STDs and Infertility

Health Writer

You probably know that having unprotected sex puts you at a higher risk of contracting a Sexually Transmitted Disease. What you might not know is that STDs can sometimes lead to infertility.

Teens and young adults between the ages of 15 and 26 are most susceptible to contracting an STD. In this age group most people -- especially teenagers -- are not thinking about later pregnancies and that having unprotected sex now might prevent them from ever having a child of their own. But it can happen.

The link between STDs and infertility

The most common STDs that could result in infertility are gonorrhea and chlamydia, both bacterial infections. Although they are easily treated with antibiotics, most people aren’t even aware they have the infections, as they can be without symptoms for years.

According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 20 percent of women with one of these infections will end up with pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an infection in the upper genital tract. Symptoms of PID include chronic pelvic pain, tenderness in the abdominal area, yellow or green vaginal discharge, painful urination, chills, fever, nausea, vomiting and pain during sex. It can also lead to ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy in the fallopian tube or elsewhere outside the uterus) and infertility due to permanent damage to the fallopian tube, uterus or surrounding tissue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 24,000 women become infertile each year because of an STD.

While infertility due to STDs is not as common in men, it can happen. Untreated STDs can cause an infection of the epididymis. Once the testes create sperm, it travels to the epididymis to mature. Chronic epididymitis, an infection in the epididymis, can result in a loss of sperm mobility and a lower sperm count.

What you can do

Be aware of the risks. All unprotected sex puts you at risk of contracting an STD. Sex doesn’t mean just vaginal intercourse; it includes oral and anal sex as well.

Get tested. If you are sexually active and not in a monogamous relationship, be tested for STDs at least once a year. Because many STDs are asymptomatic, you or your partner might not know you have one. Therefore, anytime you have sex with a new partner, you should be tested. Keep in mind that routine pelvic exams do not include testing for STDs; you must specifically ask your doctor for these tests.

Speak up. You might be embarrassed to talk about using protection. You might think that when you ask your new partner to get tested or wear protection he or she will be offended. But speaking up is protecting your current health, your future health and maybe your ability to one day have a child. The possible consequences of not speaking up are much too high. Those who are offended are not worth your time.

Reduce your sexual partners. Or better yet, have sex only with those who agree to be in a mutually monogamous relationship. Even though you both should be tested at the beginning of the relationship, it is much safer to continue having sex together if neither of you is sexually active with other people.

You can’t tell if someone has an STD just by looking at them or by judging their character. Many people think people with an STD are dirty or will have telltale signs. In most cases, they won’t. And, if they do have an STD, there is a good chance they don’t know. Having an STD does not make you dirty or shameful. It simply means that some time in your past, you had unprotected sex.

For more information on STDs:

Myths about Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

The Stigma of STDs

College Women and Risk of STDS

STDs and HIV Testing: Frequently Asked Questions

The HPV Vaccine and Your Daughter