Written on August 11, 2023 by Gillian Singer, MPH, Sexuality Educator & Certified Sexologist. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Long story short, no, sexually transmitted infections and diseases generally do not go away on their own. Sexually transmitted infections and diseases can persist, evade the immune system, and eventually cause long-term undesirable health complications. Getting tested regularly, practicing safer sex, and getting medical care if any symptoms or risks are present are essential steps in combating the spread and impact of STIs/STDs.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STDs) are both common — the CDC reports that there are millions of new infections every year in the United States. The terms STD and STI are often used interchangeably. However, there is a distinction: infections are acute, meaning they are curable and go away, while diseases are usually chronic (ongoing or life-long).
Examples of bacterial and parasitic sexually transmitted infections (STIs) include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, trichomoniasis, pubic lice (crabs), and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). All of these infections/infestations are cured with a variety of courses of treatment like antibiotics, topical creams or ointments, etc.
Examples of viral sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) include Hepatitis C, herpes, Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and human papillomavirus (HPV). Viral STDs are chronic and while they can be managed and treated to the point where symptoms are minimal or undetectable, they do require life-long management and care. Treatments can include medications like antivirals along with other options.
So, can STDs go away without treatment? No.
Leaving sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted infections (STDs) can have serious and even fatal effects and outcomes on you and your sexual partner(s) — luckily, you and a partner can take steps to prevent transmission and your STI can sometimes be treated in hardly any time at all. Continue reading to learn more about the risks of leaving your STIs and STDs untreated.
Some individuals infected with STIs/STDs might not experience noticeable symptoms, becoming “asymptomatic carriers.” Although they do not show any signs of sickness or infection, they can still transmit the infection/disease to their sexual partners. Individuals who remain unaware of their infection might unknowingly pass it on to others. This further perpetuates the spread of STIs/STDs, particularly within tight-knit communities and populations.
Additionally, in recent years, there has been a rise in drug-resistant strains of infections/diseases. Gonorrhea has progressively become resistant to the antibiotics prescribed to treat it. Following the spread of gonococcal fluoroquinolone resistance, the cephalosporin antibiotics have been the foundation of recommended treatment for gonorrhea. Cephalosporin-resistant gonorrhea would complicate providers' ability to successfully treat gonorrhea given the few antibiotic options left that are simple, well-studied, well-tolerated and highly effective.
Leaving STIs untreated doesn’t just affect your partner or partners’ health — it affects yours. If untreated, you may experience prolonged and/or worsening symptoms that are uncomfortable and affect your quality of life. Additionally, infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea can spread to the upper genital tract and cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) in people assigned female at birth. PID is a serious condition that can lead to chronic pelvic pain, infertility, and ectopic pregnancies (pregnancy outside the uterus). You may also face chronic health problems that can progressively damage the immune system or other biological systems. You can even increase your risk of some cancers or develop neurological symptoms.
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