Tell me about… why certain STIs make me more susceptible to HI

By Sarah McElroy, NP & Adrienne Ton, NP

So maybe you’re here because you got tested and then treated for chlamydia, and then you went into a deep dark hole of Google and found out that STIs increase your chances of getting HIV. Deep breaths. 

Here are the facts: Having any STI increases your chances of contracting HIV because having sex means you’re more at risk for sexually-transmitted infections. 

HIV is a virus passed from partner to partner though all kinds of fluids, such as blood, semen, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids during sexual activity, or from sharing needles.  

HIV transmission can happen between any two people through vaginal or anal sex due to the basic mechanisms of sex: the friction in sex can cause tiny little tears in the vaginal or anal mucosal lining. These small tears are entry ways for HIV to enter the body if latex condoms aren’t being used. When sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia are also present in the vaginal or anal canal, the inflammation caused by the STI increases the chance of tears to the lining of the area. This exposes more surface area that the HIV virus can enter the body. 

It’s similar to if you tripped and got a scrape on your knee, and got a little infection from the dirt that got in the wound. You’re a lot more likely to get an infection of your skin if there was an open wound there than if you were to get some dirt on it without a wound. In a similar way, STIs can cause inflammation and sometimes little tears in the skin that a virus like HIV can use to enter the body. 

So yes, having one sexually transmitted infection can make you more likely to get HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. However, it’s important to note that it does NOT mean that you will definitely get an HIV infection.

Our tip: if you do end up testing positive for one STI, make sure you get a full panel, including an infection like HIV. Though HIV is a lot less common than other infections like chlamydia, it can be worth getting this checked as soon as you can.

This article provides information about sexual health, healthcare and/or related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of TBD HEALTH INC.