It may not have crossed your mind since college, but did you know that the three most common sexually transmitted infections — chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis — can cause fertility problems if left untreated? Overall, nearly 27 million new STIs are estimated to be transmitted annually If you have been diagnosed with an STI, you are certainly not alone.
While there’s historically been a lot of shame and stigma associated with sexually transmitted infections, the good news is not only are STIs preventable, but they are treatable as well. Still, knowledge is power when it comes to your health, and if you want to have kids either now or in the future, you’ll want to know how an STI can affect your fertility. So let’s dive in.
Chlamydia is an infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis that can affect both men and women. It can be transmitted during oral, anal, or vaginal sex and is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S.
If left untreated in women, chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) — which occurs about 20% of the time with untreated STI infections — as well as fallopian tube infection. The fallopian tubes can also develop scar tissue from untreated infections, which makes it more difficult for the egg to travel through at the time of ovulation. These problems can lead to fertility issues and an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy. Both PID and fallopian tube infection can cause permanent damage to the fallopian tubes, uterus, and surrounding tissues, all of which can lead to infertility.
While you may not experience symptoms with chlamydia, the most common signs to look out for are pain during intercourse, burning or discomfort during urination, pain in the lower abdomen, or an abnormal pap smear.
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which infects the mucus membranes of the reproductive tract, including the cervix, uterus, urethra, and fallopian tubes in women.
Much like chlamydia, if left untreated in women, gonorrhea can cause PID. PID causes inflammation and the formation of abscesses in the fallopian tubes and ovaries, which, left untreated, result in scar tissue.
Once again, women might experience mild symptoms, if any, that they mistake for other conditions, like a vaginal or bladder infection. Some symptoms to look out for include: unusual vaginal discharge, pain or burning during urination, and vaginal bleeding between periods or after sex.
The same can be said for PID: you might know you have it at first. Symptoms of PID can include pelvic pain or tenderness, abdominal tenderness, pain near the uterus, cervical tenderness, abnormal vaginal discharge, irregular menstrual bleeding, pain during vaginal sex, and a fever over 100.4 degrees.
The lesser known of the three, trichomoniasis is the most common non-viral sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. About 70% of people with this infection are asymptomatic, but when symptoms do occur, they include a foul-smelling vaginal discharge, genital itching, painful urination, and discomfort during intercourse.
This sexually transmitted infection commonly referred to as trich can adversely affect your fertility. The parasite in the cervical canal can slow sperm motility in males and can potentially cause an endometrial infection which hinders the development of the uterine lining. Like chlamydia and gonorrhea, trichomoniasis can also cause pelvic inflammatory disease, potentially affecting fertility.
How to Take Action
Now that you know what signs to look out for when it comes to chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis, it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional if you think you may be experiencing the symptoms of an STI. Even if you think you may have been exposed to one of these STIs, reach out to your doctor or opt for a verified, reputable online consultation with a physician through Wisp.
Wisp provides fast, effective, same-day online treatment for each of the most common STIs. Through an online consultation with a Wisp provider, you can discuss your symptoms, ask any questions you have, and get a lab order to verify your diagnosis. Wisp can then order a prescription medication same-day to a local pharmacy. It’s quick, easy, and discreet, and perhaps most importantly, the infection will be treated before it can negatively affect your future fertility. It’s a win-win!
Brighid Flynn is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia where she lives with her husband and puppy. She is just beginning her journey toward motherhood.