Sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, are infections that are spread through different types of sexual contact. STIs can be hard to catch because many of them are asymptomatic or don’t show symptoms until months after the infection occurs. There are many types of STIs but we are going to focus on the most common in this blog post, HPV, Chlamydia, and Gonorrhea. (1)

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

     HPV is the most common STI with around 14 million people being infected each year. (1)This is probably because there are over 100 types of it. Many forms of HPV are harmless and often result in some type of warts. 30 types are considered STIs and can affect your genital area causing genital warts. (2) While most forms of HPV are not serious, some strains can lead to cancer, specifically cervical cancer in women, and these are commonly transmitted through sexual activity. (3)


  • Warts- As I mentioned before, there are over 100 types of HPV and most are not harmful. Certain types cause genital warts and other types cause warts on the hands, feet, and face. The type of HPV that causes cancer does not cause warts. (2) 
  • Cervical Cancer- Certain types of HPV can lead to cervical cancer. The cervix is the area in a woman’s body between her vagina and uterus. The virus causes cells in the cervix to change and they sometimes become cancerous. (2) Cervical cancer can often take up to 20 years to fully develop and there are rarely symptoms leading up to it. (3) 


Because there are no symptoms of cervical cancer, women should have pap smears every three years to screen for it. During a pap smear, a sample of cells is taken from the cervix to see if any changes have occurred. It is recommended that women begin receiving pelvic exams and pap smears at the age of 21. (3) If a woman is sexually active before this age, she should start having exams at that time. 

Risk Factors

  • Skin-to-skin contact. This includes hand-to-hand and sexual contact. Hand-to-hand could lead to warts on one person’s hand if the other person is infected. (3)
  • More than one sexual partner or having sex with someone who has had multiple partners. (3)
  • Weakened immune system. (3)


     Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that is contracted through sexual intercourse including vaginal, anal, and oral. It is the most highly reported STI and must be reported to local health departments when diagnosed. (1) It is important to know that chlamydia can only be contracted through vaginal fluid or semen. It cannot be spread through saliva or skin-to-skin contact. (4)


Chlamydia is typically an asymptomatic infection. When symptoms do occur they are usually mild and overlooked. (5) It’s important to get tested if you suspect you might have chlamydia because if caught early, it can be treated and cured with a round of antibiotics. (4) Early onset of symptoms that may occur are: 

  • Painful urination 
  • Foul, discolored vaginal discharge
  • Painful intercourse for women
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods and after sexual intercourse

If Chlamydia is left untreated, there can be serious consequences (especially for women). Severe complications that may occur if left untreated are: 

  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID): PID occurs when a woman’s fallopian tubes and uterus become infected. It causes fever, can be extremely painful,(5) and usually requires hospitalization and IV antibiotics. (4) 
  • Infertility: PID can cause permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive organs which means there is a high chance she will be unable to have children. It can also cause an ectopic pregnancy if the woman does become pregnant. This is when an egg is fertilized in the damaged fallopian tube which will eventually rupture. This is fatal for the baby and can be for the mother due to the amount of blood loss that can occur. (4)
  • Transfer to Infant- If a woman is pregnant and has Chlamydia, it can be transferred to the baby during birth. Chlamydia can cause pneumonia in the baby as well as an eye infection that can lead to blindness. (4)

Risk Factors

  • The greatest risk factor is having sex with multiple partners without protection. (4)
  • Not getting regular screening tests if you are sexually active. (5)    


     Gonorrhea is the third most common STI and is similar to chlamydia in many ways. It is a bacterial infection transmitted through sexual contact and (1) can only be transferred through vaginal fluid or semen. It is also asymptomatic in the early stages but can lead to more serious health issues if not treated. (6)


Like chlamydia, gonorrhea is typically asymptomatic in the early stages. It is also important to get tested if there is a chance you have been exposed because it can be easily treated with antibiotics. If symptoms do occur, they could present as: (7) 

  • Painful urination
  • Yellow/green vaginal discharge 
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Lower abdominal pain     

If gonorrhea goes untreated for an extended time, there can be serious health risks. Some of the health risks that can occur in women are listed below. 

  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)- Just like with chlamydia, PID can be very painful, usually requires hospitalization, and can cause infertility. (6)
  • Harm to Newborns- Gonorrhea can also cause eye infections in newborns if the mother is infected. These eye infections can lead to blindness. (6)
  • Gonorrhea can spread to other parts of the body like the joints which can cause joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. (7)
  • HIV/Aids- Having gonorrhea increases your chances of contracting HIV which is the virus that leads to AIDS. (7) 

Risk Factors

The risk factors for contracting gonorrhea are the same as chlamydia.

  • The greatest risk factor is having sex with multiple partners without protection. (6)
  • Not getting regular screening tests if you are sexually active. (7)

     It is safe to say that STIs can be extremely dangerous and have lifelong health consequences. Getting regular screenings if you are sexually active is the best way to catch them early. But avoiding unprotected sex is the best way to avoid them overall.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact;

Nurturing Center of Lubbock
3303 66th Street
Lubbock, TX 79413
Phone: 806-780-6853 (available 24 hours)
Text: 806-317-4480




Marlee Henn, RN

Marlee has been a nurse for two years and currently works in a functional medical clinic and part time in a long term acute care center. She has a passion for natural living, women’s health, and education.