Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Where Did They Come From?

Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Where Did They Come From?

Those who contract STDs should be incredibly thankful that they live in the time of modern medicine and its many advances. For centuries, sexually transmitted diseases were neither understood nor treated properly, which resulted in rampant transmission, multiple epidemics, plenty of suffering, and death for many people.

Today, all one has to do is get STD testing to find out about their sexual health. Then, if they need treatment, many STDs can be cured, and most can be treated to minimize symptoms, pain, discomfort, and embarrassment.

Up until as recently as the 1930s and 1940s, before the advent of penicillin and antibiotics, contracting an STD was a far scarier, bewildering, and painful incident.

The History of STDs: A Brief Overview, from Ancient to Modern Times

STDs have been around for an era, although they have not been known to mankind for as long.


The first recorded instance of an STD, syphilis, was written in the 1490s, around the time that an epidemic swept through Europe. This coincided with Columbus’s return from the New World. Many scholars believe that Columbus and his crew were, in fact, responsible for bringing the infection back from the Americas.

Others contest that the disease had been present in Europe all along, since ancient times; it just mutated into a more virulent form around the time of the 15th-century epidemic, making it easier to spread. Whether or not infections like syphilis and gonorrhea had been around since ancient cultures like the Romans (another theory says that what people called “leprosy” was possibly syphilis), these are the two STDs that were the most common and widespread throughout history.


Gonorrhea as a separate ailment from syphilis was known at least as early as the Middle Ages, as it was named by a Greek physician and philosopher of that time, Galen of Pergamum. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, gonorrhea might have been known to the ancient cultures of the Egyptians and the Chinese, as well. However, until medical advances of the early 20th century, it was often conflated with syphilis, and the two were regularly lumped together.

HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome)

One of the most recent STD epidemics in history is HIV/AIDS. The virus, once contracted, attacks the immune system, leaving the body practically defenseless against illness and infections, which is defined as full-blown AIDS.

HIV has not been present in humans for very long at all. The earliest known case was discovered in the early 1900s, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, from a man’s blood sample. The earliest known case in the United States, meanwhile, was not discovered until 1966.

Scientists believe that HIV was transmitted to humans from chimpanzees at some point before 1931. According to Healthline, chimpanzee hunters would come in contact with the blood of their kill, which may have been how the first human was infected.

Without STD Testing, How Were People Diagnosed and Treated?

In past centuries, with syphilis raging throughout Europe, there was no real concrete understanding of it, and it was often generally known as “the pox,” or some variant of that name tied together with an enemy or entire country who were conveniently given the blame. For instance, according to the Journal of Military and Veteran Health (JMVH), the French called syphilis the “Spanish disease” or the “great pox”, the English called it the “French pox”, Russians called it “Polish disease”, and the Polish called it “Turkish disease.”

The main focus of syphilis in the 15th and 16th centuries was usually on one or two symptoms, such as the sores that often covered the body, and the later-stage symptoms were largely ignored. However, the 16th century is when physicians started recognizing that syphilis was spread through sexual intercourse.

As superstition often took the place of scientific thinking before the advent of scientific inquiry, many people, including physicians, believed that contracting syphilis was a reflection on the person’s moral cleanliness and was a punishment for sin from God. Some physicians even refused to treat patients with syphilis because of this, according to JMVH. However, this view only lasted through the 16th and 17th centuries.


Treatments for STDs like syphilis usually only concentrated on the sores and/or abscesses and ignored the other numerous complaints (fevers, aches and pains, pain in the bones, rash, manic episodes, and insanity).

Since the disease was first recorded, mercury was the most common treatment for the sores. It was applied directly to the affected skin in an ointment. Sweat baths were also a common remedy used in conjunction with mercury, where sufferers were confined to a hot room to supposedly “sweat out” the infection.

Mercury’s terrible side effects were noted, including mouth ulcers, tooth loss, kidney failure, and nerve damage, and many patients died from mercury poisoning instead of their initial disease, but mercury remained in vogue as the most effective treatment well into the early 20th century. It was injected with syringes, ingested via pills or tonics, and, of course, used in ointments.

The Benefits of Living with Access to Modern Medicine in Plano, TX

Modern medicine makes diagnosing and treating STDs far simpler than it ever was for centuries throughout history. People today are incredibly lucky that they can go to their doctor, a health clinic, a Planned Parenthood, or some other health facility and get STD testing. Treatment, additionally, is a walk in the park compared to hundreds of years ago.

The history of STDs proves just how far medicine has come. It’s a smart idea to make use of it in order to both protect oneself from sexually transmitted diseases in Frisco, TX, as well as get the right treatment that modern advances make possible.

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