Common Risks With Sexually Transmitted Infections

From our very first sex education class, most of us are taught about the dangers and risks of sexual activity, chief among them unplanned pregnancy and the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or more commonly taught today as sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It's understandable. After all, STIs are common because people still don't know how to prevent and/or treat them, and they come saddled with a lot of pesky symptoms. But what about what might happen after the initial symptoms?

Man and woman with condom in bed
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The Most Common STIs and Their Long-Term Health Risks

Different sexually transmitted infections carry different symptoms and, if left untreated, can lead to a variety of different health risks. Before we delve into the risks, however, let's review what the most common sexually transmitted infections actually are, and then examine how they can affect your long-term health.


Chlamydia is the most common curable STI. It infects the cervix in women and the penile urethra in men. Its most frequent symptoms are pain during sex and discharge from the penis or vagina. However, many people who get chlamydia are asymptomatic. Despite the lack of symptoms, it's important to get screened and treated if you think you might have been exposed to chlamydia. If you don't, it can do a lot of damage to your body in the long run. If left untreated, chlamydia can cause permanent damage to the reproductive system in both males and females.


Gonorrhea is another common bacterial STI. It infects the same organs as chlamydia and has similar long-term effects. Symptoms of gonorrhea include burning when urinating. Just as with chlamydia, however, many people are asymptomatic. The long-term health risks of gonorrhea include urethral damage, difficulty urinating, cervicitis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and throat infections.


Syphilis is another common STI. Caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, it can lead to serious complications if left untreated. Syphilis is transmitted by direct contact with syphilis sores, which can appear on the external genitals and the mouth, as well as in the vagina or rectum. This STI can significantly increase the risk of contracting HIV. Left untreated, genital syphilis can progress and become neurosyphilis, which can lead to blindness, personality changes, dementia, and even death.

Mycoplasma Genitalium

Not as well known as the preceding STIs, Mycoplasma genitalium is a major cause of cervicitis in women.


Trichomoniasis is the most common STI among sexually active young women. Some mistake this infection for a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis since the symptoms are so similar: frothy discharge, strong vaginal odor, pain on intercourse, irritation, and itching. If you have trichomoniasis, you are more susceptible to infection by HIV. It can also negatively affect the outcome of a pregnancy. Pregnant women infected with the parasite are more likely to have a pre-term birth. They are also more likely to give birth to a low birth weight baby.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is quite possibly the most common STI. Various types of HPV have been linked to several types of skin cancers, in addition to throat cancer, anal cancer, penile cancer, cervical cancer, and lung cancer. Others cause genital warts, other warts, or no symptoms at all.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus associated with AIDS. It can only be transmitted by an exchange of bodily fluids, including semen, vaginal secretions, breast milk, and blood. HIV is no longer a death sentence, but it is still a serious disease.


Herpes is another viral STI. It comes with both cold sores and/or genital sores. Herpes infection can be deadly in infants, though, fortunately, transmission from mother to child is relatively rare.

The STI Bottom Line

There are other STDs that cause long-term health risks, but these are the most common. Be sure to educate yourself on how to have safer sex.

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