This month is STI Awareness Month and a time to shed light on the role of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and their effect on infertility. STIs are more commonly known as sexually transmitted diseases, STDs. In recent years, however, medical professionals have been transitioning to the use of STIs because not all infections turn into diseases, especially when treated early and effectively.

Here is what every sexually active person should know about STIs and STDs and how these conditions could impact their fertility now or in the future.

Conditions that can affect infertility

  • Chlamydia is a common bacterial infection. Those infected do not exhibit any symptoms, and they can be easily treated with antibiotics. Chlamydia is especially prevalent among individuals who are 14-24 years.

The ramifications of chlamydia are long-term. If untreated, it can spread to the female reproductive system, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and making it one of the most common reasons for infertility as well as ectopic pregnancies.

  • Gonorrhea can cause PID in women and epididymitis, a painful condition of the testes, in men. Both can lead to infertility if untreated. Long-term, it can spread to the heart and the joints. Gonorrhea is often asymptomatic, but some victims experience painful urination or discharge. It too can be treated with antibiotics.
  • Syphilis is a highly contagious STI that can be transmitted by sexual activity and through pregnancy. Though the number of those afflicted from it decreased with the introduction of penicillin in the 1940’s, there has been an uptick in cases since 2014.

Tragically, pregnant women infected with syphilis are at high risk for having a stillborn baby or for their baby to die after birth.

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common viruses, with over 100 different strains infecting 14 million each year. Sexually transmitted infections can cause genital warts and, for some women, increase the risk of precancerous or cancerous cells in the cervix. Treatment for removing these cells, such as cryotherapy, can be detrimental to fertility and cause miscarriage.

Fortunately, there is now a vaccine for girls and boys to prevent the spread of HPV before they become sexually active. For young adults, an annual checkup and a pap smear for females are effective detection measures.

Other strains of STIs may not have a direct correlation to infertility, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), but have dire long-term consequences for health and well-being.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Pelvic inflammatory disease, PID, is not a sexually transmitted infection but is a primary consequence of them for women. It can be symptomless, but over time leads to fallopian tubal blocking or scarring and the subsequent inability to get pregnant.

Male symptoms
Male infertility symptoms range from burning sensations during urination, discharge from the penis and swollen testicles to epididymitis, an infection that damages sperm.

Stay safe today to protect your future
The best way to be safe from sexually transmitted infections is to use condoms during sexual relationships. Many of these conditions may have no detectable symptoms for men or women, so it is essential to get an annual checkup, especially if you are sexually active with multiple partners.

During STI Awareness Month in April, let’s convey the message that prevention and detection of these infections can help prevent the long-lasting impact of infertility.