An Unequal Epidemic: STDs and STIs in Women

Diagnoses of sexually transmitted diseases are almost equal among men and women. The effects are not.

Every year, more than 20 million new sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) occur—and those are only the infections that are diagnosed. STDs, including human papillomavirus (HPV), gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia, disproportionately affect women.

Reasons for this include:
• Women are less likely to experience symptoms than men, so they often discover their infection later.
• Bacteria thrives in warm, moist environments—like the vagina—that encourage growth.
• The vagina is an internal organ, which can make it more difficult to see symptoms, such as rashes or sores, unlike the penis, which is external.
• Symptoms such as discharge and vaginal itching are also symptoms of common yeast infections, making it easier for women to consider them just another minor concern rather than an STD.

How Women Are Affected
STDs affect women differently from men in a variety of ways, including:
• Many STDs can cause infertility, affecting a woman’s future plans to reproduce.
• STDs can also cause ectopic pregnancies, which can result in infertility and even threaten the mother’s life if the condition isn’t identified early enough.
• Pregnant mothers can pass STDs to their unborn children, resulting in a variety of difficulties, including brain damage, low birth weight, early delivery and stillbirth.
• HPV is the most common STD in women and is the most common cause of cervical cancer. While HPV also affects men, serious health problems for men are far less common.
Open communication with your partner is critical to protecting yourself from STDs. Be sure to take proper precautions, such as using condoms during sexual activity, and talk to your primary care doctor about your personal risk factors.

Sources:
acog.org, iwannaknow.org, cdc.gov, ashasexualhealth.org