Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) pass from one person to the next during sexual contact. They can affect men and women, but women can have greater complications if they are pregnant or breastfeeding. Also, women have more frequent and serious health problems from STDs than men do. If a bacteria or parasite causes an STD, you can treat it with antibiotics, but if a virus is the cause, there is no cure, only medicines to keep the disease under control. Using a condom reduces the risk of getting an STD.
If you get an STD, you must get treatment; otherwise, it could lead to cancer, infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, problems getting pregnant, organ damage or death. You put yourself at greater risk of contracting HIV/AIDS if you have an STD because having certain types of STDs can make it easier for you to get HIV if you are exposed to it. If you engage in risky sexual behavior, you have a greater chance of getting an STD.
You should get screened for the most common and harmful STDs for women, which are bacterial vaginosis, chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, HIV/AIDS, human papillomavirus, pubic lice, syphilis and trichomoniasis. No one test can find all of those diseases, and a routine Pap test does not test for STDs. If you suspect you may have an STD because you’ve been sexually active and have sores or a discharge, ask your doctor for a STD screening.
STDs and Pregnancy
If you contract an STD while you are pregnant, you can threaten the health of your baby. You could deliver early, or the infection could pass to your baby through delivery or breastfeeding. Harmful effects to your baby can include low birth weight, eye infection, brain damage, blindness, deafness, liver disease or stillbirth. Your doctor can treat many types of STDs during your pregnancy, so it’s important to get early screening. You may also need a cesarean section to lower the risks of your baby getting an STD while passing through the birth canal.
HIV/AIDs is an increasing problem for women. Because one-in-five people who have HIV don’t know they have it, it’s important you get tested for HIV after having sex with a new partner or if your partner had sex with someone new. Eighty percent of women who get HIV, get it from an infected male partner. You can find an HIV screening center near you from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
Common STDs for Teens
One-in-four teenage women in the United States have human papillomavirus, also called HPV, chlamydia, herpes or trichomoniasis. Almost half of all black teen women have an STD, compared to 20 percent of white teens. Starting at age 11, girls can get a vaccine for HPV. Screening for other STDs can start whenever a woman is sexually active.
Avoid Getting STDs
You can help avoid getting an STD by taking certain precautions. The best way to avoid one is to not have sex, which includes vaginal, oral and anal sex, or only have sex with one partner who does not have an STD or other sexual partners. If you are not sure, use a condom.