We often don’t think about the ways that menstruation and our sexual health are linked, but the two are connected in more than one way.
In fact, the two can play a significant role in our lives and vastly impact the symptoms that we may have during both menstruation and sex.
But aside from involving the same set of parts, how are they connected?
Menstruation can be a difficult time for many people. Along with the cultural stigmas that are all too familiar, those who menstruate can also experience a wide range of symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, back aches and extreme pain and cramping. Of course, every person who menstruates has a different experience with varying symptoms, so how do you know what’s caused by a period and what is related to sexual health?
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) themselves run the gambit of symptoms and treatments. For instance, chlamydia and gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics, while genital warts or herpes have symptoms that can be treated, but not cured. Understanding the range of symptoms that each STI can prompt, as well as the social stigma that accompanies STIs as a whole, make it easy to see why talking about STIs in relation to menstruation can fly under the radar. In many cases, patients may just not be bringing up the conversation with their primary physicians.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something that is brought up often enough by patients to their doctors. Patients may not feel comfortable bringing this up to their doctors because of shame and stigma. There’s also a feeling of uncertainty about what is happening to their bodies that may also impact how forthcoming they are with their doctors.
“For people with herpes, some are more likely to have an outbreak during their period, though this isn’t true for everyone,” Christina Tesoro, a sex educator based in New York City explains to HelloFlo. “Stress and diet can also impact outbreaks in people who have STIs,” But she also mentions that STIs aren’t the only things that can impact how an individual’s menstruation cycle functions.
Tesoro further explains: “If I’m dealing with something like bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection (which are not strictly STIs) I’ll have to be very careful about using tampons because I find them irritating, and patients have said to me that tampons seem to exacerbate symptoms and maybe change the pH of the vagina which can exacerbate symptoms.”
Another important factor that may impact menstruation for individuals with STIs is that they’re unaware that they have an STI in the first place.
So exactly what warning signs should you look out for when it comes to distinguishing between your period and a potential STI? According to Tesoro, the blood from your period may not directly impact your STIs, but noticing changes from the blood flow, your diet, stress, iron levels/etc. could trigger symptoms in your body.
“For STIs whose symptoms are discharge, it’s important that you know what discharge is normal,” Tesoro says. “Get to know your cycle and the quality of the discharge in your cycle, [apps like Clue has ways to enter the quality of discharge]. If you keep track of that when you abnormal discharge for you then you know that it’s not part of your normal cycle and you can go to the doctor.”
Because menstruation and STIs are impacted by different things, it’s hard to say specifically what symptoms one could have. But overall, it comes down to knowing your body and knowing that any abnormal change could be the result of an STI, or the result of other significant changes in the body.