A sexually transmitted infection is any disease or condition that is commonly spread through sexual contact. In the UK, the four most common sexually transmitted infections are (in order) chlamydia, genital warts, gonorrhoea and genital herpes. Others include HIV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis.
Many of the most common STIs or STDs do not initially come with symptoms. It’s estimated, for instance, that chlamydia is symptomless in 70% of women. The problem is that chlamydia and other sexually transmitted infections can lead to serious complications when left untreated. If you think you might have been exposed to an STI, you should get tested as soon as possible even if you feel completely healthy.
In women, the complications of an infection can be even more serious than in men, which is why it’s important to stay safe, get regular tests and be aware of what symptoms to look out for.
Common STI & STD Symptoms in Women
There are a number of common symptoms in women that can point to a sexually transmitted infection.
Unusual Vaginal Discharge
It’s completely normal and healthy to produce discharge from your vagina. However, when it changes in colour, consistency or smell this can be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection.
- Frothy discharge indicates trichomoniasis
- Green or yellow discharge indicates gonorrhoea or trichomoniasis
- Fishy smelling discharge indicates trichomoniasis or bacterial vaginosis
- A white creamy discharge can be thrush, although this is not sexually transmitted
Chlamydia and genital herpes can also cause abnormal discharge – so if you do notice any significant change (e.g. larger amounts than usual) it’s a good idea to speak to a doctor.
Pain or Bleeding During or After Sex
Unusual bleeding and pain during or after sex is a common indication of an STI. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are the two main causes of this irregular bleeding when due to an STI. However, this type of bleeding can also be caused by vaginal dryness, damage to the vagina, problems with the cervix, an infection not transmitted through sex, and – in rare cases – cancer of the vagina or cervix.
Bleeding Between Periods or Heavy Periods
Chlamydia and gonorrhoea can also cause bleeding between periods or particularly heavy periods. However, this can also be caused by hormonal contraception and other types of infection.
Pain or Burning Sensation When Urinating
In both women and men, pain when urinating is a very common marker of a sexually transmitted infection such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea or trichomoniasis.
Genital herpes an also cause this symptom. This is because herpes causes small, painful blisters to develop around the genitalia. If you are experiencing pain when urinating but you do not have any blisters, it is unlikely you have herpes.
Soreness or Itching Around the Vagina
Soreness or itching around the vagina and vulva is commonly caused by trichomoniasis. However, it can also be caused by herpes blisters, pubic lice and scabies. Genital warts can also cause vaginal itchiness, however in this case, the fleshy growths would be the more noticeable symptom.
Small Fleshy Growths Around the Genitals or Thighs
In women, genital warts is indicated by painless, fleshy growths developing on or around the vulva, cervix, vagina, anus and upper thighs. In some cases, these growths can become itchy and bleed, however this is not common.
Other STI & STD Symptoms
- Genital herpes causes small blisters that burst to leave open sores around the genitals, rectum, cervix, thighs and buttocks
- Syphilis causes, in its early stages, a painless sore on the genitals and later a rash, flu-like symptoms and patchy hair loss
- HIV causes, in its early stages, seroconversion illness which causes fever, a body rash and a sore throat
- Pubic lice can lead to black powder in your underwear and blue spots or spots of blood on your skin
What should I do if I’m experiencing symptoms?
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, you should get tested for STIs as soon as possible. You can do this by visiting your GP, a sexual health clinic, a GUM clinic or by ordering a home test kit from a trusted source such as Online Doctor.
What should I do if I’ve had unprotected sex?
If you have had unprotected sex and you aren’t certain that your partner is free from STIs, you should get tested, even if you have no symptoms. Left to progress untreated, infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea can lead to complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease and fertility problems. HIV can also be symptomless for many years, before developing into AIDS. Find out more about Online Doctor’s sexual health tests and treatments by visiting our online sexual health clinic.