STD Awareness: Will STDs Go Away on Their Own?

teensCan gonorrhea go away without treatment? Does chlamydia eventually clear up? Can trichomoniasis go away on its own? These are the kinds of questions people pose to Google before Google sends them here — at least that’s what I learned by looking at the blog’s stats. They’re tricky questions to tackle, and for so many reasons.

Some viral STDs stay with you for life, such as herpes and HIV. Others, such as hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV), can be prevented with vaccines but cannot be cured. It’s also possible for the immune system to defeat hepatitis B virus and HPV — but in some cases, these viruses are able to settle in for the long haul, causing chronic infections that can endure for life and even lead to cancer.

Left untreated, syphilis can kill, and gonorrhea can cause infertility.

Non-viral STDs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, can be cured. However, they usually don’t have symptoms, or symptoms can come and go, making it seem like an infection went away when it actually didn’t. You can’t know your STD status without getting tested, and you can’t self-diagnose an STD based on symptoms and then assume the infection went away when symptoms subside. Getting tested can uncover a problem and clear the way for treatment.

Nonetheless, people want to know if an STD can go away by itself — but there aren’t many studies on the “natural history” of curable STDs like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis. Studying the natural course of a curable infection would require that scientists put their subjects at risk of the dangers of long-term infection, and no ethics board would approve such an experiment.

“Do STDs go away?” isn’t the right question. The best question is, “What happens if STDs aren’t caught and treated?” If you think you might have an STD, the best course of action is to see a medical professional. Don’t cross your fingers and hope it just goes away. Symptoms might fade, but the bugs can still be wreaking havoc behind the scenes. And, even if your immune system does manage to fight off the infection, irreversible harm might have already been done.

Gonorrhea and Chlamydia

Gonorrhea and chlamydia often don’t have symptoms, but either infection can harm fertility and increase risk for HIV transmission. In people with uteruses, chlamydia or gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause tissue damage to the reproductive organs resulting in infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pain. Furthermore, either infection can be passed to infants during childbirth. (Also, while the science is far from settled, there is emerging evidence that chlamydia might increase risk for cervical cancer.) In people with testicles, gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause scarring that blocks sperm’s movement out of the testes, resulting in epididymitis, which is associated with infertility, chronic scrotal pain, and testicular shrinkage. Chlamydia is the leading cause of epididymitis in heterosexuals 35 years old and younger.

Due to the difficulties in conducting ethical studies, the natural histories of untreated chlamydia and gonorrhea infections are not well understood. Sometimes, researchers can examine stored specimens that were taken for other studies and retroactively test them for chlamydia or gonorrhea to get a sense for how these infections develop over time. They can also look at asymptomatic people receiving regular STD screening — when their test results come back positive, they’re called back for treatment, but first re-tested to see if the infections went away on their own. This type of study can’t ascertain how long an infection had persisted before being diagnosed, or how long it can endure without treatment, since most participants receive antibiotics a couple of weeks after first being tested.

The “natural history” of chlamydia has been examined, mostly in women, using that kind of study design. Several studies have found that around 80 percent of people with asymptomatic chlamydia were still infected when they came back for treatment. Most of these studies suffered from small sample sizes, and usually included only small numbers of men (if any). A few studies examined chlamydia over the course of a year — including the first one, from the 1970s, when chlamydia was first identified as an STD — and have found that, among women infected with chlamydia, roughly half will still have it a year or more later. One 1975 study mentioned instances of chlamydia persisting in men for at least a year. Another study provided evidence that chlamydia infections caused by certain bacterial strains can last for many years, although no men were included in this analysis.

As for gonorrhea, one study found that most infections in 16 female subjects “did not appear to resolve spontaneously,” as most were still infected after two months. Another study, performed on male subjects, found that men could be asymptomatic carriers of gonorrhea for at least six weeks, but because patients were given antibiotics at the end of the study period, it can’t be said whether men can be infected with gonorrhea indefinitely. Of 28 subjects, only five cleared their infections without treatment.


