December 5, 2022
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What does discharge from an STI look like?

All HOMED-IQ content is reviewed by medical specialists

Both men and women can experience discharge from the penis or vagina, and oftentimes it is completely healthy and normal. However, if you experience changes in the frequency, texture, colour, or smell of discharge, it could indicate an infection. For women, discharge is normal and can change throughout the month. For men, any discharge that is not pre-ejaculate or ejaculate could be an indication of a health problem. Regardless of gender, if you experience a change in your discharge it is necessary to rule out potential infections, such as from an STI. This can be done easily from home with an STI test. Do you suffer from unusual discharge and suspect that it could be from an STI? In this article, you can learn more about the different types of discharge and the possible causes.

What kinds of discharge can be caused by STIs?

Discharge is completely natural and can be many different colours and textures. For example, women may regularly have white or clear discharge. If you are experiencing unusual amounts or colours of discharge, there may be something going on. Does your discharge have a yellow, green, brown colour or does it smell unpleasant? Then it is possible that you have an STI or other health condition (Isala, 2022).

Discharge from an STI in men

Discharge is less common in men than in women. Usually men only have discharge before ejaculation. This is the clear fluid that is released from the penis during sexual arousal (also called pre-cum). During orgasm, a white, cloudy discharge is released by ejaculation.

Any discharge from the penis that is not pre-ejaculate or ejaculate should be investigated for STIs or other infections. If you find yellow or green spots in your underwear, this may also be due to discharge from the penis caused by an STI (Soa Aids, 2021).

Discharge from an STI in women

Vaginal discharge is normal and ensures that your vagina remains clean and healthy (De Gynecologist 2020). Typical discharge in women is white or transparent and odourless. Sometimes it can appear a bit yellow as it dries.

Many factors including STIs, fungal infections, pregnancy, birth control, certain health conditions, or other bacterial infections can cause changes in vaginal discharge. Discharge that requires medical attention may change colour, smell, texture, increase in quantity, or be accompanied by itching or burning. As a woman, you often know better than anyone when something is not right with your discharge. If you suspect that changes in your discharge are due to an STI, it’s always a good idea to get tested.

Which STIs can cause discharge?

While there are many different STIs with different symptoms, STIs caused by bacteria or parasites usually cause discharge. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis are common STIs that can cause discharge from the penis or vagina. These STIs can infect the urethra, vagina or cervix, causing discharge with an unpleasant smell or unusual colour.

Discharge from Chlamydia 

Chlamydia is the most common STI in the Netherlands. This STI is very contagious and is caused by bacteria that infects the mucous membranes of the urethra, vagina, cervix, throat, or rectum (Soa Aids, 2021). Chlamydia is transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the infection. One of the most common symptoms of chlamydia is an unusual discharge from the vagina or penis.

Discharge from Gonorrhea 

Gonorrhea is an STI that is also caused by a bacterium that can infect the urethra, throat, rectum, or reproductive tract in women. The infection can lead to discharge from the vagina or penis with an unpleasant odour. This discharge is usually thick and green or yellow in colour.

Discharge from Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is an STI that often has no symptoms and is more common in women than in men. Women may suffer from itching, inflammation of the vagina, painful urination, or an increased quantity of discharge with an unpleasant smell.  Men may experience inflamed glans, a burning sensation when urinating, or discharge from the penis.

Can discharge also be caused by something other than an STI?

Unusual discharge is not always caused by an STI. Discharge can also be caused by a Candida infection, which may be accompanied with itching or burning with urination. In women, bacterial vaginosis is another common infection that causes discharge with an unpleasant smell. Unusual discharge can also be due to other infections or health conditions. If your STI test results are negative and you are still experiencing abnormal discharge, make an appointment with your GP to take a closer look.

Does discharge from an STI go away on its own?

While STIs do not go away by themselves, most can be treated quickly and easily with antibiotics. If you have symptoms that could indicate an STI, it is important to get tested. Leaving an STI untreated can cause permanent damage to your reproductive system, which is why getting tested regularly is important. Homed-IQ’s STI Test Comprehensive provides the most complete overview of your sexual health to date. This STI test checks for the 8 most common STIs and can be taken easily and confidentially from home.

What should I do if I have unusual discharge?

Unusual discharge is usually an indication something is not right with your health, and therefore further investigation is needed. If you suspect you have an STI, you can easily check yourself from home before visiting a doctor, with results available in days. The Basic-3 STI Test from Homed-IQ tests the three most common STIs that cause abnormal discharge. If you test positive for one of these STIs, it is important to contact your doctor, who will ensure that you receive the necessary medication that will make your infection and symptoms disappear. 

References

Soa Aids Nederland. (2021, July 6). Afscheiding. https://www.soaaids.nl/nl/heb-ik-soa/afscheiding

Vaginale afscheiding. (2020, February 28). De Gynaecoloog. https://www.degynaecoloog.nl/onderwerpen/vaginale-afscheiding/

Vaginale afscheiding door een soa of een ontsteking in het kleine bekken. (2022, March 11). https://www.isala.nl/patientenfolders/7598-vaginale-afscheiding-door-soa-of-ontsteking-kleine-bekken/

About the author

Lauren Dobischok

Lauren is a health scientist and science communicator living in the Netherlands. With a background in epidemiology, her goal is to create accurate scientific content that is easy to understand and empowers people to make informed decisions. Her favourite topics to discuss are public health, infectious diseases, and dispelling myths and misconceptions about health topics with research. Coming from Canada, Lauren prefers to spend her free time learning Dutch and exploring the interesting sights this small country has to offer!