Can STDs Affect Getting Pregnant?

By BSc, MSc (embryologist), MD (gynecologist), BSc, MSc (embryologist) and (invitra staff).
Last Update: 12/03/2019

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), can cause infertility problems in both women and men.

These are a series of contagious clinical conditions caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi that can be transmitted from person to person through sexual contact. Vaginal, anal, and oral sex are all at risk for STD transmission.

Sterility caused by STDs is usually due to factors of various natures that together prevent fertilization and/or subsequent pregnancy. That would be for example tubal obstruction, endometritis, testicular inflammation, etc.

STDs that can cause infertility

There are a multitude of sexually transmitted diseases, most of them curable today. However, if not detected and treated early, they can have serious reproductive health problems for men and women.

The microorganisms that most commonly cause alterations in male and female fertility are the following:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Mycoplasma
  • Ureaplasma
  • Others: syphilis, herpes, HPV, HIV, trichomoniasis, etc.
Imagen: analyzing sperm quality

Reproductive health consequences

The infections of this type of microorganisms in both men and women can make it difficult to become pregnant, whether due to alterations in the spermatozoa, the functionality of the tubes or the fertilization between the ovum and the spermatozoa.

In the next section, we are going to discuss the most common effects of STD’s on fertility in both partners.

In woman

Sexual relations with multiple partners and/or without the use of condoms favor the development of bacteria such as Chlamydia Trachomatis and Neisseria Gonorrhoeae, which cause contagious infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, which can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

These pathologies are, as their name suggests, inflammatory processes located in the upper part of the female genital apparatus, such as the tubes, ovaries, uterus and sometimes other areas such as the ligaments. PID usually occurs in women between the ages of 15 and 39 and is one of the main reasons for tubal factor infertility.

Sexually transmitted diseases are the most common preventable cause of female infertility. Condom use is essential for maintaining optimal sexual health.

The effects and clinical manifestations of STDs on women's reproductive health are as follows:

  • Chronic inflammation of the fallopian tubes or salpingitis
  • Obstruction of the fallopian tubes by adhesion formation or accumulation of fluid inside (hydrosalpinx)
  • Changes in cervical mucus that prevent sperm from moving
  • Chronic endometrial inflammation or endometritis

In addition, in case of pregnancy, STIs can also be transmitted from mother to fetus and cause serious congenital problems or repeated miscarriages.

In man

Like women, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and mycoplasma are the three most common infections that cause damage to the male reproductive system.

STDs in men can cause inflammation of the testicles, prostate, and epididymis, as well as other conditions in the urethra. As a result, the male may present an altered seminal liquid, with pH variation, sperm agglutination, etc.

Some of the most frequent symptoms of these infections are pain, discharge of pus from the urethra and burning when urinating, although in 50% of cases they are asymptomatic.

These and other clinical manifestations of STDs in men are detailed below:

  • Orchitis, prostatitis and epididymitis
  • Altered spermatogenesis
  • Obstruction of the seminal ducts
  • Sperm DNA Fragmentation
  • Alteration of sperm mobility and morphology
  • Formation of antisperm antibodies and sperm agglutination
Imagen: Testicular orchitis

Related Article: Sperm Infections and Temporary Infertility

Prevention

There are a multitude of different contraceptive methods that prevent women from becoming pregnant. However, very few protect their partners from sexually transmitted infections.

Only the condom is totally effective in avoiding the contact of fluids with the mucous membranes and that there is no infection by viruses, bacteria or fungi.

Neither birth control pills nor permanent methods of contraception succeed in preventing STDs in men and women.

Imagen: preservatives

There are also some viral infections that can be avoided with a vaccine, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) or hepatitis B.

FAQs from users

I sufferd from STD's in the past. Am I sterile now?

By Sergio Rogel Cayetano MD (gynecologist).

Yes, there are complications associated with some sexually transmitted diseases that can lead to sterility.

Typically, bacterial infections (chlamydia, gonorrhea, and others) can ascend from the vagina to the uterus (causing endometritis) or to the fallopian tubes (salpingitis).

Likewise, they can continue to affect the ovary, producing oophoritis and even generating adnexal abscesses.
Read more

Does the human papillomavirus also affect men?

By Zaira Salvador BSc, MSc (embryologist).

Yes, although in most cases there are no symptoms. In others, one or more warts may appear on the penis, testicles, groin, thighs, or around the anus.

It is important to detect HPV in men, as it can be transmitted to women through unprotected sex and, if you are pregnant, would also pose a risk to the baby.

Does HIV cause infertility?

By Zaira Salvador BSc, MSc (embryologist).

The human immunodeficiency virus or HIV does not cause alterations in fertility itself. However, serodiscordant couples, in which one partner is HIV-positive, will need assisted reproductive techniques in order to prevent the spread of the virus to the other partner or to the baby.

Suggested for you

If you want more detailed information about sexually transmitted infections, their causative agents and their clinical manifestations, don't miss the following article: Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in men and women.

We have talked about pelvic inflammatory diseases as one of the main consequences of STDs in women. For more information related to this topic, you can read more here: Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): causes, types, and treatments.

Our editors have made great efforts to create this content for you. By sharing this post, you are helping us to keep ourselves motivated to work even harder.

References

Bahamondes L, Bueno JGR, Hardy E, Vera S, Pimental E, Ramos M. Identification of main risk factors for tubal infertility. Fertil Steril 1984;61:478–82.

Hafner LM. Pathogenesis of fallopian tube damage caused by Chlamydia trachomatis infections. Contraception. 2015 Aug;92(2):108-15.

Mardh PA. Tubal factor infertility, with special regard to chlamydial salpingitis. Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases 2004;17:49–52.

Rodríguez R, Hernández R, Fuster F, Torres A, Prieto P, Alberto J. Genital infection and infertility. Enferm Infecc Microbiol Clin. 2001 Jun-Jul;19(6):261-6.

Sweet RL. Chlamydial salpingitis and infertility. Fertil Steril. 1982 Nov;38(5):530-3.

FAQs from users: 'I sufferd from STD's in the past. Am I sterile now?', 'Does the human papillomavirus also affect men?' and 'Does HIV cause infertility?'.

Read more

Authors and contributors

 Andrea Rodrigo
Andrea Rodrigo
BSc, MSc
Embryologist
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology from the Polytechnic University of Valencia. Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the University of Valencia along with the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Postgraduate course in Medical Genetics. More information about Andrea Rodrigo
 Sergio Rogel Cayetano
Sergio Rogel Cayetano
MD
Gynecologist
Bachelor's Degree in Medicine from the Miguel Hernández University of Elche. Specialist in Obstetrics & Gynecology via M. I. R. at Hospital General de Alicante. He become an expert in Reproductive Medicine by working at different clinics of Alicante and Murcia, in Spain, until he joined the medical team of IVF Spain back in 2011. More information about Sergio Rogel Cayetano
License: 03-0309100
 Zaira Salvador
Zaira Salvador
BSc, MSc
Embryologist
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology from the Technical University of Valencia (UPV). Biotechnology Degree from the National University of Ireland en Galway (NUIG) and embryologist specializing in Assisted Reproduction, with a Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV) and the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI) More information about Zaira Salvador
License: 3185-CV
Adapted into english by:
 Romina Packan
Romina Packan
inviTRA Staff
Editor and translator for the English edition of inviTRA. More information about Romina Packan

Find the latest news on assisted reproduction in our channels.