Sexually Transmitted Diseases/STDS in Women: Facts You Should Know

Updated on February 18th, 2020
sexually transmitted diseases

Sexually transmitted diseases/STD in women are also known as STIs or sexually transmitted infections. They result from vaginal, oral, or anal sexual contact. If you’re experiencing symptoms such as rashes, vaginal itching, pain, or unusual discharge, it’s time to see the doctor.

Even if you don’t display these symptoms, it’s always a good idea to get screened for STDs. Left without adequate treatment, such diseases increase the chances of fertility issues and can even result in cervical cancer. Risks also make it critical to avoid unprotected sex.

According to Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, close to half of the new cases of STDs like chlamydia occur between 15 and 24 years of age in women. CDC also estimates 20 million new STDs will develop in the US alone. Each year, close to 357 million new infections of STIs like gonorrhea and trichomoniasis are noted, according to the WHO.

As women do not display the STD symptoms, they may not require treatment. It is estimated 1 in 5 Americans has genital herpes, but close to 90% are unaware they have the disease. CDC estimates infertility is caused due to STDs in 24K women in the US alone, Increasing chances of abdominal pain, ectopic pregnancies, or other complications. So how can you guard against this potentially deadly infection? Let’s find out.

Types of Common STDs in Women

Common STIs/STDs in women include genital herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HPV. HPV or human papillomavirus is among the most common in women. It can cause cervical cancer. However, the HPV vaccine is available to guard against certain strains of this disease.

Besides, gonorrhea and chlamydia are common STDs caused by bacteria. Most US gynecologists automatically test for such diseases, when patients report symptoms. Genital herpes is relatively common, with 1 in 6 individuals having the symptoms. Let’s examine each of these sexually transmitted diseases in detail.

1. Chlamydia

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A specific type of bacteria leads to chlamydia(1). It is an STD that is common among Americans, according to the CDC. Most women with this STD do not exhibit symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they include discomfort or pain during urination or sexual activities, greenish-yellow discharge from the vagina and lower abdomen pain.

When left untreated, this STD can lead to infections of the urethra, pelvic inflammatory disease, or even infertility. In case pregnant women have untreated chlamydia, they can pass on the virus to the baby, resulting in eye infections, blindness, or pneumonia in the infant. Antibiotics can be used to treat chlamydia.

[Also Read: Treat Chlamydia Naturally]

2. Human Papilloma Virus/HPV

This STD is a virus that passes from one individual to another through skin-based or sexual contact. Many different strains of this virus exist, some more dangerous than others. Common symptoms of HPV are warts in the mouth, throat, or on the genitals. Some types of HPV can even cause cancers like vulvar cancer, cervical cancer, oral cancer, and rectal cancer in women.

According to National Cancer Institute/NCI in the US, HPV 18 and 16 are implicated in 70% of cervical cancer cases. While there is no cure for HPV, such infections clean up on their own. Vaccines also protect against the lethal HPV strains. If HPV is contracted, always opt for proper screening and help your doctor to manage complication risks.

[ Read: Condom Size Guide ]

3. Syphilis

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This STD is another bacterial infection that goes undetected in the early stages. The first symptom is the chancre, a small sore that is round in shape. It can develop in the genitals, anal area, or mouth. It does not cause pain, but it is incredibly infectious.

Later syphilis symptoms include rashes, fever, chronic fatigue, headaches, weight and hair loss, and joint pains.  Syphilis, when untreated, can cause damage to memory, vision, or hearing. It can also trigger mental illness, brain or spinal cord infections, heart disease, or death. If detected early, it can be cured using antibiotics. Syphilis in pregnant women can be fatal for the newborn.

4. HIV

HIV damages the immune system and runs the chance of other viruses, bacteria, or even cancer contraction. If left untreated, it progresses to AIDS, the third stage of HIV. With access to antiretroviral therapy, HIV can be managed, so it does not progress to stage 3. Early symptoms include aches, pains, chills, fever, swollen lymph nodes, headache, nausea, and rashes.

While these symptoms generally clear in one month, HIV can later develop into AIDS. Other individuals face fevers, headaches, stomach issues, and recurrent fatigue. There is no HIV cure, but treatment options are there. Proper treatment can lower the chances of transmitting the disease.

