Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions
How serious is chlamydia? Can I catch chlamydia through foreplay? Is there a cure?
Lisa Oldson, MD on August 8, 2011
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that is transmitted through sexual contact. And the contact doesn’t have to be unprotected vaginal sex. Chlamydia may be spread through foreplay that includes vaginal, anal or oral sexual activity...even if the tongue or penis doesn't fully penetrate the anus or vagina. Also, keep in mind that a man doesn’t need to ejaculate to transmit chlamydia if he’s infected.
If your boyfriend has chlamydia, he may have passed the infection to you. Getting tested is the only way to confirm whether you have chlamydia. Not having sex until you get tested and treated, if necessary, is the only way to reduce the risk of passing the infection back and forth. If you continue having sexual activity, I would encourage you to use latex condoms or dental dams to minimize your risk. You might want to learn more about safer sex practices to help prevent transmission of STDs.
The good news is that chlamydia is curable and easy to treat. The typical treatment regime involves a single dose of antibiotics and no unprotected sex for seven days after treatment. If you test positive for chlamydia, please follow your doctor’s instructions about taking the medication properly and practice safer sex with your partner so you don’t re-infect one another during treatment.
You could have chlamydia even if you don’t have symptoms. Most people who are infected with chlamydia don’t experience any symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to get tested...it’s the only way to know your status for sure. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that sexually active women who are under 25 get tested annually. If you’re older than 25 and have a new sex partner or multiple sex partners, you should also get tested every year.
If left undiagnosed and untreated, chlamydia can result in serious health complications. Teenage girls and young women are the most susceptible to chlamydia infection because the cervix isn’t fully matured yet. That doesn’t mean that chlamydia isn’t a potentially serious health threat for older women and men...it is. In women, if chlamydia isn’t treated, it can cause a problem called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
This is a serious disease that happens when the chlamydia infection spreads into the uterus or fallopian tubes. About 10-15% of women with untreated chlamydia get PID, which can cause permanent damage...anything from chronic pelvic pain to infertility and even potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy (i.e., pregnancy outside the uterus). Untreated chlamydia may also increase the chances of becoming infected with HIV through unprotected sex with an infected partner. So, again, be sure to get tested–and treated, if necessary–to avoid more serious complications later on. Visit our Expert Guide to Chlamydia for more information about chlamydia symptoms, complications, testing and treatment.
I also encourage you to get tested for other STDs...if you’ve been exposed to one STD, it’s likely that you’ve been exposed to other STDs as well. Getting tested is the first step to keeping yourself healthy.
Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.