STIs and STDs in women

Sexually transmitted infections and diseases (STIs and STDs) are transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact. Symptoms of an STD for those with a vagina can include:

Many STIs display no symptoms at all. Left untreated, they can lead to fertility problems and an increased risk of cervical cancer. These risks make it even more important to practice safer sex.

Every year worldwide, there are approximately 376 millionTrusted Source new transmissions of syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis.

Because many people with vaginas don’t show symptoms with some STIs, they may not know they need treatment. It’s estimated that as many as 1 in 6 Americans has genital herpes, but most are unawareTrusted Source that they have it.

Some of the most common STIs in women and those with a vagina include:

HPV is the most common STI in women. It’s also the main cause of cervical cancer.

A vaccine is available that can help prevent certain strains of HPV up to age 45 yearsTrusted Source. For more information, read about the pros and cons of the HPV vaccine.

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are common bacterial STIs. In fact, chlamydia is the most commonly reported STI in the Unites States.

Some gynecologists will automatically check for both during normal checkups, but you should ask for medical screening if you think you may be at risk.

Genital herpes is also common, with about 1 out of 6Trusted Source people between the ages 14 and 49 years having it.

Women should be aware of possible STI symptoms so that they can seek medical advice if necessary. Some of the most common symptoms are described below.

Changes in urination. An STI can be indicated by pain or a burning sensation during urination, the need to pee more frequently, or the presence of blood in the urine.

Abnormal vaginal discharge. The look and consistency of vaginal discharge changes continually through a woman’s cycle or even in the absence of a cycle. Thick, white discharge can be a sign of a yeast infection. When discharge is yellow or green, it might indicate gonorrhea or trichomoniasis.

Itching in the vaginal area. Itching is a nonspecific symptom that may or may not be related to an STI. Sex-related causes for vaginal itching may include:

Pain during sex. This symptom is often overlooked, but abdominal or pelvic pain can be a sign of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is most commonly caused by the advanced stage of chlamydia or gonorrhea.

Abnormal bleeding. Abnormal bleeding is another possible sign of PID or other reproductive problems cause by an STI.

Rashes or sores. Sores or tiny pimples around the mouth or vagina can indicate herpes, HPV, or syphilis.

Everyone should take certain preventive measures to avoid acquiring or transmitting STIs.

Get tested regularly

Typically, those with a vagina should get a Pap smear every 3 to 5 years. It’s also important to ask if you should be tested for any other STIs and whether the HPV vaccination is suggested.

According to the Office on Women’s Health, you should talk to your doctor about STI testing if you’re sexually active.

Use protection

Whether it’s for vaginal, anal, or oral sex, a condom or other barrier method can help protect both you and your partner. Female condoms and dental dams can provide a certain level of protection.

Spermicides, the birth control pill, and other forms of contraception may protect against pregnancy, but they don’t protect against STIs.

Communicate

Honest communication with both your doctor and your partner(s) about sexual history is essential.

A person can get STIs while pregnant. Because many conditions don’t show symptoms, some people don’t realize they’re living with one. For this reason, doctors may run a full STI panel at the beginning of a pregnancy.

These conditions can be life threatening to you and your baby. You can pass STIs on to your baby during pregnancy or birth, so early treatment is essential.

All bacterial STIs can be treated safely with antibiotics during pregnancy. Viral conditions can be treated with antivirals to prevent the likelihood of passing the condition to your child.

Some people will develop STIs as a direct result of a sexual assault. When women see a healthcare provider immediately following an assault, the healthcare provider tries to capture DNA and evaluate for injuries.

During this process, they check for potential STI diagnosis. If some time has passed since a sexual assault, you should still seek medical care. Your doctor or another healthcare provider can discuss possibly reporting the event, along with health-related concerns.

Depending on the person and their individual risk factors and medical history, the healthcare provider may prescribe preventive treatment, including:

Following up with a healthcare provider at the recommended time is important to ensure that the medications were effective and that no conditions need to be treated.

Here are a few things you should do after being diagnosed with an STI:

  • Start any treatment your doctor prescribes for you immediately.
  • Contact your partner(s) and let them know that they need to get tested and treated, too.
  • Abstain from sex until the condition is either cured or until your doctor gives approval. In the case of bacterial conditions, you should wait until the medications have cured you and your partner.
  • For viral conditions, wait long enough for your partner to be on antiviral medications, if necessary, to reduce the risk of transmitting the condition to them. Your doctor will be able to give you the correct time frame.
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