Before it could be cured with penicillin, syphilis was the most feared STD out there, and for good reason. It often doesn’t have symptoms, but even when symptoms do appear, they only flare up for a short time before retreating. When symptoms disappear, in what is known as the “latent” phase of infection, the sufferer can be lulled into a false sense of security — while the bacteria that cause syphilis are still working away, doing permanent damage to the body.

Syphilis comes in three “stages.” At any stage, syphilis can harm a pregnancy and make it easier to contract HIV. The first stage is characterized by painless sores, which even without treatment will heal. The second stage is characterized by rashes and lesions, which also go away without treatment. (These sores and rashes aren’t always noticeable, or might be confused for other conditions.) But it’s the late stage that’s the most infamous. According to the CDC, 15 percent of people infected with untreated syphilis reach the late stage, which can occur up to 20 years after initial infection. It includes severe damage to the nervous system, brain, heart, or other organs, and can be fatal. Symptoms can include difficulty coordinating movement, numbness, paralysis, weakening eyesight, or dementia.

In light of the serious damage syphilis can do, do you want to take the chance that your untreated syphilis infection will be latent for life, but not progress to the late stage? Syphilis bacteria can lurk in your body for years without giving you symptoms, only to cause serious disease or even death years later, so why take the risk? Get tested and treated!


Trichomoniasis is the most common curable STD in the country, infecting an estimated 3.7 million Americans at a time — 70 percent of whom don’t have symptoms. A trichomoniasis infection increases risk for HIV transmission, and during pregnancy it increases risk for preterm birth and low birth weight.

Men can get trichomoniasis, but they usually don’t have symptoms and aren’t screened for it as part of routine STD testing. One small study found that 64 percent of men testing positive for trichomoniasis still had it after an average of three weeks had passed — but one subject allowed his infection to be monitored for four months before requesting treatment, meaning that it’s possible for the parasite that causes trichomoniasis to live safely ensconced in a male reproductive tract for at least that long.

Another study found that trichomoniasis can persist without symptoms in high-school-aged girls for at least three months — or longer. Additionally, there are anecdotes of female nursing-home patients who deny engaging in sexual activity for years, who nonetheless experience persistent trichomoniasis. If these reports are true, it could indicate that the organism can inhabit a female body for years, only occasionally “flaring up” to cause symptoms.

The upshot is that it’s possible for some — not all — STDs to go away by themselves, but it’s also possible for STDs to persist for months, years, or the rest of your life. If you could have been exposed to an STD, the best thing to do is get tested — not to hope that if you did get something, it’ll just go away. You can be tested and treated for STDs, be vaccinated against HPV or hepatitis B, or drop by to pick up condoms at any Planned Parenthood health center.

Click here to check out other installments of our monthly STD Awareness series!

25 thoughts on “STD Awareness: Will STDs Go Away on Their Own?

  1. Is it possible to have a gonorrhea even you only have 1 partner having sex… If its possible what are the cause of having gonorrhea with having sex with one person only…. Is it by hygiene? Help me pls. Thank you

    • Yes, it is possible to be infected with gonorrhea with one sexual partner. Gonorrhea can be transmitted by oral, vaginal, or anal sex from one partner to another. If someone has gonorrhea, their partner can acquire it from any type of sexual contact.

      • Good evening sir/maam.
        I was infected gonnorhea last month. And I immediately go to the doctor to test my urine. And it positive. And he give me some antibiotics for treatment. After 2 days. May urine discharge is gone. But I take medicine in 2 weeks for sure. And I think it’s really gone.. do you think. Gonnorhea is possible coming back again.?

  2. I have the symptoms of syphilis and I think when it first came I have the rash on my body that looks like sore now I have a something that looks like a boil on my penis but it doesn’t hurt. Start to take medication and the scratch reduce . Buts it still there I really need to know how I can cure it finally

  3. Vaginal itching, painful urination and painful feeling like having urinary tract infection since my side hurts like really having is itchy every now and then and i am afraid this is some kind of std. What should i do?

