New Concerns for Sexually Active Women

July 13, 2011

If you’re having sex, pay close attention. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are on the rise in this country and it seems that people aren’t protecting themselves properly.

Reprinted with permission of Society for Women's Health Research

If you’re having sex, pay close attention. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are on the rise in this country and it seems that people aren’t protecting themselves properly. A new survey conducted by the American Social Health Association reveals that a large number of people fail to use protection regularly when having vaginal, anal and oral sex.

This new finding has serious implications for women. Women are at greater risk than men for acquiring STDs from heterosexual intercourse.

“Biologically, women are more susceptible due to larger genital mucosal surface exposed during intercourse, and microlesions that can occur during penile-vaginal intercourse are believed to be entry points for these diseases,” Sherry Marts, Ph.D., v ice president for scientific affairs at the Society for Women’s Health Research in Washington, D.C., said.

In addition, STDs often cause more severe and frequent health problems for women than they do for men. Symptoms may appear right away, but more often for women recognizable symptoms don’t appear at all. As a result, many women do not receive proper medical attention until severe problems have occurred.

STDs can develop from having vaginal, anal or oral sex. High-risk behavior including failing to use a condom, sex with many partners, and a partner who has had many sexual experiences, significantly raises a person’s chance of contracting an STD. STDs can be caused by viruses and include: herpes, HIV, human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B; or by bacteria and include: chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.

“Women are disproportionately impacted by STDs,” James Allen, M.D., M.P.H., president of the American Social Health Association in North Carolina, said. “Rates tend to vary according to age and geographical location, but we know that chlamydia rates among women have increased.”

Chlamydia can have devastating effects on women and can result in pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. Roughly 70 percent of chlamydia infections produce vague symptoms or no symptoms. A large number of infected women fail to seek proper medical attention and, therefore, increase their chances of having more severe problems down the road.

Roughly one out of every four Americans will be diagnosed with an STD at some point in their lifetime with younger people affected disproportionately. According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly two-thirds of all STDs occur in men and women under the age of 25.

But older Americans are not immune. According to the American Social Health Association, adults over the age of 65 are in one of fastest-growing AIDS rates segments of the population. Seniors have not received formal sex education the way younger people have and there are gaps in knowledge that can lead to riskier behavior later in life, especially for widows and divorcees.

“Physicians are often not comfortable taking sexual histories from older patients and often attribute their STD symptoms to other diseases,” Allen said.

Drugs that have become available to treat erectile dysfunction in men may also play a role in the increase of STDs in seniors.

“These medications appear to be used widely as performance enhancing drugs and not only for those with erectile dysfunction,” Allen explained.

Open communication with sexual partners, knowing how to use a condom correctly and consistently and getting tested for STDs can all lower a person’s risk of contracting these diseases.

“ Anyone that is sexually active, be it a teen or a senior citizen, may be at risk for contracting a sexually transmitted disease,” Allen concluded. “People need to know that, and they need to have the tools to protect themselves and their partners.”

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© April 22, 2004 Society for Women's Health Research

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The Society for Women's Health Research is the nation's only not-for-profit organization whose mission is to improve the health of all women through research, education and advocacy. Founded in 1990, the Society brought to national attention the need for the appropriate inclusion of women in major medical research studies and the need for more information about conditions affecting women disproportionately, predominately, or differently than men . The Society advocates increased funding for research on women's health; encourages the study of sex differences that may affect the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease; promotes the inclusion of women in medical research studies; and informs women, providers, policy makers and media about contemporary women's health issues. Visit the Society's Web site at www.womens-health.org for more information.