Can STDs Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

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Can STDs cause erectile dysfunction?

Sexually transmitted infections (STI) or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are a group of infections of viral or bacterial origin that can be contracted through sexual activity. 

The terms STI and STD are often used interchangeably. However, the main difference between these terms is that STIs refers to sexually transmitted bacteria or viruses. In contrast, STD refers to a disease caused by sexually transmitted bacteria or viruses. 

An estimated one in five people in the United States¹ will have an STI on any given day, including both men and women. A range of symptoms and side effects can occur with an STI. 

For men, this can sometimes present as erectile dysfunction (ED). Research² has shown that sufferers of ED have higher rates of STIs than people who do not have ED.

How do STDs cause erectile dysfunction?

If you have contracted an STI and are struggling to produce and maintain an erection, it is possibly due to a prostate gland infection.

The prostate gland is an essential part of the male reproductive system. The prostate is a small gland located at the base of the urethra (the tube that transports urine). It sits internally below the bladder and is in front of the rectum. Therefore, since the prostate gland is connected to the urethra, it's an easy target for bacterial infections. Bacteria can enter the urethra near the tip of the penis and work their way across to the prostate gland. The most important function of the prostate gland is the production of a particular fluid that makes up semen. 

When mixed with sperm cells from the testicles and fluids from other glands, this makes up semen. The muscles of the prostate gland also prevent urine from being released from the penis during ejaculation.

When you are infected with an STI, it will typically enter the body through the urethra. As the prostate gland is interconnected with the urethra, it is not uncommon for the prostate gland to become infected. 

An infected and inflamed prostate gland can cause pain before, during, and after sexual activity and create difficulty urinating. This is known as prostatitis. It is believed that prostatitis is why erectile dysfunction is associated with STIs. 

Research² has also shown that psychological factors can influence your risk of developing ED due to an STI.

What type of STD can lead to erectile dysfunction?

Each STI is distinct and has different symptoms associated with it. 

The two main STIs that tend to cause prostatitis and ED are chlamydia and gonorrhea. Both of these STIs are caused by bacteria, so it makes sense that they are more likely to cause prostatitis because bacteria typically move around the body more easily. Most bacterial cells move around to propel them toward favorable conditions that allow easier growth. 

Chlamydia and gonorrhea

How do chlamydia and gonorrheal infections cause erectile dysfunction?

Chlamydia causes ED due to prostatitis. This causes the prostate gland to become inflamed. Due to the prostate gland’s location, when it is inflamed, this restricts blood flow to the penis, preventing you from gaining an erection. 

Gonorrhea similarly causes ED by infecting the prostate and causing problems. For example, it can cause pain and discharge from the penis. As a result, the flow-on effect from this STI could be ED. 

The pain from chlamydia or gonorrhea can make it difficult to get aroused. Anxiety and stress related to having an STI can also make it tricky to stay aroused.

Symptoms of chlamydia

Chlamydia trachomatis, more commonly referred to as chlamydia, is one of the most commonly contracted STIs. It primarily affects young women, but men and women of all age groups can be affected. 

If you have contracted chlamydia, you may not even know you have it! Many people do not have symptoms in the early stages of the infection, and if they do, they are often mild. As a result, chlamydia can be easy to overlook until symptoms worsen. 

Symptoms of chlamydia in men include:

  • Clear or white discharge from the penis

  • Painful urination

  • Testicular pain or swelling

  • Soreness or redness at the opening of your penis

Women may experience:

  • Pain while urinating

  • Vaginal discharge

  • Bleeding between periods

  • Abdominal pain and pain during sex

The long-term complications of chlamydia can be more serious. For women, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can occur. This can lead to infertility. Men typically do not suffer permanent health problems from chlamydia. 

In rare circumstances, chlamydia can also lead to infertility. If untreated, it can also increase your chances of giving or receiving HIV.

Both the rectum and the eye can be infected with chlamydia as well. When the rectum is infected, there may be symptoms such as rectal pain, discharge, and bleeding, or there may be no symptoms at all. 

Infections of the eye normally appear as conjunctivitis and occur through contact with body fluids.

Chlamydia diagnosis

If you want to find out if you have chlamydia, talk to your healthcare provider and have a sexual health check-up. 

A urine sample is the specimen of choice when diagnosing chlamydia in men. The urine sample is then tested, which can be done in various ways. 

These include cell cultures and nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs). It may take a few days to receive the results of these tests.

Symptoms of gonorrhea 

Neisseria gonorrhoeae,³ more commonly known as gonorrhea, is another common STI. It can affect people of all ages. However, it's most common in people between the ages of 15–24. 

The symptoms of gonorrhea for men include:

  • Pain in the testicles

  • Swelling near the scrotum

  • Painful urination 

  • White, yellow, or greenish discharge from the penis

For women, the symptoms vary. For example, they may experience:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge 

  • Pain during intercourse and urination 

  • Abdominal pain 

  • Bleeding between periods. 

