Key Points for Providers and Clients
  • People with sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), can use most family planning methods safely and effectively.
  • Male and female condoms can prevent STIs, including HIV, when used consistently and correctly.
  • STIs often have no signs or symptoms, particularly in women. 
  • People should seek health care if they think that they or their partners might have an STI. 
  • Many STIs can be successfully treated. The sooner they are treated, the less likely they are to cause long-term health problems such as infertility or chronic pain, or to infect a sexual partner or a fetus.
  • Vaginal discharge can also be caused by infections that are not sexually transmitted.

What Are Sexually Transmitted Infections?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites that are spread through sexual contact. These organisms can be found in vaginal fluids and in semen, on the skin of the genitals and areas around them, and in the mouth, throat, and rectum. Most STIs cause no symptoms or cause symptoms that can easily go unnoticed. Others can cause pain and physical and psychological discomfort. If not treated, some STIs can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, chronic pelvic pain, infertility, and cervical cancer in women, and some STIs can cause infertility, and anorectal and prostate cancer in men. Some STIs can also greatly increase the chance of becoming infected with HIV.