STDs and Infertility: Part 2

STDs and Infertility STDs and Infertility

Sexually transmitted diseases, STDs, also called sexually transmitted infections or STIs, can cause immediate, annoying symptoms with long-lasting, serious repercussions. Few people realize that these sexually transmitted diseases can cause damage that may eventually lead to infertility.

What are STIs and STDs?
Although the terms STD and STI are synonymous, STI is the preferred term because it demonstrates the potential for passing on an infection despite not showing any symptoms of the disease. However, in this article, we will use the more common term: STD.

Just the facts
Here are some facts about STDs:

  • Approximately 75 percent of sexually active women and men will contract some sort of STD in their lifetime.
  • According to one report, about 19 million new cases of STDs occur each year in the United States, half of these occurring in young people aged 15 to 24 years.
  • 25 percent of sexually active teens acquire one or more sexually transmitted infections.

All individuals (adults and teenagers alike) who engage in sexual activities are at risk for STDs.

How do I get a STD?
Sexually transmitted infections are passed between humans during unprotected sexual intercourse, including vaginal intercourse, anal sex, or oral sex. Other ways these infections can be passed on is through sharing IV needles, childbirth or breastfeeding. If left untreated, STDs can lead to infertility.

Types of STDs
There are many types of STDs, and it is important to be aware of them all. Understanding their connection to reproductive health may help in preventing infertility. The top five STDs affecting fertility are:

  1. Chlamydia
  2. Gonorrhea
  3. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  4. Syphilis
  5. Human papillomavirus (HPV)

Research is still being conducted to determine how these infections affect fertility. For example, cervical abnormalities have been found to be common in HIV-infected women. Oftentimes, there are no apparent signs of an STI and the infection can even go undetected for years.

Men are not immune to fertility effects of STDs; Chlamydia can spread from the urethra to the testicles and cause permanent disability and sterility in men if left untreated.

Pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a common cause of infertility, and often goes undetected due to its asymptomatic nature. In this section, we explain several facts about this infertility risk factor.

  • PID is a term used to describe an upward traveling infection in the female body that results from vaginal intercourse with an infected partner. 
  • The infection causes fallopian tube, ovarian and/or pelvic damage.
  • The primary bacteria responsible for PID are chlamydia and gonorrhea. 
  • Left untreated, almost half of chlamydia and gonorrhea infections progress to PID.
  • Gonorrhea is thought to account for 40 percent of all PID cases.
  • In the US, more than one million women each year seek treatment for PID, and more than 100,000 become infertile because of this disease. 

HPV: human papillomavirus
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most prevalent STI in the US. Here are some facts about HPV and how it affects fertility.

  • HPV causes cervical cancer, the second leading type of cancer in women worldwide.
  • It is believed that about twenty-five million women have HPV, nearly half of whom are between the ages of 20 and 24. 
  • Approximately 14,000 American women are diagnosed each year with HPV.
  • 12,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year and 3,900 will die of the disease.
  • HPV can negatively affect fertility in the future because treatments for cancers associated with HPV may include chemotherapy or hysterectomy.
  • HPV virus is so widespread that scientists compare it to the common cold. It can metastasize years after transmission, often affecting women in their late 30s.

A new vaccine for adolescents may help prevent the spread of this silent, but fertility-compromising disease. The CDC strongly recommends all individuals age 9-26 carefully consider the possible benefits of the vaccine.

Preventing STDs and infertility
Here are some ways you can prevent STDs and in doing so, also prevent infertility:

  • Use condoms each and every time you have sex to lower the risk of transmission.
  • Be aware of the signs and symptoms of STDs and be vigilant about any you may experience.
  • Get tested and seek professional treatment if needed.

With the proper education and resources, the prevalence of STDs can be significantly lowered, if not eradicated entirely. Sexually active people need to understand what types of sexual behavior can cause STDs. By informing the population about the types of STDs, their symptoms and their effect on reproductive health, we can help in preventing infertility due to complications from these diseases. 

Prevention, along with early detection and treatment can help lower your risk of infertility.

Ask a doctor about infertility symptoms

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