- Medically reviewed by Dr. Andrea Pinto on November 18, 2021
Most people don’t expect to experience symptoms of a new sexually transmitted disease (STD) when they’re in a committed, monogamous relationship. If this does happen, your first instinct could be to think that your partner has cheated on you. But although rare, it’s actually possible to have new symptoms of an STD, such as chlamydia, even if no one has cheated. How can this happen?
How did I get chlamydia if I didn’t cheat?
Chlamydia can’t be transmitted without sexual contact, so in some cases, a new chlamydial infection could mean that someone has been unfaithful in the relationship. But penetrative sex isn’t a requirement for chlamydia to spread, and other types of intimate contact can also lead to this infection.
However, it’s also possible for your partner to have asymptomatic chlamydia and be completely unaware of it. In fact, most people with chlamydia will never develop any signs of the disease, but they can still pass it on to new partners and develop complications from a chronic infection. So if you develop new STD symptoms that are compatible with chlamydia but haven’t cheated, it’s possible that your partner has had an asymptomatic infection for some time and passed it on to you.
So how exactly can you get chlamydia? Let’s find out.
How is chlamydia transmitted?
Having unprotected sex is the most common way to get chlamydia, but it’s not the only one. According to the CDC, chlamydia can spread through sexual contact with the vagina, penis, mouth, or anus of an infected partner. That means that this infection usually spreads through vaginal, anal, and oral sex; however, penetration and ejaculation aren’t necessary for the infection to occur. Non-penetrative, genital-to-genital contact can also result in chlamydial transmission.
In some cases, you can get chlamydia by sharing sex toys without changing the condom that covers them, or without washing them between uses. You can also get chlamydia if you get semen, pre-seminal fluid (“precum”), or vaginal fluids from an infected partner in your eyes.
A study published by the American Society for Microbiology Journals theorized that Chlamydia trachomatis, the bacteria that causes chlamydia, can survive in the gastrointestinal tract indefinitely — even after a woman receives antibiotic treatment for a genital chlamydia infection. If this happens, it would be possible to become reinfected with the bacteria living in the lower gastrointestinal system, even without sexual activity. However, this topic is still being researched and isn’t fully understood.
However, you can’t get chlamydia through more casual types of physical contact. According to Planned Parenthood, some of the activities that can’t lead to a chlamydial infection include:
- Holding hands
- Sitting on the toilet
- Sharing baths or towels
- Sharing eating utensils or glasses
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Anyone who is sexually active can get chlamydia, but according to the Mayo Clinic, some of the risk factors for this STI include:
- Being a sexually active person under the age of 25 years old
- Having multiple sex partners or a new partner
- Not using a condom regularly or correctly
- Having a previous history of STDs
How common is asymptomatic chlamydia?
As we mentioned above, it’s possible for someone to have an asymptomatic case of chlamydia and pass it to a new partner. It’s difficult to determine exactly how many people have chlamydia, but the CDC has estimated that there were approximately four million new cases of chlamydia in the United States in 2018.
According to HealthDirect, 3 out of 4 women and 1 out 2 men won’t show symptoms of chlamydia. Women can have asymptomatic chlamydia for many years, and men can have it for several months. So it’s entirely possible for you to be experiencing symptoms of chlamydia because your partner was asymptomatic and gave you the infection without knowing it.
According to Avert, the symptoms of chlamydia can include:
- Increased vaginal discharge that can be white, yellow, or grayish (females)
- Bleeding or spotting after having sex or urinating (females)
- Lower abdominal pain, particularly after sex (females)
- Pain during intercourse and/or urination
- Painful or swollen testicles (males)
- Watery or mucous-like, white, or cloudy penile discharge (males)
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What should I do next?
Once you have symptoms of chlamydia, it’s important to get a correct diagnosis. There are several STDs that can cause similar symptoms, and chlamydia is no exception. Because of this, you’ll need to make sure you get the correct tests so the cause of your symptoms can be identified.
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If you have chlamydia within a monogamous relationship, it’s also important for your partner to get tested. If they have an asymptomatic infection, they could reinfect you after you complete your treatment. If your partner receives a positive result for chlamydia, they will also need to be treated. If you’ve had multiple recent partners, you’ll need to inform all of them so they can get tested and treated if necessary.
The best way to catch asymptomatic STD infections is by getting regular STD tests. Fortunately, getting screened for STDs is easier than ever thanks to at-home STD tests, which are trustworthy, affordable, and comfortable. You can learn more about these tests at STDWatch.com.
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- Chlamydia – CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed) - cdc.gov
- Hidden in Plain Sight: Chlamydial Gastrointestinal Infection and Its Relevance to Persistence in Human Genital Infection - journals.asm.org
- Chlamydia - plannedparenthood.org
- Chlamydia - mayoclinic.org
- Chlamydia - healthdirect.gov.au
- CHLAMYDIA SYMPTOMS & TREATMENT - avert.org