Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions
I’ve heard that STDs can make you infertile...is that true?
Lisa Oldson, MD on September 12, 2011
The truth is, yes...some STDs could potentially make a woman infertile.Which STDs, specifically? Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the big culprits because both of these bacterial STDs can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
What causes PID? PID occurs when bacteria ⎼ often chlamydia or gonorrhea ⎼ enters the vagina through sexual intercourse and travels past the cervix, into the uterus and into the fallopian tubes where it causes inflammation. The longer a woman has PID, the more likely it is that PID could cause scarring in her fallopian tubes.
When scarring is extensive, the scar tissue can block the fallopian tubes from releasing an egg during ovulation, thereby making a woman infertile. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 10-15% of women who have PID end up becoming infertile as a result.
It sounds like you did the right thing to help reduce your risk of PID...you got tested for STDs and then you got treated. Because chlamydia and gonorrhea infections are sometimes hard to spot, the CDC recommends that all sexually active women under the age of 25 get annual chlamydia tests...and that women over 25 who have a new (or multiple) sex partners get tested every year, too.
Regular STD testing helps prevent women from having untreated chlamydia or gonorrhea infections that could lead to PID.
The good news is...if you were tested and treated for chlamydia soon after you were exposed to the bacteria, it’s unlikely that you’ll become infertile. But if you’re worried about the possibility of PID and infertility, speaking with your doctor about these issues should bring you peace of mind.
Finally, since you’re in a new relationship, I would also encourage you and your partner to get tested for other common STDs so that you can be sure of each other’s STD status and whether there are any treatments or precautions you need to take. Of course, using condoms or dental dams when you have vaginal, anal or oral sex is always a good idea to help reduce the risk of catching or spreading STDs. To find out more about common STD risks, prevention, testing and safer sex, see our Expert Guide to STDs.
Thanks again for writing, and I wish you good luck and good health in your new relationship.
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.