Five worst STIs women can catch and the symptoms to keep an eye on

There are a number of gender imbalances when it comes to healthcare. Not only are women less likely to see their doctor if they have a health complaint than men, but studies have shown that their symptoms are more likely to be disregarded or misdiagnosed when they are in the GP’s surgery.

This gender-based inequality carries through to sexual health, where both biological and cognitive biases can make it more difficult for women to be tested and treated than men with the same illness. A situation made worse by the continued overrepresentation of men in clinical research and trials for such diseases.

Most sexually transmitted infections can be treated or neutralised by medication, but left undiagnosed many will cause more severe complications in women than in men – with ectopic pregnancy, sterilisation, and even blindness as potential side-effects if left untreated.

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The UK has been found to have the largest gender gap in healthcare outcomes for women of the G20, and the twelfth worst on earth. With 70 per cent of “silent” STIs like chlamydia affecting women, who also face worse complications if left undetected, this sexual disparity has led to poor outcomes for women and has even led to a debate in the House of Lords.

Dr. Edward Hook, from the Center for Social Medicine and Sexually Transmitted Diseases at the University of Alabama, said to CNN : “Women bear the largest burden of these diseases.

“Chlamydia and gonorrhoea, for example, are two of the leading preventable causes of infertility and ectopic pregnancies in the United States, and on Earth.”

How to lower the risk of catching an STI

While condoms are 98 per cent effective, the most effective way to prevent infection is for yourself and your sexual partner(s) to be regularly tested for disease.


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If you have a new sexual partner or are having sex with different partners, the best way to prevent an infection is using a condom – which is 98 per cent effective in preventing most STIs. However, they are not as effective in preventing herpes, genital warts, and syphilis as they spread from skin-to-skin contact.

Most people will be aware that male-use condoms are likely the most effective way to prevent a sexually transmitted infection, but many are likely unaware of the alternatives – female condoms and dental dams. Similar to a condom’s ability to prevent contact between bodily fluids, the female condom, and dental dam can help prevent an infection from taking place during vaginal or oral sex.

The best way to ensure your own sexual health is to be tested regularly, meaning any infection can be identified and treated before progressing into a more serious disease. The same goes for the health of your sexual partner(s).


Treponema pallidum, the bacterium which causes syphilis



Infection with syphilis is likely to see the same symptoms in women as in men, at first sores in and around the genitals followed months or years later by the second stage of flu-like symptoms and rashes. If left untreated, this can develop into neurosyphilis – which involves several debilitating complications such as blindness, strokes, and paralysis.

However, this serious infection can be missed or disregarded due to its similarity to other possible ailments in women – delaying or even stopping an essential diagnosis. As neurosyphilis can develop at any point in the infection, diagnosis issues could lead to more women developing the condition.

An infection occurs when there is skin-to-skin contact with a syphilitic sore so, while condoms can prevent an infection, the best prevention can be to avoid sexual contact until the symptoms have cleared.

Prevention: Condom, dental dam, not sharing sex toys.

Symptoms: Stage 1 – External and internal genital sores. Stage 2 – Flu-like symptoms, rash. Stage 3 – Stroke, dementia, paralysis, blindness.

Treatment: A course of antibiotics

Chlamydia and gonorrhoea

Over two-thirds of women with chlamydia or gonorrhoea will not present symptoms of the infection, meaning that women can carry these illnesses for a long stretch of time and so increase the likelihood of developing complications. On the other hand, 90 per cent of men will present with symptoms of these illnesses and are more likely to be diagnosed as painful weeing and discharge are fairly obvious symptoms in men.

Should women present symptoms, these symptoms are, once again, more likely to be ignored or misdiagnosed, as they share similarities with a number of other women’s health issues such as thrush and a painful menstrual cycle.

Both chlamydia and gonorrhoea are bacterial infections and easy to treat if caught, but can cause a pelvic inflammation disorder that leads to infertility and also cervical cancer if left unchecked. Chlamydia in particular can cause damage to the fallopian tubes that deliver an egg into the cervix, which can lead to a dangerous ectopic pregnancy – where an egg becomes fertilised outside of the womb.

Prevention: Condom, dental dam, not sharing sex toys.

Symptoms: Chlamydia – Unusual discharge, irregular bleeding, pelvic pain, painful wees. Gonorrhoea – green/yellow discharge, a strange smell, lower back pain, painful wees.

Treatment: A course of antibiotics


That’s right, even genital herpes has a gender imbalance. Herpes is an infection that is caused by the same virus that causes cold sores and is not always sexually transmitted, though it is a lifelong illness that can only be treated and not cured.

The imbalance comes from how these symptoms present. With men, the traditional sores associated with the disease are few and fairly obvious. Whereas in women, scores of painful blisters can emerge both in and around the vagina.

If you have genital herpes during pregnancy, there’s a small risk your baby could develop a serious illness called neonatal herpes – a harsher and more virulent virus because of the age of its host.

The risk of your baby getting neonatal herpes is low if you’ve had genital herpes before. It’s higher if you get genital herpes for the first time in pregnancy.

Genital herpes can be treated safely in pregnancy and can easily be treated when caught in babies.

Prevention: Avoiding vaginal or oral sex if your partner has blisters, condom, dental dam, not sharing sex toys.

Symptoms: Small blisters that leave sores around your genitals, unusual discharge, painful wees, burning sensation.

Treatment: Antiviral medicine and cream if the outbreak is bad, frequently left untreated.


The human papillomavirus, more commonly known as HPV, is perhaps the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world. There are very few ways to fully protect yourself as just genital contact during penetrative sex, or oral sex, can be enough to transmit the virus.

In terms of biological biases, while men can get penile cancer from carrying HPV, for every one man there are 100 women who contract cervical cancer as a consequence of the virus. According to the Center for Disease Control in the US, roughly 40 per cent of all adults carry papillomavirus.

The vast majority of people do not even know they carry the virus, though women can start to be tested for HPV during their annual cervical cancer “pap smear” once they reach 25. The most effective way to prevent an HPV infection is to get the HPV vaccine.

Prevention: Condoms are mildly effective but the most effective prevention is the HPV vaccine.

Symptoms: Genital warts, cancer

Treatment: Vaccination, freezing wart removal,

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