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The most common STI differences for men and women

14th July 2020

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can often be described in umbrella terms, but they can actually be quite different for men and women. Not only do symptoms present differently, but different STIs can also be more common or less common in men and women.

Here are 5 ways in which STIs can be different for men and women.

Women are less likely to have symptoms

Bacterial infections, like Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea, can often be asymptomatic. This means that for around 70% of cases, the infected person will have no symptoms at all and therefore not know they have anything unless they’ve been tested.

This is how these bacterial infections continue to be so common, because people can pass them on and spread them without knowing anything is wrong.

While both men and women can be asymptomatic, this is far more common for women. And even if symptoms do occur, they can pass quickly even though the infection hasn’t cleared. In order to clear a bacterial infection, antibiotics are needed.

Women are more likely to confuse symptoms for something else

If women with STIs do have symptoms, then these can be very similar to things that women experience for a number of other reasons. Discharge is a common symptom of sexually transmitted infections, but a lot of women normally have discharge anyway due to the vagina being self-cleaning.

If this discharge seems unusual (like a change in smell, colour or consistency) then this could be confused with thrush or bacterial vaginosis. Meanwhile, men don’t tend to get discharge from the penis for any other reason, and will be more likely to think it strange and get it checked out.

Symptoms can be more visible for men

There are a number of STI’s that present in the form of physical lesions (genital herpes, genital warts, syphilis, chancroid). When men get these infections, the sores can appear on the head or base of the penis, the upper thighs or around the anus - so typically, these will be visible.

If women get these infections, then the sores can appear in the genital area, around the anus or inside the vagina. If the sores only come out inside the vagina then they may be less likely to spot them. Sores inside the vagina can cause pain or burning during sex or peeing, but these are also common symptoms of other infections (like cystitis).

HPV is the most common STI in women

Everyone tends to know about the common bacterial STI’s like Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea, but the most common STI in women is actually one not talked about as much; HPV. Human papillomavirus doesn’t always cause further problems, although certain strains can cause genital warts in both men and women.

However, HPV is also the most common cause of cervical cancer. So while HPV is very common in men, it’s women that it can have serious consequences for.

Women are more at risk of STIs based on anatomy

The direction of transmission of sexually transmitted infections is far more common from a man to a woman than from a woman to a man. This is because a woman’s anatomy makes her more susceptible to infection.

The vaginal lining is thinner and more delicate than the skin on the penis, making it easier for bacteria and viruses to penetrate. The vagina is also warm and moist, making it the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

Treating STIs

If you’re worried that you may have contracted an STI or are showing any symptoms, then it’s important to get yourself tested. You should get yourself tested regularly anyway, either every 6 months or after every new partner.

Testing can either be carried out at the GP, at a sexual health clinic or by yourself using an at-home testing kit. If you do have a positive test for any sexually transmitted infections, then you can order treatment from UK Meds.

We offer effective options to clear Chlamydia (such as Azithromycin or Doxycycline) and while Herpes isn’t curable, you can treat outbreaks successfully with Aciclovir. If you have tested positive for Gonorrhoea or HIV, you will need to seek treatment from your doctor, as these treatments are unsuitable to be offered online.