you notice in your body, and get tested regularly to stay on top of your sexual health. If you do not have one monogamous partner, it is recommended to get tested after each new sexual partner, or once every six to 12 months. You can even get tested at home, so stay safe and have fun!

Over 50% of Americans have oral herpes, and one in every six people has genital herpes. Herpes is incredibly common, so why aren’t we talking about it like it’s normal? There is a huge stigma that comes with herpes and other sexually transmitted infections in general. The truth is herpes is fairly common, and it’s also not a big deal. It’s just a skin condition.

What is herpes?

Herpes is a viral infection that once you get it, it stays in your body forever, although there are ways to manage it. There are two types of herpes, HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is also known as oral herpes or cold sores, and this can spread from any sort of contact with someone. It doesn’t have to be spread sexually. Oral herpes presents itself as cold sores, and these can be spread from person to person quite easily. You could even get oral herpes as a child from a relative giving you a peck on the lips. 

HSV-2, or genital herpes, is spread through sexual contact. Genital herpes is spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex. It is possible to get HSV-1 on your genitals and HSV-2 on your mouth, but generally speaking, they thrive in their designated area of the body. If you have a cold sore and give someone oral sex, you could spread oral herpes to their genitals, for example. 

How do you test for herpes?

You can be infected with herpes and show no symptoms for years, so it’s really hard to know when exactly you got infected. The only true way to know if you have herpes is to get tested once you already have symptoms. If you’ve ever gotten regular STD testing done, you might notice that they don’t test for herpes as part of the regular screening. This is because herpes testing is incredibly inaccurate if you don’t have symptoms. 

Herpes can be tested for without symptoms through a blood test, but false positives are incredibly common. When I first learned this, it seemed bonkers to me! I should be able to get tested and know if I have it or not, right? Why is testing for herpes so complicated but I can get a clear answer for a test for other STDs even without symptoms? Part of the reason false positives are so common is that the herpes blood test just tests for HSV in your body. It doesn’t distinguish if you have HSV-1 or HSV-2. Because oral herpes or cold sores are so incredibly common, most people have been exposed to HSV-1, even if they’ve never shown symptoms. 

So if you got a blood test and tested positive, it’s quite possible it just shows you’ve been exposed to cold sores before, but there’s no way to know for sure if the test is detecting HSV-1 or 2. Ugh! Because herpes is so stigmatized and the possibility of having an STD is very anxiety-inducing for most people, doctors don’t recommend testing for herpes unless you have symptoms. You also cannot complete at-home testing for herpes as you can with some other STDs.

What are the common herpes symptoms?

Symptoms of genital herpes include blisters around your genital area or your inner thighs. These blisters are often itchy and painful and turn into sores. You can also experience flu-like symptoms like aches, pains and fever if you have HSV-2. If you have sores, go to your doctor and they’ll swab one of the sores and test that for an accurate reading. If you don’t have symptoms, there is nothing to treat anyhow because even if you have the virus, it will be in your body forever.

How is herpes spread?

Herpes is a little tricky though because you could be asymptomatic and still spread the virus to someone else. This is called asymptomatic shedding. You could have herpes, but not know it because you have no symptoms, and have oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone and spread the virus to them without even knowing. Using condoms and dental dams can help prevent this from spreading, but this is why herpes is so common. I wonder though if you don’t have symptoms, and your partner never has symptoms, then does it even matter that much? Again, there’s nothing to treat if you don’t have symptoms.

What is a herpes outbreak?

If you do have symptoms and test positive for genital herpes, there are some things you can do. Most people that have genital herpes experience only several outbreaks throughout their life. Although the virus isn’t curable, you won’t have constant symptoms and it’s not detrimental to your health or sex life in any way. An outbreak is when the sores and other symptoms show up. 

For most people, this first outbreak occurs 2-20 days after your first exposure, but you might not show symptoms for years so it’s hard to know. The first outbreak is the worst and lasts from 2-4 weeks. You can take anti-viral medication and use home remedies to treat the discomfort. The anti-viral medication can make your outbreak shorter and also can be taken regularly to severely lower your chances of spreading herpes to a partner. You should wait until your outbreak clears, however, to engage in sexual activity. 

How can we end the stigma of herpes?

When you break it down, herpes is just a skin condition. Yes, it can be spread sexually, but oral herpes isn’t spread that way. Genital herpes gets such a stigma attached to it because it is a sexually transmitted infection, but it is incredibly common and won’t affect your overall health or wellbeing. People that have herpes have completely normal, unaffected sex lives. Just refrain from sex during an outbreak, talk to your doctor about anti-viral meds to prevent it from shedding when you’re asymptomatic and be open with your partners so they can fully consent to sexual activity with you.

