Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are also called sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs are infections you can get by having sex with someone who has an infection. STIs can be caused by viruses or bacteria or parasites. STIs are usually spread by having vaginal, oral, or anal sex. More than 9 million women in the United States are diagnosed with an STI each year. Women often have more serious health problems from STIs than men, including infertility.
An STI is an infection passed from one person to another person through sexual contact. An infection is when a bacteria, virus, or parasite enters and grows in or on your body. STIs are also called sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs. Some STIs can be cured and some STIs cannot be cured. For those STIs that cannot be cured, there are medicines to manage the symptoms.
Nearly 20 million people in the United States get an STI each year. These infections affect women and men of all backgrounds and economic levels. But half of all new infections are among young people 15 to 24 years old.
STIs are spread in the following ways:
- Having unprotected (without a condom) vaginal, oral, or anal sex with someone who has an STI. It can be difficult to tell if someone has an STI. STIs can be spread even if there are no signs or symptoms.
- During genital touching. It is possible to get some STIs, such as syphilis and herpes, without having sex.
- Through sexual contact between women who have sex only with other women
- From a pregnant or breastfeeding woman to her baby
Yes. Each STI causes different health problems for women. Certain types of untreated STIs can cause or lead to:
- Problems getting pregnant or permanent infertility
- Problems during pregnancy and health problems for the unborn baby
- Infection in other parts of the body
- Organ damage
- Certain types of cancer, such as cervical cancer
Having certain types of STIs makes it easier for you to get HIV (another STI) if you come into contact with it.
Many STIs have only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. When women have symptoms, they may be mistaken for something else, such as a urinary tract infection or yeast infection. Get tested so that you can be treated for the correct infection, but when they occur in men, they can include:
- pain or burning during urination.
- a need to urinate more frequently.
- pain during ejaculation.
- abnormal discharge from the penis, particularly colored or foul-smelling discharge.
- bumps, blisters, or sores on the penis or genitals.
Ask your doctor or nurse about getting tested for STIs. Your doctor or nurse can tell you what test(s) you may need and how they are done. Testing for STIs is also called STI screening.
STI testing can include:
- Pelvic and physical exam. Your doctor looks for signs of infection, such as warts, rashes, or discharge.
- Blood test. A nurse will draw some blood to test for an STI.
- Urine test. You urinate (pee) into a cup. The urine is then tested for an STI.
- Fluid or tissue sample. Your doctor or nurse uses a cotton swab to take fluid or discharge from an infected place on your body. The fluid is looked at under a microscope or sent to a lab for testing.
Find a clinic near you where you can get tested for STIs.
The best way to prevent an STI is to not have vaginal, oral, or anal sex. If you do have sex, lower your risk of getting an STI with the following steps:
- Get vaccinated.
- Use condoms.
- Get tested.
- Be monogamous.
- Limit your number of sex partners.
- Do not douche.
- Do not abuse alcohol or drugs.
The steps work best when used together. No single step can protect you from every single type of STI.