In the past sexually transmissible infections (STI) have been called sexually transmissible diseases (STDs) or venereal disease (VD). They are terms that are now less commonly used.
An STI is any infection which is passed from one person to another person during sexual activity. Sexual activity can include oral, vaginal and anal sex.
Some STIs can also be passed through non-sexual contact. For example, scabies can be passed during sex but a housemate who might share a towel, bed or clothing of a person who has scabies can also catch them.
STIs can cause a variety of physical symptoms, from itching and sores, to discharge and pain when urinating. If you have any symptoms it is important that you see a doctor.
You can have an STI and not know it. Even if you don't notice any physical symptoms it can still cause damage to your health. Even if there are no symptoms you can still pass the infection to your partners.
If you have or think you have an STI don't have sex until you have spoken to your doctor. Your doctor can talk to you about options for treatments and preventing its spread to other people.

Signs and symptoms of sexually transmissible infections

Remember you can have an STI and not know it. Even if you don't notice any physical symptoms it can still cause damage to your health. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned.
If you have one of the symptoms listed below you might have an STI. If you think you have an STI please seek professional advice. Most STIs can be very easily and effectively treated.
If you have a symptom listed below it may not necessarily be an STI. It could be caused by something other than a sexually transmitted infection or it may be 'normal' genital function. For example itchy rashes in the groin can be quite common but are often due to a fungal infection rather than an STI.
  • a discharge from the penis
  • a discharge from the vagina
  • itching, bumps, lumps and blisters
  • pain passing urine

What is normal?

Sometimes 'normal' genital function can get mistaken for an STI. If you are unsure it is always better to get it checked out by your doctor.


Periods vary a lot from woman to woman. Bleeding can last between one to seven days and occur between every 22 to 35 days.
Signs of abnormal bleeding can include irregular or unpredictable bleeding, bleeding between periods and bleeding after sex.

For more information about periods, visit FPA Health

Genital sores and rashes

Often men and women can experience sores and rashes in the genital region. This is normally because of recent trauma and often trauma caused during sex (for example excessive rubbing or pulling). Such sores and rashes normally heal within a couple of days.

Bumps, lumps and blisters

Often small white coloured bumps on the penis are mistaken for genital warts. They are called "pearly penile papules" and are not sexually transmitted. They are normal growths in many men. However, if you are uncertain get it checked out by your doctor.

Discharge from the vagina

It is normal for women to experience some discharge from the vagina. The amount will vary from woman to woman and can increase at certain stages such as just before or after the period, or midway between periods. Pregnancy can also cause an increase in discharge.
Normal discharge is often white-yellow and should have little odour and cause no irritation.

Discharge from the penis

Except for urine and semen, there are no other normal discharges from the penis. If you are experiencing a discharge you need to get it checked as it is normally a sign of infection.
For more information check the NSW Health infectious diseases fact sheet page.
Current as at: Monday 16 January 2017
Contact page owner: Centre for Population Health