5. Gonorrhea

This disease is a common bacterial STD called “the clap.” Many individuals do not show symptoms when they contract this disease. When present, symptoms can range across colored discharge, pain in vagina, problems in urinating, itching around the pubic area, and if untreated, the disease can cause urethra infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, and fertility complications.

Mothers can pass gonorrhea to the newborn during pregnancy, and it can cause a lot of severe problems for the baby. The disease itself can be treated using antibiotics.

6. Trichomoniasis

It is also called trich, and this disease is caused by protozoa which passes from one individual to another through genital contact. Symptoms may develop, such as discomfort in the vagina, burning or itching in private parts, pain or discomfort during sex or urination, fishy discharge. If untreated, trichomoniasis(2) can also trigger infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, and urethra infections.

7. Herpes

Herpes Treatment

This infection is an STD also known by its virus, HSV, or herpes simplex virus. The main strains of this disease include HSV-1 and 2. Both can be transmitted through sex. CDC estimates 1 in 6 people have herpes in the US. HSV-1 leads to cold sores or oral herpes.

It can be transferred due to oral sex. HSV-2 causes genital herpes. A common symptom of this STI is sores. In the case of HSV-2, the sores develop around the genital and in HSV-1, around the mouth.

HSV sores generally crust over, healing in a couple of weeks, whereby the first outbreak is painful. Outbreaks become less frequent and painful across time. Pregnant women can transmit natural herpes to children, so prompt detection and management are essential.

There is no known STD cure, although there are medications to effectively manage herpes. Other STDs include scabies, chancroid, molluscum contagiosum, and granuloma inguinale.

[Also Read: Natural Treatments for Herpes]

Warning Signs and Symptoms

Women should be aware of symptoms of STD and seek medical advice if required. Some of the symptoms include the following.

1. Change in Urination

STD can be present if there is burning, pain, or increased urination or presence of blood in the urine.

2. Abnormal Discharge

Vaginal discharge changes to yellow or green when there is an STD. Look, and consistency of vaginal discharges change to white, thick ones when there is a yeast infection.

3. Itching

Itching is a common symptom that may signal STD. Vaginal itching can also be due to yeast infection or scabies and public lice.

4. Pain during Sex

Pain is often overlooked. However, abdominal or pelvic pain can signal pelvic inflammatory disease, caused by advanced infection with gonorrhea or chlamydia.

5. Abnormal Bleeding and Rashes

Another possible sign of STD is abnormal bleeding. Sores or pimples around the mouth or vagina indicate HPV, syphilis or herpes.

Can Pregnant Women Get STD?

Women can suffer from STDs when pregnant. Infections don’t always display symptoms, so some women may not realize they are infected. Therefore, the doctors should screen for STD at the start of the pregnancy. Infections like STI/STD can be lethal for mother and child. Early treatment is essential, so the disease does not pass on to the baby during pregnancy or childbirth.

Bacterial STDs can be combated during pregnancy with antibiotics. Viral STDs can be treated using antiviral medicines. Pregnant women should also give birth through caesarian if they have STD to avoid passing the disease onto the child.


Prevention is always better than cure. Take the following preventative measures to prevent transmitting or getting STDs.

1. Regular Testing

Women should get a pap smear every 3-5 years. This action prevents STDs and ensures early detection. If you are sexually active, testing for STIs is essential, and HPV vaccination may also benefit you.

2. Protection During Sex

Protection During Sex
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Whether it is vaginal, oral, or anal sex, condoms can protect the individual and their partner. Female condoms and dental dams can protect as well as male condoms when it comes to preventing STD transmission. Another form of birth control, however, does not protect women from STDs.

3. Open Communication

Communicating openly and honestly with your sexual partner and with your doctor about medical history is essential, to prevent STDs.

This article covers the entire range of concerns women may have regarding sexually transmitted diseases. STDs have surefire warning signs and symptoms, which can ensure early detection. There are many common STDs and STIs which infect women, even during pregnancy.

As STD can impact both mother and child during pregnancy, it is essential to get screened before planning for a pregnancy. Protected sex and open, honest communication with your partner and with your doctor is equally important.

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