Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are never a cause for celebration, but in most cases, they aren’t likely to have a severe impact on your health if they are diagnosed and treated quickly. If this doesn’t happen, however, some STIs can cause complications in other areas of your health - including fertility.
Spotting STIs early can be enough to protect yourself from these unwanted complications, but this can be tricky when some STIs don’t always produce symptoms. Without a test, you might not realise you have an STI until the infection has advanced, at which point it may have already had an impact. It’s always best to get yourself tested regularly or after changing sexual partners to try and catch any STIs early on.
STIs and infertility
Although there is a stigma associated with STIs, getting yourself checked and, if needed, treated is the best way to lower your risk of STIs becoming causes of infertility. Some barrier methods of contraception can also help to prevent STIs. Let’s take a look at some common STIs and how they can make it harder if you’re trying to conceive.
Can chlamydia make you infertile?
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that, like many STIs, affects both men and women. It is usually treated with a course of antibiotics after diagnosis - and it is important to finish your course of antibiotics to get the best results. If left untreated, chlamydia can cause infertility.
In men, it can also cause a condition called epididymitis. This is where the tube that carries sperm from the testicle into the penis becomes swollen and inflamed. Damage caused by this can make it difficult for sperm to reach the penis, therefore impacting fertility. Chlamydia may also impact the quality of sperm produced.
In women, on the other hand, untreated chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) by spreading to the womb, ovaries or fallopian tubes. While PID is a painful chronic condition, it is also one that can impact fertility - scarring in the fallopian tubes can affect ovulation and even prevent it altogether.
Can herpes make you infertile?
Herpes is the name given to two infections: genital herpes and oral herpes. Although oral herpes doesn’t usually affect the genitals, you can catch genital herpes if you have oral sex with someone who has oral herpes.
Although herpes isn’t currently thought to be a significant factor in female infertility, there is some evidence to suggest that certain strains of the herpes simplex virus may have an impact. Unfortunately, research on this subject is limited and there isn’t yet a general consensus on whether or not herpes causes female infertility.
There is also research that suggests herpes can reduce sperm count in men , which naturally impacts fertility. A 2013 study in Iran found a correlation between the presence of the herpes simplex virus and lower sperm count in the semen.
Regardless of any direct impact herpes may have on infertility, a herpes infection will likely delay your conception efforts. When experiencing an outbreak, it is advised that you don’t have sex - vaginal, oral or anal - until the symptoms have gone away again.
Can gonorrhoea make you infertile?
Like chlamydia, gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection that is usually treated with antibiotics. It can affect men and women. In women, it can cause PID if left untreated. In men, untreated gonorrhoea can lead to a painful infection in the testicles or prostate gland, which may reduce fertility.
Can infertility from STIs be treated?
Infections such as PID and epididymitis can usually be treated with prescription medications, which may help to reduce the risk of permanent damage to the reproductive organs. If scarring does occur, it may be possible to repair the damage with surgery. However, if the damage is too great and fallopian tubes cannot function, fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) may be the best option. You can also get counselling and professional advice to help you cope with infertility.
Can STIs cause complications in pregnancy?
Although most STIs aren’t severe in adults, they can be more dangerous during pregnancy, both to mother and baby.
Neonatal herpes is an infection in babies caused by the herpes simplex virus. It can be caught if the mother is experiencing an outbreak of genital herpes during childbirth. There is a small risk that neonatal herpes can be fatal, however it is easily treatable.
The likelihood of your baby catching neonatal herpes can depend on several factors. One of these is whether or not it’s your first time having herpes. If you suspect you may have herpes, speak to your midwife or antenatal team who should be able to advise you on the best course of treatment. They can also be ready to treat your baby if they do catch neonatal herpes.
Gonorrhoea is another STI that can affect your baby if you contract it during pregnancy. There is a risk of miscarriage, premature labour and ectopic pregnancy. Your baby might also develop conjunctivitis, which could lead to permanent vision damage.
Chlamydia can also cause conjunctivitis or lung pneumonia in newborn babies if left untreated. It’s best to share any concerns you have with your antenatal team. This will help to make sure everyone is prepared to deal with the situation and treat both you and your baby.