Any sexually active person can acquire a sexually transmitted disease. However, is there a difference between the likelihood of acquiring an infection in men and women?
Yes, women are almost always more likely to get sexually transmitted diseases than men. This difference is even more drastic when compared exclusively between women and straight men (men who only have sex with women). There are plenty of reasons why this disparity exists, including the lesser ability of women worldwide to negotiate safer sex and obtain information on STD prevention. But perhaps the biggest reason why women are more likely to get STDs than men is their increased biological vulnerability towards STDs.
To understand why women are more likely to get STDs than men, it is worth analyzing each factor contributing to an increased likelihood of women acquiring STDs at a higher rate.
WHY ARE WOMEN MORE LIKELY TO GET STDs THAN MEN?
As mentioned above, women are more likely to acquire STDs than men. In 2021, 1.7 million American women had a sexually transmitted disease compared to only about 910,000 men who were diagnosed with an STD, according to this research.
Studies have also established that women have a higher biological risk of STI transmission, with a higher probability of transmission from men to women.
This huge gap between the number of diagnosed STD cases between men and women in the United States is due to several reasons, including cultural, social, biological, and other miscellaneous factors.
Here are some of these factors explained in detail.
Social and economic factors
Women are more vulnerable to STD infections than men due to the nature of social and cultural factors around the world. Compared to men, women worldwide experience a lack of access to education. Women also have lesser income and power.
These dependencies translate to women having less ability to negotiate safer sex for themselves. These social factors also limit a woman's ability to say no to unsafe sex as easily as men.
Once exposed to disease-causing organisms, the same cultural factors also prevent women from obtaining any suitable disease-prevention medication or other types of healthcare.
Women are also more likely to be introduced to the porn industry due to the same social and economic factors, which exposes them to a much greater risk of STD transmission than ever before.
Women are also much more vulnerable to acquiring STDs than men due to the biological nature of their vaginas. Vaginas are more vulnerable to STD-causing organisms due to their large surface area, which is primarily covered in mucous. Comparatively, mostly skin-covered penises are much more protected against these microorganisms.
Another factor that increases the risk of STD transmission in women is that the male ejaculate, which may be affected by STDs, remains inside a vagina in a much larger quantity and for a much longer time compared to the female ejaculate.
While female vaginal secretions may also be infected with STDs, men are not as exposed to these secretions as women are to penile secretions, and also not for the same duration of time during sexual intercourse.
One of the biggest reasons women are more likely to get STDs is that STDs in women generally go undiagnosed for a long time. This is twofold: 1) women are more likely to remain asymptomatic even after being exposed to STDs, and 2) women often confuse STD symptoms with those of regular reproductive tract problems.
Women are more likely to remain asymptomatic when exposed to STDs. Since there are no apparent symptoms, women do not visit their healthcare provider, and the disease progresses until it is transmitted to even more people. This is also the reason why women have a higher rate of HIV transmission as compared to men.
Even when women do get symptoms of STDs, they often mistake them for regular health problems. An unusual discharge from the vagina is not a surprising sight for a woman of reproductive age. In fact, most women expect unusual discharge from the vagina every now and then.
Sometimes, women mistake this discharge for a simple yeast infection, which they often try to treat on their own at home. This leads to the STD going unnoticed for a long period.
Pregnancy and post-natal complications
Pregnancy, childbirth complications, and post-childbirth anemia are all problems which increase the likelihood of women acquiring sexually transmitted infections.
Women are so much more likely to become anemic and require blood transfusions. These transfusions are not always done in the most sanitary conditions. Moreover, requiring blood transfusions more frequently increases the risk of acquiring HIV and hepatitis B so much more in women than in men.
All these factors combined increase the likelihood of STD infections in women much more than in their male counterparts.