When it comes to your sexual health, there is nothing more empowering than understanding the facts and taking control of your mind, body, and soul. Sexual health is the ability to embrace and enjoy one’s sexuality throughout a lifetime, and it is an important part of our physical and emotional health. So let’s check the shame or blame at the door.
As a nod to Sexual Health Awareness Month, we’re breaking down the link between sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and infertility and doing a deeper dive into what it means to be sexually healthy. Read on for more because, let’s face it, there’s nothing sexier than taking control of your body and your health.
The Evolution of Sexual Health
When it comes to understanding sexual health, we’ve come a long way. Over the years, the definition of sexual health has expanded to include more than just physical symptoms and other high school health class talking points. We now understand a comprehensive definition to include nuanced areas such as sexual rights, pleasure, and intimacy.
Of course, taking control of your sexual health includes disease prevention and unplanned/planned pregnancies, but it also encompasses the emotional aspect of sexual health. This natural evolution means that we’re taking a more positive, proactive, and respectful approach to sexuality as a society.
Fertility and The Most Common STIs
If left untreated, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can oftentimes cause health complications and potentially affect fertility. The good news is that the most common STIs are preventable and treatable. Let’s take a closer look at the most common STIs, along with how they affect fertility and your overall sexual health.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) occurs in both females and males and can cause certain cancers and diseases. HPV often shows no signs or symptoms, so many people don’t know that they have it. The body can sometimes fight off the virus, but this isn’t always the case.
- Infertility Possibilities: HPV does not generally lead to fertility problems, although it can increase a woman’s risk of cervical cancer. The removal of cancerous or precancerous cells from the cervix can affect fertility.
- Prevention: To best prevent HPV, doctors recommend getting the HPV vaccine and encouraging your sexual partner to do the same. Using condoms or dental dams every time you have sex also greatly reduces your risk of contracting HPV.
- Treatment: There is no treatment for the virus itself, but treatments are available for side effects that may occur, including genital warts and cervical precancer.
Chlamydia is a common and curable sexually transmitted disease caused by bacteria. This infection can infect both men and women and is spread easily, because it often causes no symptoms.
- Infertility possibilities: If left untreated, chlamydia can cause women to develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can have a detrimental effect on a woman’s ovaries, womb, and fallopian tubes. The associated inflammation can cause scarring and block the fallopian tubes, leading to infertility. It can also cause ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that occurs outside the womb) and increases a woman’s risk of becoming infected with HIV.
- Prevention: If you are sexually active, using condoms and limiting the number of sex partners are the best ways to protect yourself against chlamydia. Getting regular screenings and avoiding douching, as it decreases the number of good vaginal bacteria, is recommended.
- Treatment: Chlamydia is typically treated with oral antibiotics or medications like azithromycin or doxycycline.
Gonorrhea is a curable sexually transmitted disease that can cause infections in the genitals, rectum, and throat. For women, gonorrhea can also infect the cervix. People with gonorrhea often experience no symptoms.
- Infertility possibilities: If left untreated, gonorrhea can spread into a woman’s uterus and fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Due to scarring of the tubes, PID increases the risk of infertility and pregnancy complications.
- Prevention: Regular screenings, limiting the amount of sexual partners, using latex condoms are all recommended to protect against gonorrhea.
- Treatment: Gonorrhea is typically cured using two drugs, intramuscular ceftriaxone and azithromycin.
Sexual Health, Emotions, and Fertility
Talking about STIs likely isn’t getting you in the mood, but we’re here to remind you that sex is intended to be an enjoyable, pleasurable, and healthy experience between you and your partner. So… let’s talk about sex, baby.
It’s no secret that infertility can put a damper on one’s sex life. In fact, a study from Stanford University found that 40% of women who were categorized as infertile suffered from sexual problems, causing a great deal of physical and emotional distress.
Emotions play a huge role in sexual health, and if you’re undergoing infertility treatments, you’re likely experiencing increased psychological and physical demands that can take a toll on your relationship and sex life. When sex becomes associated with conception, it can bring up feelings of disappointment, stress, and even resentment. Remember that you’re not alone in this and help is available to guide you and your partner through this time.
What if I’ve had an STD and Don’t Know if I’m Infertile?
No need to panic. If you have been diagnosed with an STD, it does not mean that you are infertile. First and foremost, pay close attention to your symptoms and head to your gynecologist's office to get tested and discuss your sexual health. Communication is key.
It’s helpful to know the signs of infertility. If you’re under 35 years old and have been trying to conceive for one year with no luck, or if you’re over 35 and have been trying to conceive for six months with no results, this constitutes as infertility.
If you fall into one of these categories, it is recommended that you see a reproductive endocrinologist. If you’re actively trying to conceive, your doctor will help you determine the appropriate path for you, such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF). If you aren’t ready for a baby, you can discuss options like cryopreservation (freezing your eggs).
A host of advanced assisted reproductive technologies, as well as other supportive services including acupuncture, fertility counseling, yoga, and nutrition programs can greatly assist in your fertility journey.
Most importantly, we’re here to remind you that sexual health shouldn’t be a scary thing. In honor of Sexual Health Awareness Month, spread the wealth by sharing this information with your friends and family. Together, we’re getting informed, eliminating the stigma surrounding sexual health and creating a healthier world for everyone.