Hesperian Health Guides

Why STIs Are a Serious Problem for Women

Men and women can both get STIs. But a woman gets infected from a man more easily than a man gets infected from a woman. This is because a man’s penis goes into some part of a woman’s body—such as her vagina, mouth, or anus—during sex. Without a condom, the man’s semen, which may carry infection, stays inside her body. This gives her a greater chance of getting an infection in the womb, tubes, and ovaries. When a woman has sores on her genitals or irritation from an infection in the vagina, she can also get HIV more easily. Because most STIs are inside a woman’s body, the signs of an STI in a woman are harder to see than in a man. So it is often hard to tell if a woman has an infection in her genitals—much less what kind of infection she has.

a drunk man entering a house, speaking to a woman who looks scared

Come to
bed with
I wonder where he's been this evening?

Why so many women get STIs

It can be hard for a woman to protect herself from an STI. Often, she must have sex when her partner demands it. She may not know if her partner has sex with other partners, or if he is infected with an STI. If he has another partner who is infected, he may infect his wife.

A woman may not be able to persuade her partner to use condoms. Latex condoms are the best way to protect both partners, but the man has to be willing to use them.

You may have an STI if you have one or more of these signs:
  • an unusual or bad-smelling vaginal discharge
  • itching genitals
  • painful genitals
  • sores or blisters on the genitals
  • pain in your lower abdomen or pain during sex

What to do if you have signs of an STI or are at risk for an STI

Most women, and many men, who are infected with an STI do not have any signs.

The lack of low-cost, accurate testing for STIs is a major problem for women. It may lead to women taking medicines they do not need, cannot afford, and that cause side effects.

If you have signs of an STI or think you are at risk for an STI, you should start treatment right away. Unfortunately, tests for STIs are not available everywhere, may be expensive, and are not always accurate. WWHND10 Ch16 Page 263-2.png

  • Treat the infection right away. If you have signs described in this chapter, follow the treatments given.
  • Do not wait until you are very ill. Treatment will protect you from more serious problems later on and will prevent the spread of STIs to others.
  • Get tested if testing is available. You could be infected with an STI but have no signs.
  • Help your partner get treated at the same time. If he does not get treated, he will infect you again if you have sex.
  • Practice safer sex. You may get another STI or HIV if you do not protect yourself.
  • Get tested for HIV. STIs and HIV infection often occur together.
  • Buy and take all the medicine as recommended. Even if your signs go away, you will not be cured until all the medicine has time to work. If the signs do not go away after taking the medicines, see a health worker. Pain or vaginal discharge could also be caused by another problem like cancer.