Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are also called sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs. 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.1 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.
Women often have more serious health problems from STIs than men:
STIs are spread in the following ways:
Yes. Each STI causes different health problems for women. Certain types of untreated STIs can cause or lead to:
Having certain types of STIs makes it easier for you to get HIV (another STI) if you come into contact with it.
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:
Find a clinic near you where you can get tested for STIs or get vaccines against hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV).
If you are sexually active, talk to your doctor or nurse about STI testing. Which tests you will need and how often you need to get them will depend on you and your partner's sexual history.
You may feel embarrassed or that your sex life is too personal to share with your doctor or nurse. But being open and honest is the only way your doctor can help take care of you. Find out what screening tests you may need. Then talk to your doctor or nurse about what tests make sense for you.
Under the Affordable Care Act, most health insurance plans must cover the cost of STI screening or counseling at no cost to you.
For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.
Maybe. If the tests show that you have an STI, your doctor might want your partner to come in for testing. Or the doctor may give you a medicine to take home for your partner.
The STI may have spread to you or your partner from a former sex partner. This is why it is important to get tested after each new sex partner. Also, if you test positive for certain STIs (HIV, syphilis, or gonorrhea), some cities and states require you (or your doctor) to tell any past or current sex partners.
No. Only use medicines prescribed or suggested by your doctor.
Some drugs sold over the Internet claim to prevent or treat STIs. And some of these sites claim their medicines work better than the medicines your doctor prescribes. But in most cases this is not true, and no one knows how safe these products are or even what is in them.
Buying prescription and over-the-counter drugs on the Internet means you may not know exactly what you're getting. An illegal Internet pharmacy may try to sell you unapproved drugs, drugs with the wrong active ingredient, drugs with too much or too little of the active ingredient, or drugs with dangerous ingredients.
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:
The steps work best when used together. No single step can protect you from every single type of STI.
Research on STIs is a public health priority. Research is focused on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
Learn more about current research on STIs at clinicaltrials.gov.
For more information about STIs, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:
The Office on Women's Health is grateful for the additional reviews by:
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Page last updated: June 12, 2017.
Content last reviewed: March 23, 2017.