SyphilisThis article is part of an ongoing series about STI's as they relate to swinging. You can read related articles at

Syphilis is a bacteria that is transmitted sexually through skin to skin contact. There are 3 phases to the illness. The first phase is a painless ulcer. It may be on the penis or vulva or inside the mouth or vagina. The ulcer will go away with or without treatment.

The second phase is a rash. The rash is not itchy and is often on the palms and soles of the feet. Syphilis is one of only a few rashes that appears in these locations. There may also be a rash in the mouth, armpits or groin. The rash will go away whether it is treated or not.

The third phase may not occur for many years (10 – 30 years). Symptoms of the late stage of syphilis include difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, and dementia. In the late stages of syphilis, the disease damages the internal organs, including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints. This damage can result in death.

Syphilis is extremely contagious in the 1st and 2nd stage. It can be transmitted by kissing, fingering, oral, vaginal or anal sex and by sharing sex toys.

Fortunately syphilis is not common and is very treatable with antibiotics. Syphilis can be cured but damage to the brain and other organs is not reversible. Untreated syphilis in pregnant women can kill or severely injure the developing baby.

In 2011 there were 13,970 cases of primary and secondary syphilis reported in the US. There were 32,000 cases of late stage syphilis.

Men who have sex with men and minorities have higher rates of syphilis.

Syphilis is usually diagnosed by a blood test. It can also be diagnosed by looking at bacteria from the ulcer under a microscope.

-If you have a sore on your genitals you should see your Dr.
-If you have a rash that includes the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet you should be tested.
-If you've had sex with someone who has syphilis you should be tested.
-Men who have sex with men should be tested.
-Since syphilis is such a serious problem for babies, all pregnant women should be tested.

Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics. It is important that all partners are notified and treated. You can get syphilis again after it is treated.

Avoid kissing or any type of sex with anyone with sores on the genitals or in the mouth. If someone has an unexplained rash on the palms of their hands or the soles of their feet, don't kiss or have sex with them.

Condoms help to prevent the spread of syphilis if they cover the ulcer/rash.

When sharing sex toys cover them with a condom and change it between people. Or clean the toys between use. Jelly type toys are porous and can not be cleaned. They should not be shared (as an aside, the jelly material contains phthalates which are toxic and actually illegal in Europe). Silicone, hard plastic, stainless steel and glass toys can be cleaned.

Syphilis resources:

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