It’s important to keep up with your sexual well-being and get tested after each new sexual partner, or every 6 to 12 months but you don’t need to worry about herpes until and unless you show symptoms. You’ll make yourself sick with worry wondering if you have it. Since it truly is just a skin condition, you don’t need to worry too much about it until you have something on your skin to treat. The blood tests are so inaccurate that it isn’t recommended to get those done anyway. There are plenty of other STDs you can get blood tests for, so focus on those as part of your sexual well-being and get tested for herpes only if you show symptoms. 

A very important and often overlooked part of being sexually active is getting regular STD testing. Sexually transmitted infections or sexually transmitted diseases are infections that one gets through sexual contact such as vaginal, penile, or anal fluids. Fun fact, STIs and STDs are the same thing. The only difference is that to be diagnosed with an STD you must show symptoms. Another fun fact (or maybe this one’s not so fun), most STIs don’t show symptoms for years after the initial infection.  JAW DROP. RECORD SCRATCH. WHAT?

Yes, that’s right. Most STIs don’t show symptoms. That is why it’s super important to get tested after each new sexual partner.

Everything You Need to Know About STD Testing

If you are in a monogamous relationship, you and your partner can get tested when you first start seeing each other exclusively, then you’ll know your status. Or if you are someone who has never had sexual activity that would swap fluids, such as oral, vaginal, or anal sex, then you wouldn’t need to get tested either. The most commonly known spread of STIs is through unprotected a.k.a. condomless penetrative sex, whether that be penis in vagina sex, or anal sex. You can also contract an STI through oral sex, which is often overlooked! If you perform oral sex on someone who has an STI, even if they don’t have symptoms, you could possibly get an infection in your mouth, or spread it to your genitals. Say you give oral to your partner, then you makeout with them, then they perform oral on you—BAM the infection from their genitals could be given to your genitals through their mouth. Although getting an STD this way isn’t as likely, there is still a risk. This sounds scary and intense, but I promise it’s not. STIs are a normal part of life, and most of them are treatable with a short round of medicine such as antibiotics.

Getting an STD test is very easy. Make an appointment with your gynecologist or a sexual health clinic such as Planned Parenthood, and tell them you’d like to schedule an STD test. Most student health centers on college campuses or schools also have free STD testing! When you arrive, the nurse will ask you questions about your sexual activity, such as do you have sex with partners with penises, vaginas, or both? Have you had penis in vagina sex without a condom? Have you had anal sex without a condom? Are you showing any symptoms of an STD such as burning while you pee, rash on your genitals, etc? It’s very important to be open and honest during the questions. The nurse is not judging you. They have likely seen and heard it all. They are they to help you be healthy!

For chlamydia and gonorrhea, you simply pee in a cup to determine if you have those infections. An HIV test is done by taking a pin prick of blood. Most clinics have a rapid result HIV test, so you will likely hear the results of that test before you leave your appointment. Syphilis is also tested by taking blood. Usually clinics do not test for herpes unless the patient is showing symptoms of an outbreak. This is due to the fact that someone can have herpes and never show symptoms, so it is hard to even detect in the first place. Additionally, the blood test done for herpes is often inaccurate and will show false positives because it can detect traces of oral herpes in your blood, a cold sore, rather than genital herpes. Since the test isn’t reliable, you won’t be tested for that unless you’re showing symptoms.

Besides the HIV test, you’ll likely hear back from your doctor within one to two weeks with your results. Oftentimes, no news is good news. Although if you do find out you have an STI, your doctor will talk to you about a treatment plan, which as I mentioned before, is often a short round of antibiotics.

I recommend getting tested after each new partner if you had unprotected oral or penetrative sex. If you had protected penetrative sex, but unprotected oral, you should probably still get tested since there is a chance of spreading STIs that way.  If you talk with your partner before the sexiness begins and they say they have been tested and know their status and you know yours, you would be okay to not be tested, assuming they are being truthful.

You also must wait two weeks after sex with a new partner to be tested. If you get tested sooner than that your results could be inaccurate.

Getting STD tested seems overwhelming and scary, and maybe even a little shameful or dirty. There is absolutely NOTHING shameful or dirty about prioritizing your health and the health of your partners. It is truly so simple and not a big deal, and if you find you do have an STD, that isn’t shameful either. It’s treated with antibiotics just as any other infection might be. Have fun out there and be safe!

CDC guidelines