Gonorrhea diagnosis

The diagnosis of gonorrhea is similar to chlamydia, and you can be tested for both STIs simultaneously. So, the diagnosis also involves a urine test, followed up by a NAAT. 

How are chlamydia, gonorrhea, and erectile dysfunction treated?

Chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics. Current treatments recommended are either a single 1g dose of azithromycin or doxycycline 100mg twice daily for seven days. The single dose is usually given as it is easier to adhere to than the seven-day antibiotic regime. 

Research⁴ shows that azithromycin is approximately 97% effective in curing chlamydia, while doxycycline is closer to 100% effective. 

If you are given a single dose of azithromycin, you should not participate in sexual activities for seven days after taking your dose. If you are given doxycycline, you must avoid engaging in sexual activity for the duration of your treatment.

Most primary health physicians will require a “test of cure” 6-12 weeks after the initial treatment to ensure your treatment was successful. If your treatment was effective, it’s safe to be sexually active again. 

Gonorrhea has been successfully treated with antibiotics for decades. But due to the increased threat of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, there's a chance that you may need to try more than one type of treatment. Therefore, you will need to speak to your doctor about which antibiotic treatment is right for you. 

The CDC⁵ recommends a 500mg dose of intramuscular ceftriaxone for gonorrhea treatment. While medication can stop the infection from spreading, it will not be able to repair any damage that has occurred previously from it. 

Any partners you have had sexual intercourse with or engaged in sexual activity with while you have had chlamydia or gonorrhea should be told about your STI. They should get treated to prevent further transmission of the disease. Having had chlamydia or gonorrhea in the past does not stop you from getting it again.

If you have developed ED due to an STI, this will likely go away once your course of antibiotics has been completed. If your ED does not go away with treatment, it may be due to other factors. 

These may include an underlying medical condition, another medication, or poor lifestyle choices. Treatment of underlying medical conditions may fix the ED.

Erectile dysfunction can be treated through medication such as sildenafil (the active compound in Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), and avanafil (Stendra®). Consult your healthcare provider before stopping or starting any medications. 

Make sure you find out what is the best decision for you first.

How are STIs and erectile dysfunction prevented?

Preventing future infection with chlamydia, gonorrhea, or any other STI requires both parties to be responsible and involved in safe sex. 

Here are some tips to help you practice safe sex:

  • Wear a condom.

  • Get tested routinely for STIs, regardless of whether you’re in a steady relationship.

  • Tell your partner about your sexual history and have them tell you about theirs.

  • Avoid having sex with people whose sexual health you are unsure about. You always have the right to say no.

ED’s exact cause is unknown. There are multiple factors associated with the development of ED. Some potential causes of erectile dysfunction include:

  • Age, as ED becomes more common as you age (For men over 70, up to 50% have ED.) 

  • Medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, and atherosclerosis (thickening and hardening of the arteries)

  • Mental health issues such as depression, stress, and anxiety

  • Poor lifestyle choices, including smoking, low levels of exercise, and poor diet

  • Side effects of some medications, including some antidepressants, blood pressure medications, and antiseizure medications

If you want to decrease your chances of developing ED, you may want to consider increasing your physical activity levels, eating a balanced diet, or consulting your healthcare provider.

It’s important to consult with your primary healthcare provider before starting any exercise regime, as you may have other underlying health conditions that can affect your ability to exercise or that might worsen due to exercise. 

When to visit a doctor

If you find out a sexual partner has tested positive for chlamydia, gonorrhea, or any other STI, you should go to a doctor or sexual health clinic to get tested. You should not engage in sexual activity until you see your primary healthcare provider for treatment and advice.

You should see a doctor immediately if you think you may have an STI or begin to have symptoms such as discharge from the penis or pain while urinating. Waiting too long can increase your chances of developing more severe side effects. 

Chlamydia and gonorrhea will not go away on their own, and medication is needed to eliminate the infection. Plus, treating the STI will prevent the spread to potential partners.

The inability to produce an erection is common for men of all ages. However, if the problem becomes more frequent and you fail to become aroused more often, it may be a good idea to see your healthcare provider. This is a common condition, and you should not worry about discussing such concerns with your doctor.

The lowdown

STIs such as chlamydia or gonorrhea may increase your risk of developing ED. Luckily, these infections are treatable. After treatment, you may find your ED is cured. You can usually treat ED with medication.

Preventing the spread of STIs means practicing safe sex, such as using condoms and having regular sexual health screenings with your primary healthcare provider. If you feel your ED is related to an STI, make sure you see your doctor promptly — especially if you are experiencing any symptoms of chlamydia or gonorrhea.

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