Sexually transmitted disease can affect both men and women, but women can have more difficulty figuring out if they even have an STD. And, untreated, the STD can cause other long-term problems such as infertility, or may even be passed to an unborn child if a woman is pregnant when she develops the infection.
Here are six ways STDs affect women and men differently:
1) Women may not have observable symptoms as compared to men.
Women may not develop symptoms of STDs such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, or the symptoms may go away, even though the infection is still there.
Women may also not see genital ulcers from herpes or syphilis if they develop deeper inside their vaginas. Men can readily see sores that appear on their penises.
2) Women may confuse symptoms of a vaginal infection with being something else, or they may think it's an infection they can self-treat.
Woman often think a vaginal discharge is normal, or that any itching and burning is related to a yeast infection, so they may use an over-the-counter medication to self-treat — but it's the wrong infection. Men do not have a discharge normally from their penis, so they are more likely to seek medical care if a discharge occurs.
3) Women are anatomically more susceptible to STDs than men.
The tissue that lines the vagina is thinner and more delicate than the skin that covers the penis so bacteria or viruses have an easier time getting a foothold. Also, because the vagina is warm and moist, it is a more inviting place for STDs to grow.
4) Woman can develop infertility from a STD and other complications.
Untreated, an STD can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which may lead to infertility and increased risk of an ectopic pregnancy.
According to the CDC, “each year untreated STDs cause infertility in at least 24,000 women and untreated syphilis in a pregnant women results in infant death in up to 40 percent of cases.”
5) Women, if pregnant, may pass their STDs to their new babies.
Genital herpes, syphilis and HIV can be passed during pregnancy and during deliver to the baby. The infant can suffer other complications such as low birth weight, brain damage, blindness and deafness, or be stillborn.
6) Human papillomavirus is the most common STD in women, and is the main cause of cervical cancer.
Men can also get HPV, but may not develop other health problems from the infection. There is also no test for HPV for men currently, while women can be tested by their doctors during their yearly pelvic exams.
What can you do to prevent getting an STD?
- Make sure you have a yearly exam, including testing for STDs if you feel you are at risk.
- Consider getting an HPV vaccination if you are in the age group for which it is currently recommended.
- Ask that new sexual partners be tested first before you are sexually active with them.
- Avoid unprotected sex. Use latex type condoms and oral sexual barriers if you're if you are not in a committed relationship with your partner.
- Try and have fun with STD protection instead of thinking about it as an obstacle. You can use different colors and styles of condoms. Weave using protection into being part of your sexual play.
- Use outercourse, which are sexual activities without actual penetration, to feel intimate with a partner. Foxnews.com describes outercourse as “activities including touching, kissing, rubbing, massage, mutual masturbation, oral sex, and using sex toys (if cleansed properly).”
The idea is to have fun and feel close to one another, but always protect each other.
Effects of STDs differ between men and women. AW: All Women. Retrieved December 6, 2015.
What You Need to Know About STD Symptoms and Treatments. Retrieved December 6, 2015.
10 Ways STDs Impact Women Differently from Men. CDC Fact Sheet. Retrieved December 6, 2015.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues.
Edited by Jody SmithRead more in Gender Differences in Health