Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are passed through vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact. Female symptoms of an STI can include vaginal itching, rashes, unusual discharge, and pain. However, many sexually transmitted infections display no symptoms at all. Left untreated, STIs can lead to fertility problems and an increased risk of cervical cancer, making it all the more important to practice safe sex.

Prevention for Women

All women should take certain preventive measures to avoid catching or transmitting STIs:

Regular Testing

If you are not in a long-term monogamous relationship, getting tested every year, or before you engage in sex with a new partner, is highly recommended. Women should get a Pap smear every year, and should ask their doctor whether the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccination is suggested for them. Also, ask if you should be tested for any other STIs.

Insist Your Partner Wear a Condom

Whether it’s for vaginal, anal, or oral sex, a condom can help protect you both. Avoid “natural” condoms, which do not offer protection against STIs; use latex (or polyurethane in the case of a latex sensitivity). Spermicides and other forms of contraception may protect against pregnancy but they do not protect against STIs. Female condoms and dental dams can provide a certain level of protection; however, opinion is still divided as to whether they are as effective as the male condom in preventing transmission of STIs.

Communicate

Honest communication with both your doctor and your partner about sexual history is essential.

Symptoms Women Should Look For

Women should also be aware of potential STI symptoms so that they can seek medical advice if necessary. Some of the most common symptoms are:

Changes in Urination

Any pain or burning sensation during urination, the need to pee more frequently, or the presence of blood in the urine can indicate an STI.

Abnormal Vaginal Discharge

The look and consistency of vaginal discharge changes continually through a woman’s cycle, and most women know that the thick, white cottage cheese discharge is a sign of a yeast infection. Fewer women are aware that yellow or green discharge might indicate gonorrhea or trichomoniasis.

Itching in the Vaginal Area

What could be an allergic reaction could alternatively be a yeast infection or pubic lice.

Pain During Sex

This is an often overlooked symptom but abdominal or pelvic can be a sign of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), caused by an advanced stage of infection.

Abnormal Bleeding

Abnormal bleeding is another possible sign of PID or other reproductive problems arising from an STI.

Rashes or Sores

Sores or tiny pimples around the mouth or vagina can indicate herpes, HPV, or even syphilis.

There is no foolproof method to protect against STIs other than through abstinence. By being aware of changes in one’s body and by practicing safe sex, women can protect themselves and their partners, making the transmission of an infection far less likely.