What Every Sexually Active Woman Should Know About STDs

More than nine million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are diagnosed in women every year, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This adds to the nearly 60 million existing cases in the United States.

It may seem unfair, but a woman’s anatomy makes her more susceptible to becoming infected with STDs and more vulnerable to serious health complications as a result. Young, sexually active women aren’t the only people who need to be informed about the prevention, symptoms, treatments, and types of STDs. Older women can acquire an infection just as easily.

With more than 20 years of experience as an OB/GYN in Burbank, California, I’ve had a good deal of experience in educating women about STDs, and in diagnosing and treating them when necessary.

Types of STDs and their symptoms

More than 25 STDs are known to exist. Some of the most common infections include:

Symptoms of STDs vary, but you should be tested if you have pain or burning during urination or intercourse, have an unusual vaginal discharge, find warts or a rash in your genital region, or experience itching in your vagina. Sometimes, STDs have no symptoms and can only be diagnosed with a screening test.

If you’re sexually active, it’s a good idea to ask me about regular screenings. Treatment is much easier and more successful when we catch an STD is in its early phases before you experience any complications.

STD Prevention

Certain behaviors put you at a greater risk of developing an STD. Unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex can spread STDs, especially if you have multiple partners -- or your partner has multiple partners. Some STDs, such as syphilis and herpes, can be spread outside of intercourse through genital touching.

Although half of all new STDs are diagnosed in people aged 15-24, older women are also at risk. Rates of STD infection have doubled for people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. The CDC reports that in the year 2000, almost 900 cases of syphilis were reported in people aged 45-64, but in 2010, this number rose to more than 2,500. In the same time period, the numbers for chlamydia infections rose from 6,700 to 19,000.

As they get older, many women no longer fear pregnancy, so they aren’t as vigilant about using protection. Safe sex awareness is not as emphasized in this population either, but it’s just as important to protect yourself and be screened regularly if you’re past menopause and sexually active.

Treatment for STDs

Treatment depends on your diagnosis. Bacterial infections, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis, can be treated with antibiotics. Some STDs -- such as herpes and HIV -- aren’t curable but can be managed with lifestyle changes and medications.

A vaccine is offered for HPV for women aged 11-26. HPV has more than 40 types, many of which resolve on their own. Other types of HPV put you at a greater risk of developing cervical cancer, so it’s important to see me if you detect any genital warts or have symptoms appear in your mouth or throat. Pap smears can help detect potential infections or complications from HPV strains that have no symptoms.

If you have an STD, it’s important you refrain from participating in behaviors that can spread the infection, too. Education is an essential role of me, as your doctor, and I’ll help you understand safe behaviors and habits for both preventing infections and spreading them.

While discussing intimate issues can be intimidating, you can trust that the professional team here at Dr. Richard Bardowell only wants to give you the best, most thorough care possible.

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