You’ve probably heard about sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You may have first been introduced to chlamydia, herpes, and gonorrhea in your sex education classes. But what about trichomoniasis, or “trich,” as it’s often called?
While it isn’t often talked about, trichomoniasis is a fairly common, often symptomless, and completely curable STI. Looking after your sexual health is such an important self-care step, but it can be hard to know every little thing about every STI. So if you’ve never heard about trichomoniasis, you’re not the only one, and we’ve got you covered. Here, Flo experts explain what trichomoniasis is, how it can manifest differently in men and women, and perhaps most importantly, how it can be treated.
What is trichomoniasis, and how common is it?
In a nutshell, trichomoniasis is a common STI caused by a parasite called trichomonas vaginalis (TV). Sounds a little bit like sci-fi, right? Interestingly, Dr. Renita White, obstetrician and gynecologist at Georgia Obstetrics and Gynecology, US, says that the fact that trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite sets it apart. “This is different from other STIs that are caused by bacteria — [like] gonorrhea, chlamydia, or syphilis — or viruses like the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), herpes, and genital warts,” she explains.
And when we say it’s common, we mean it. Trichomoniasis is the most common curable STI around these days. In 2018, it was estimated that more than 2 million people were infected with trichomoniasis in the US alone. However, only about 30% of them develop any symptoms. This might put you on edge, but it shows just how important it is to be regularly tested for STIs.
You might be curious as to how a parasite can find its way into your body and where it lives once you have trichomoniasis. The condition is usually spread during sexual activity (when you come into contact with the sperm, precum, or vaginal fluids of someone with trichomoniasis). Barrier protection (such as condoms and dental dams) are the only methods of contraception that can protect you from STIs like trichomoniasis, so it’s important to keep that in mind when you’re having sex with someone new. Like other STIs, including herpes and chlamydia, trichomoniasis can infect other parts of your body (like your mouth, hands, or anus), but it’s fairly uncommon for this to happen.
In women and people with a vagina, trichomoniasis can be found in the vulva (the part of your genitalia you can see on the outside), in your vagina (the internal passage that connects your vulva to your cervix), and your cervix (that’s at the top of your vaginal passage, connecting it to your uterus). You might contract trichomoniasis in your urethra (the tube that you pee out of), too. In men and people with a penis, the infection is often found in the urethra, and in some cases, it can be found in the prostate gland, which produces the fluid that helps to transport sperm (called seminal fluid).