Causes & Treatment

5 common STIs that could impact your fertility (and why getting to know your vaginal microbiome is key)

Emma Harpham in partnership with Daye  |   2 Nov 2023

STIs and fertility – here’s what you should know

Although we’re starting to have more conversations about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and seeing getting tested regularly as the act of self-care that it is, there is still some stigma that remains – meaning that certain aspects, including the longer-term effects they can have on your fertility down the line, tend to get left out of the dialogue.

As people with ovaries, we are more likely to contract STIs than men. 

So, to help us get clued up, we’ve partnered with Daye, a fab brand whose mission is to break taboos and raise the standards in gynaecological health, through innovative, female-friendly products.

Together, we’ll cover off the most common STIs and set the record straight on how they could potentially impact your fertility later in life, plus the surprising role your vaginal microbiome can play in preventative care and supporting your sexual wellbeing.

Before we get into it, Daye are offering an exclusive 15% off discount for TRB readers, just use code RIBBON15

Can STIs really impact our fertility?

Most of us have probably heard that STIs have the potential to cause problems with our reproductive health and fertility. 

It’s important to point out that this is usually in rare cases, and really only occurs if an STI is left untreated over a longer period of time. 

Here’s our quick guide to five of the most common STIs, and how they can impact our sexual wellbeing, at a glance.

  • Chlamydia – Caused by bacteria, this is the most commonly reported STI, despite often having no symptoms. It can be treated with antibiotics but has been linked to inflammation in the pelvis and reproductive tract if left to its own devices.
  • Gonorrhoea – Caused by bacteria, gonorrhoea can be treated with antibiotics but can lead to inflammation in the pelvis and reproductive tract, as well as increase your risk of HIV acquisition, if left untreated.
  • HSV (Herpes) – Caused by a virus, genital herpes causes recurring outbreaks and can indirectly impact fertility by leading couples to refrain from sexual contact during outbreaks. This avoidance can potentially lengthen the time it takes to conceive. Medication can help reduce outbreaks.
  • Mycoplasma genitalium – You may not have heard of this one. This bacteria is common though, and also thought to be linked with inflammation in the pelvis, although not as often as chlamydia or gonorrhoea.
  • HPV – Caused by a virus, some HPV strains can lead to cervical cancer. Treatments for this can affect fertility by changing cervical mucus production.

What’s really key to know here is that some of these STIs don’t cause any symptoms at all (we’re less likely than men are to experience symptoms, too) and can remain undetected for years – if we’re not screening regularly.

STIs and fertility - can STIs really impact our fertility

A note on Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and fertility

Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are actually two of the leading preventable causes of infertility, and this is thought to be because they’re directly linked with the development of pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).

If we contract one of these STIs and it remains untreated, harmful bacteria could find their way into the intricate network of our reproductive system. This can trigger the development of internal inflammation and scarring within our cervix, vagina and uterus, making getting pregnant more difficult.

PID is usually symptomless, making it a particularly tricky fertility puzzle piece when it comes to diagnosis and treatment. 

What’s Tubal Factor Infertility? 

PID is also known to contribute to what experts term Tubal Factor Infertility (TFI). If harmful bacteria are left to move into our upper reproductive tract, this can cause scarring in our fallopian tubes. This can mean that the essential journey of sperm towards the egg within the fallopian tube can be impeded, and the progress of a fertilized egg towards the uterus can also be obstructed, stopping implantation from taking place and increasing the likelihood of ectopic pregnancy. 

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) says that approximately 25% to 35% of female infertility cases can be traced back to factors related to TFI, and whilst a history of ectopic pregnancy and even endometriosis can play a role, PID as a leading cause here.

The vaginal microbiome link 

Where does your microbiome come into it? Well, you might already know that maintaining a healthy vaginal microbiome is key to maintaining your fertility baseline. 

In fact, research indicates that during a woman’s fertile window, the vaginal pH shifts from 4 or 5 to 7, creating a more favourable environment for sperm. This shift is regulated by lactobacillus, the dominant bacteria in the vagina, playing a crucial role in protecting against pathogens and maintaining a favourable environment for conception.

But, research has found that an imbalanced vaginal microbiome can also lead to an increased risk of preterm birth, as well as acquisition of STIs and urinary tract infections (UTIs), and even development of pelvic inflammatory disease as a result.

In a nutshell, if your vaginal microbiome is already needing a little TLC, it could increase your risk for various different fertility-impacting outcomes – including contracting sexually transmitted infections. 

STI test

Supporting your sexual wellbeing

This can all sound a bit scary, and it’s important to remember that most of us who get an STI will probably not experience serious fertility issues down the line. 

If you’re sexually active, getting tested on the reg (especially if you notice any symptoms or switch partners) is of course key, so that you can access timely treatment.  

But understanding what’s normal for you and practising preventative care is also really important, especially if you’re just starting to think about your fertility. This can look like having conversations with sexual partners, maintaining good hygiene down there, forming healthy lifestyle and eating routines, and learning more about your gynaecological health baseline. 

Test with Daye, and cover all bases

The Daye at-home vaginal microbiome screening lets you learn about your risk of contracting STIs and potential fertility implications longer term, along with your wider gynaecological health.

If STI infections are a current concern for you, the Daye at-home STI screening allows you to comprehensively test for Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Trichomonas, HSV, Mycoplasma and Ureaplasma – whether you’ve got symptoms or not.

Forget cold, invasive speculums – their unique ‘tampon swab’ makes at-home testing a comfy breeze, ensuring a comprehensive and accurate sample collection compared to traditional pokey swabs. They’ll get you your results in plain English, supported by easy-to-understand visual aids and explanations.

We’ve also heard that they provide holistic aftercare solutions, too. From scheduling video calls with gynaecological specialists to facilitating appointments at NHS sexual health clinics, and even enabling direct prescriptions – so all really supportive and actionable stuff.

Caring for your sexual wellbeing is self-care. Make Daye your go-to to learn more about your gynaecological health, from exploring their fantastic deep-dive content to ordering your first vaginal microbiome STI screening. PLUS, get 15% off the Daye product range with TRB exclusive code: RIBBON15

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