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.
The different sections of this article have been assembled into the following table of contents.
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:
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.
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.
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
Related Article: Sperm Infections and Temporary Infertility
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.
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?
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.
Does the human papillomavirus also affect men?
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?
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.
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.