Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Symptoms in Women

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are diseases that are most often spread through sexual contact. Transmission may include bodily fluids or direct skin-to-skin contact. As well, it is possible for a parent to pass an STD to their child in utero, during childbirth, or while breastfeeding.

STDs will present differently based on the type as well as whether someone has a penis or vagina. This article will discuss STDs in females specifically.

Synopsis

STDs are diseases that are most often transmitted via sexual contact. STD symptoms will present differently based on whether someone has a penis or vagina as well as the diagnosis. That said, there are general signs someone may be infected with an STD that sexually active people should be aware of. This article will cover how STDs impact females including symptoms, treatment, prevention, and more.

STD Symptoms in Women

STD symptoms in women will depend on the diagnosis. However, there are some general signs that an STD may be present. These include:

  • Painful urination: If there is pain while you urinate, this may indicate an STD such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, or herpes.
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge: While vaginal discharge is normal and the sign of a healthy vagina, changes in said discharge can signal a problem. Changes to keep an eye out for include your discharge's color, odor, and amount. For example, green or yellow discharge can be caused by an STD such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. Excessive vaginal discharge may also indicate an STD.
  • Vaginal itching: Vaginal itching may indicate herpes or public lice, though there are other non-STD related causes for itching as well.
  • Painful sex: Pain during sex can be caused by conditions that are not related to STDs. However, STDs that may lead to painful sex include chlamydia and herpes.
  • Vaginal bleeding: Bleeding unrelated to one's menstrual cycle can indicate STDs.
  • Sores: Sores on the mouth or genital may indicate an STD.

Common STDs in Women

Some of the most common STDs that affect women include:

  • Human papillomavirius (HPV): HPV is a group of over 200 viruses that cause warts, around 40 of these variants that can be transmitted sexually. Some types of HPV can cause cancer.
  • Gonorrhea: Gonorrhea is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria and has symptoms such as vaginal discharge or painful urination. However, it is important to note that gonorrhea often presents asymptomatically, meaning it has no symptoms at all.
  • Chlamydia: Chlamydia is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. Chlamydia often presents asymptomatically. If symptoms are present these include vaginal discharge, genital redness or swelling, and painful urination.
  • Genital herpes: Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus type two (HSV-2). HSV-2 is marked by sores on the genitals.

When to Get Tested

It is important to get tested for STDs regularly if you are sexually active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's STD screening recommendations for the STDs that most commonly impact women is as follows:

 HPV Women ages 21 to 29 every three years.
Women ages 30 to 65 every three years.
 Gonorrhea Sexually active women under 25.
Sexually active women over 25 at an increased risk.
 Chlamydia Sexually active women under 25.
Sexually active women over 25 at an increased risk.
 Genital Herpes Testing is recommended if symptoms are present.

Treatment

Most STDs do not resolve on their own and require treatment. The course of treatment will depend on the STD.

  • HPV: No drugs currently exist to cure an active HPV infection. Treatment is focused on resolving symptoms and managing conditions that occur due to HPV infection.
  • Gonorrhea: Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics. However, there are now strains that are resistant to antibiotics.
  • Chlamydia: Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics. The CDC recommends the antibiotic doxycycline as the first line of treatment for chlamydia in adults and adolescents.
  • Genital herpes: Genital herpes has no cure. However, antiviral drugs can be used to both reduce the severity and duration of an outbreak.

Prevention

Strategies for preventing STDs include:

  • Abstaining from sex
  • Getting regular STD screenings
  • Using protection such as condoms

STDS and Pregnancy

STDs can complicate a pregnancy and have detrimental effects on both the pregnant person and their developing baby, which is why testing for STDs is so important once someone finds out they are pregnant.This means treatment can be administered if a pregnant person tests positive for an STD.

Not all healthcare providers will test for STDs, so it is imperative to ask for a screening yourself. The CDC recommends the following be tested for during pregnancy:

Summary

Sexually transmitted diseases are either viral or bacterial infections that are transmitted through sexual contact. Symptoms will vary based on the specific diagnosis as well as if someone has a penis or vagina. The most common STDs that affect females include HPV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and genital herpes. Each type of STD has its own set of treatment guidelines.

A Word From Verywell

Sexually transmitted diseases are nothing to be ashamed of. Being open and honest with your healthcare provider and sexual partner(s) is vital preventing the spread of STDs and the health complications that can arise due to infection.

Talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested for STDs or about any concerns you may have.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How soon would I know if I had an STD?

    Because many STDs present without symptoms, it is not always possible to know you have an STD without a confirmed test.

  • How long does it take for an STD to go away?

    Most STDs do not resolve on their own without treatment. Each STD will have a different course of treatment which means the amount of time it takes for an STD to go away will vary.

  • How long can you have an STD without symptoms?

    How long it takes for STD symptoms to appear will depend on the incubation period of the specific STD. For example, gonorrhea can take two to 20 days to show symptoms. However, it is important to note that some STDs present without symptoms which is why regular STD testing is so important.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine: Sexually transmitted diseases. MedlinePlus. Updated October 25, 2021.

  2. MedlinePlus. HPV. Updated March 3, 2021.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Screening recommendations and considerations referenced in treatment guidelines and original sources. Reviewed June 6, 2022.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chlamydial infections. Reviewed July 22, 2021.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. STDs during pregnancy – CDC basic fact sheet. Reviewed April 12, 2022.

By Molly Burford
Molly Burford is a mental health advocate and wellness book author with almost 10 years of experience in digital media.