Bacterial infections result when harmful bacteria occupy and multiply inside the body and disrupt healthy function. Not all bacteria are harmful; there are many “good” bacteria needed by living organisms for normal functions. An infection occurs when unhealthy bacteria outnumber healthy bacteria.1
Bacteria thrive in warm, moist environments, which is why the genitals, eyes, mouth, and anus are so commonly prone to infection. A number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are classified as bacterial infections. The most common bacterial STI is chlamydia. Others include gonorrhea, syphilis, vaginitis, and urethritis. These infections are transmitted to a healthy person through any contact—especially sexual contact—with the mouth, genitals, or anus of an infected person. The bacteria that cause these infections can be spread to the eyes via the hands. Newborn infants can also contract an infection in the eyes when passing through the birth canal of an infected mother. Some bacterial infections are not transmitted directly through sexual contact. For example, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) results from an untreated infection in the vagina. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can result from the presence of bacteria in the urethra due to sexual activity.
Symptoms of bacterial sexually transmitted infections typically include itching and burning during urination, unusual discharge or odor from the affected area, pain in the abdomen or back, and pain during intercourse. The absence of these symptoms doesn’t always mean a person is free of infection; STIs are often asymptomatic, especially in women.
Treatment and Prognosis
Generally, bacterial infections are easily treated with antibiotics. However, if they are not treated promptly there can be severe consequences. Infections of the reproductive system can lead to chronic pain, infertility, and in the worst cases, death. There is also the possibility of the infection becoming immune to antibiotics, as in the case of super gonorrhea.
You can lower your risk of contracting a bacterial sexually transmitted infection by always practicing safer sex. Condoms, when used correctly and consistently, are the only contraceptive method that provides some protection against STIs. It is wise to be tested often and to be honest with your doctor about your sexual activity. See a doctor right away if you are experiencing common symptoms or think you have been exposed to an infection. Communicate with all potential sex partners about their history of STI test results. Avoid sexual contact with infected individuals until they have been completely cured of illness.
Be sure to keep healthy hygiene habits and wash your hands frequently, especially after any kind of sexual activity. This will help stop the spread of bacteria. It is best not to douche or use scented soaps inside the vagina, as this disturbs the balance of “good” bacteria and contributes to the spread of harmful bacteria. Practicing an all around healthy lifestyle will aid in the body’s defense against infection.
For more detailed information on bacterial STIs, visit any of the following articles.
Check out our STI symptom chart for an overview of all sexually transmitted infections.
1. "Human Diseases and Conditions." Humanillnesses.com. Human Illnesses and Behavioral Health, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
2. LeVay, Simon, Janice I. Baldwin, and John D. Baldwin. “Sexually Transmitted Diseases.” Discovering Human Sexuality. 2nd ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2012. 469. Print.
Last Updated 5 February 2015.