Why women are more at-risk for STDs than men

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Reviewed by Lisa Oldson, MD Aug. 07, 2013

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women are more likely to become infected with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) than men for a number of reasons. The Guttmacher Institute agrees that there are many biological and social factors that make women more likely to become infected with STDs.

One of the most startling statistics from the CDC is the fact that some STDs like gonorrhea and chlamydia can lead to infertility and that at least 24,000 women in the U.S. are treated for this condition every year.

Here are some key reasons why women are afflicted with STDs more than men:

  • Women have a greater likelihood of confusing the symptoms with something else. Many women often have signs of an STD that can be mistaken for another common ailment, such as a yeast infection. Since discharge is considered abnormal in men, their symptoms are much more clear.
  • Female anatomy puts women more at risk than men. Female genitals are thinner and more delicate than male genitals, giving bacteria and viruses an easier pathway.
  • Sores are easier to see for males than females. For STDs like herpes and or syphilis, ulcers and sores are common issues. However, women may have a more difficult time locating these problems because they may not see them on their skin.
  • Women are less likely to show symptoms of gonorrhea and chlamydia. Unfortunately, these are also two of the most common STDs in the United States. For women, sometimes these symptoms can go away even though the infection is still in their bodies.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. Although men do have the ability to carry the infection and pass it to others, women have much more dire consequences from the infection. In fact, HPV is one of the main causes of cervical cancer.
  • Reproductive plans can be put on-hold for women because of certain STDs. If certain STDs are left untreated, they can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which is a major contributor to infertility and ectopic pregnancies.
  • It's possible to pass STDs from mother to child. Genital herpes, HIV and syphilis can all be passed from a mother to a baby during pregnancy and at delivery.

Despite these facts, the CDC also noted that women are also more likely to visit their doctor regularly than men, which could help slow these trends. STD testing is one of the best ways to ensure women that their sexual health is in good shape.

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