WHY-Sexual Health Module

Sexual Health in an integral part to overall well-being. Listen as Dr. Kristen Mark explains the importance of sexual health and WHY we are interested in researching it. 

Sexual Health Module 2017 Launch

Completion rates of the sexual health module of those who participated in the WHY annual survey in 2017.

Sexual Health Information

Reproductive Health

What women need to know

STIs can have an impact on your ability to have children. When STIs go untreated they can cause fertility problems, particularly in women. For example:

Chlamydia and gonorrhea: Fifteen percent of all American women who are infertile can attribute it to tubal damage caused by pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is an infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes and other reproductive organs. It often results from untreated STD/STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. PID can lead to serious consequences that affect a woman’s ability to have a baby, her experience during pregnancy and delivery, and the well being of her newborn.

Genital herpes: Herpes is not uncommon among women. It’s can be thought of as a skin infection of the mouth and/or genitals, and doesn’t usually have severe health consequences. The herpes virus stays in your body forever but doesn’t usually interfere with a woman’s ability to become pregnant. In rare circumstances, however, herpes infections can affect the well being of the newborn infant. For this reason women who are thinking about becoming pregnant or are already pregnant should talk with their doctors about protecting their baby.

HIV: It is recommended that all pregnant women get tested before their baby is born. While routine testing for all populations is important to prevent the spread of HIV, it is especially important for expectant mothers. HIV can be passed between a mother and child during labor, and later through breastfeeding. By testing in advance, women and their doctors can create plans to protect the well being of their unborn children. Through medical treatments during delivery and feeding practices thereafter, HIV positive pregnant women can have HIV negative children.


Women and STIs

While both men and women in the U.S. are diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in about equal numbers, they are not affected by STIs equally. For example, women are more likely than men to experience long-term health complications from untreated STIs, including infertility (the inability to have a baby). A pregnant woman can also pass an STI along to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth.

There are a number of reasons why STIs have a greater impact on women:

Anatomy: A woman’s anatomy alone makes her more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections than a man. Unlike the relatively thick skin of the penis, a woman’s vagina is covered by a thin, more delicate mucous membrane that more easily allows viruses and bacteria to pass through—and cause infection. The vagina is also a warm and moist environment, the type of environment that encourages bacteria to grow.

Lack of symptoms: Women are less likely than men to have symptoms of some common STIs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, and as a result, they are less likely to seek care and get treatment. When STIs are untreated, they can cause serious, lifelong health problems (see more below). Even when women do have symptoms, they may not recognize these as symptoms of an STI. After all, vaginal discharge can be normal and not a sign of infection, and itching and irritation can be the result of a yeast infection or even a new type of laundry detergent. Symptoms are never a reliable way to know if someone has an STI, and since women so often have no symptoms at all, regular testing is important for sexually active women (and men).

Long-term health complications: This is yet another area where women face more problems than men. STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea, if unnoticed and untreated, can lead to the condition Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) in women. PID can lead to chronic pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that develops in the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus and is life threatening to the mother), and infertility (the inability to become pregnant or carry a child).

Infection with high-risk HPV can also cause serious consequences for women if undetected and untreated. High-risk HPV can cause changes in the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer if untreated. The good news, however, is that cervical cancer is preventable with regular screening and vaccination.

Problems during pregnancy: STIs pose a number of serious risks to a pregnant woman’s unborn child, from low birth weight, brain damage, blindness, deafness, and even stillbirth (death of the child). STIs can pass from the mother to the baby during pregnancy and during delivery. For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that pregnant women be tested on their first prenatal visit for STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV and hepatitis B. While there is a risk that women with herpes and HIV can pass infection on to the baby, there are steps they can take to greatly reduce this risk