Spotlights on Health and Rights

Key topics in the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health

Reproductive Health

Sexually Transmitted infections

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have historically been referred to as venereal disease, named for Venus, the goddess of love. Medical providers and public health practitioners today have replaced this term with more accurate and neutral terminology: sexually transmitted disease (STD) or sexually transmitted infection (STI).

The term reproductive tract infection (RTI) is often used to describe infections that are sexually transmitted, as well as other common infections that may or may not be sexually transmitted (i.e. candidiasis, bacterial vaginosis).

Epidemiology of STIs

  • Sexually transmitted infections (STI's) are transmitted from person to person through vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an infected partner; and/or from a pregnant woman (if infected) to her fetus or baby during pregnancy and labor and delivery.
  • In 2008, the CDC reported that a nationally representative study estimated that 1 in 4 teenage girls in the U.S. has an STD. The study included the most common STDs: HPV, chlamydia, herpes simplex virus, and trichomoniasis.
  • There are approximately 15 million new cases of sexually transmitted infection each year in the United States, and 340 million worldwide.30
  • The majority of STI's are asymptomatic (no symptoms). Asymptomatic infections can be transmitted to sexual partners.
  • Having certain sexually transmitted infections increases the risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV.

Gender Disparities

Although the health risks associated with STIs affect both women and men, women are disproportionately affected. Women are more likely then are men to have asymptomatic infections, and also have greater biological susceptibility to acquire infections if exposed.

Untreated STIs in women can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infertility, ectopic pregnancy, cancers of the reproductive tract, pregnancy loss, neonatal morbidity and mortality, and an increased risk of HIV transmission.

Untreated STIs in men can lead to an increased risk of HIV transmission, prostatitis, epididymitis, infertility, and reactive arthritis (formerly known as Reiter's syndrome).