If you’re struggling to conceive and don’t know why, it could be down to a sexually transmitted infection. We speak to a fertility expert.
By Dr Irfana Koita
If you’re in a long-term relationship and struggling to get pregnant, the last thing you might consider as the reason for your fertility concerns is the possibility of a sexually transmitted infection (STI). But undiagnosed STIs can impact conception, so it’s worth getting tested.
Dr Irfana Koita, specialist fertility consultant and founder of IVF Matters, explains everything you need to know about STIs and fertility:
Can STIs affect fertility?
Several different STIs can cause fertility problems. In fact, research suggests that as many as a quarter of infertility cases are linked to a previous or current STI, which is why it could be time to deliberate this as a possible reason for your struggle to conceive.
Some STIs pose a greater threat to fertility, both female and male, than others. The most common of these are chlamydia and gonorrhoea, which more often than not, will present no symptoms whatsoever. As such, many people will remain blissfully unaware, which can result in the further spread of infection and adverse health consequences.
If left untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhoea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women or epididymitis in men – both of which can affect fertility. PID can result in scarring of the fallopian tubes, which can block them and prevent conception.
It isn’t all doom and gloom, however. The good news is that both of these STIs are easily treatable with a short course of antibiotics and should cause no long-term health problems if detected early on.
How to stop STIs affecting fertility
The simple answer is to undergo regular sexual health check-ups. Though it may not be necessary when in a committed partnership, you should always undertake a full screen whenever you start a new relationship.
If you or your partner did not get tested before beginning your relationship, it is a good idea to suggest undertaking one for peace of mind. You can do this in any sexual health clinic, at a regular GP surgery, or even at home, using a self-testing postal kit. Lack of time is no longer an excuse to not take care of your sexual health!
Has my partner been cheating?
If your partner’s STI test comes back positive, it does not necessarily mean they have been having intimate relations with other people. It is important to point out that some STIs, like chlamydia, commonly cause no symptoms, even if contracted years prior in a previous sexual relationship. This is why many people fail to realise they have caught an STI and they can easily pass between sexual partners undetected, only being realised through proper testing.
STIs and IVF
It is an essential requirement for people going down the IVF route to undertake a full sexual health screen before treatment can begin. This is a preventative measure used to ensure that IVF patients do not have any underlying STIs which could be affecting their fertility, whilst also ensuring that there are no diseases present which could be passed onto the baby, such as herpes.
Those going down the IVF route must undertake a full sexual health screening.
STI testing is always carried out, even where a couple has been together for years or where an individual has only ever had one sexual partner. Usually, fertility specialists like myself will recommend trying to conceive for at least a year before seeking fertility treatment if a woman is under 35. However, where there has been a history of past STIs, in particular chlamydia or gonorrhoea, experts often recommend trying for a further six months.
Take home tips
✔️ Undergo regular sexual health check-ups.
✔️ Ensure you and your partner undertake an STI screen before trying for a baby.
✔️ Look out for any unusual symptoms or pain.
✔️ Be sure to inform your GP of any previous STIs which could affect fertility or the health of the baby.