Vitality

STD Symptoms In Women Are Less Obvious And So Less Treated, Could Lead To Infertility

vulnerable
The reasons women are impacted by STDs more than men include the fragility of the vagina and the fact that her symptoms are less obvious. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

When it comes to unprotected sex, women naturally bear more of the consequences than men. Certainly, a man will never become pregnant after sex without a condom, but a woman also might bear, disproportionately, the consequences of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs). Consider a few sobering facts: untreated STDs cause infertility in at least 24,000 women each year in the U.S. alone. You may be astonished to learn as well that untreated syphilis in pregnant women causes infant death in up to 40 percent of all cases. Finally, when it comes to untreated chlamydia, men suffer neither symptoms nor ill effects most of the time, while women can develop pelvic inflammatory disease which might lead to reproductive system damage.

So why are women impacted by STDs differently than men? A few key reasons go a long way to explaining feminine vulnerability:

One/ For many common STDs — including chlamydia and gonorrhea — women are less likely to show symptoms compared to men and when symptoms do occur, they may appear to go away even though the infection remains. More importantly, men find it easier to notice symptoms because they signs are so obvious — an unusual discharge, for example. Since women experience a whole range of natural discharges, all of them quite normal, they find it much more difficult to distinguish when an abnormal one appears.

Two/ Not only is the vagina a suitably moist environment where bacteria may easily flourish, but its lining is exceedingly more delicate and thinner than the skin of a penis. This natural fragility means viruses find it easier to penetrate.

Three/ Women have visibility issues. Notably, it’s harder for a woman to see a genital ulcer (from syphilis, say, or herpes) because they could occur only inside her vagina and not on the surface of her genitalia. Meanwhile, it’s difficult for a man to miss seeing a sore making its debut on his penis.

Four/ Finally, everyday sexually transmitted infections wreak havoc on a woman’s more gentle system while causing no problems in men. Along with chlamydia, the human papillomavirus (HPV) is contracted by both men and women frequently. However this common virus does not lead to serious (if any) health problems for most men while it is the main cause of cervical cancer in women. The fairer sex has been dealt an unequal hand.

So what’s a woman to do? In a phrase: protect yourself.

Speak Up

See your doctor, but more importantly talk to your doctor. There’s no shame in asking to be tested for sexually transmitted infections and diseases, and this is true whether your visit is with your primary care physician or your ob/gyn. If you haven’t already been given one, you might want to ask for the HPV vaccine.

Don’t stop here, though. Once you get a sense of a partner’s sexual history, go all the way and ask about STDs, especially if he or she has been around the block a few times. Make it a joke, if you have to, but simply ask: Ever been tested for STDs?

Finally, and yes we’ve saved the best for last, use condoms. Imperfect though they may be, they offer a good deal of protection against STIs and pregnancy. You’re never perfectly safe, and sadly, even long-term boyfriends (and husbands) have been known to spread disease to their partners. It’s always worth it, knowing you’ve done your best at self-protection.

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