  4. Does trich go away on its own in men?? (Ex says he didn’t have sex for almost year before we got together) And if you had it for 2 years, would symptoms be obvious by now?? (I’m a female) Had unprotected 2 years ago for a few seconds. Tested negative for all stds but never tested for trich. Only 18.

  5. I always have itching around my testicles is it gornorrhea or syphilis please i need your help?

  6. “Studying the natural course of a curable infection would require that scientists put their subjects at risk of the dangers of long-term infection, and no ethics board would approve such an experiment.”

    Really now? The Tuskegee Syphilis Study that lasted over 70 years? Or how about the less related, but equally disturbing Eugenics Program?

  7. Is there anyway when a peson gets tested that at a certain time with an std that it may not show up.

    • Yes, infections have “window periods” during which they might not be detectable by tests. You can read more about when to get tested here.

  8. So it’s been two years since the last time I was sexually active. I have only had one partner, I recently heard you can have a std without symptoms. My question is if I have no symptoms, and it’s already been two years since the first time being with them, should I still get tested? Or am I being paranoid?

  9. Am scared to be judged of nurses n doctors .And i think i have an STI , I last sleept with someone 2years back without a condom can it be cured

  10. Had unprotrctrd sex a month ago now I feel extremely tired and vagina is seollen and irritated. Lower back pain
    Is this a sign of an STD? I’ve been reading and getting paranoid

  11. After having unprotected sex I have been tested twice and both have come back negative. Is there any chance I may still be infected, as I would never want to give anything to my now partner?

  12. reading this was a huge waste of my time. just say, “I’m not answering your question because it may expose my ludicrous attempts to compound persons confusion in order to generate unneeded, unmeritted and overpriced visits to health care facilities with no valid justification.” if you threw away the time needed to read this farse in advice clothing – count your losses and move on because every “health advisor” will give you a cryptic fear inspiring runoff even if they know it’s unmeritted advice leading you no further than when you started chasing this dragon

    shame on all of you who use people’s dread and fear to pad your own silk woven pockets. yes you Anne, go ahead and delete this reply as I’m sure you’ve done countless times before

    • The answer to “Will STDs Go Away on Their Own?” boils down to: Some, like HIV and herpes, do not. Some might, but we really don’t have good information because conducting scientific studies to answer the question would be unethical.

  13. I wanted to know the facts not because I do not like antibiotics or doctors, but just out of curiosity. Yet everything I can find by google contains mostly the same information, somewhat didactical, just avoiding the direct answer. There “can be complications”, one must go and get tested, take antibiotic, disease can be asymphtomatic for years etc. But does it ever go away by itself? How is this possible that in 19 century and earlier double morality was widespread, men were visiting prostitutes regularly, there was no condoms. It is obvious that most prostitutes would become infected very quickly, clients too, clients’ wifes too. Yet humanity survived. So how did it work? Most people were infected, but complications did not prevent them from having healthy children? Or maybe natural selection prefered monogamic people and this affected the human race e.g. lowere avarage sex drive? This kind of questions. Ot maybe gonorrhea went away in many cases by itself or was becoming less infectious.

    • I don’t know if there is a direct answer. When I wrote this post, I used all the information I could dig up, but as mentioned, there aren’t good ways to test these questions scientifically and ethically. Medical literature from the pre-antibiotic era isn’t based on rigorous science, and their diagnostic methods weren’t nearly as accurate as they are now. One thing I can tell you is that gonorrhea was thought to be the top cause of infertility. I don’t think it’s fair to say that “most people were infected,” and being infected does not lead to infertility in 100% of cases, but it did prevent a lot of couples from having children.

  14. I’m not sure if I have Trichomoniasis. I’m affraid to ask my mom about it. I sometimes get a strange smell from my vagina but usually not. Is this normal in teens or not? I need all the information I can get.

  15. I had unprotected sex last month after that. I feel week n I have boils under my armpit and loss of appetite . I checked last month if it might be HIV but it came out negative I was told it wasn’t the right time to check and that I should wait for about three months before I can check again

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