How to protect against an std

This page includes information about sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention, testing, and resources.

Get the Facts

Arm yourself with basic information about STDs:

How are these diseases spread? How can you protect yourself? What are the treatment options? Learn the answers to these questions by reading the STD Fact Sheets.

Take Control

You have the facts; now protect yourself and your sexual partners.

How to protect against an std

The most reliable way to avoid infection is to not have sex (i.e., anal, vaginal or oral).

How to protect against an std

Vaccines are safe, effective, and recommended ways to prevent hepatitis B and HPV. HPV vaccination is recommended for preteens ages 11 or 12 (or can start at age 9) and everyone through age 26, if not vaccinated already. Vaccination is not recommended for everyone older than age 26 years. However, some adults age 27 through 45 years who are not already vaccinated may decide to get the HPV vaccine after speaking with their doctor about their risk for new HPV infections and the possible benefits of vaccination. HPV vaccination in this age range provides less benefit as more people have already been exposed to HPV. You should also get vaccinated for hepatitis B if you were not vaccinated when you were younger.

How to protect against an std

Reducing your number of sex partners can decrease your risk for STDs. It is still important that you and your partner get tested, and that you share your test results with one another.

How to protect against an std

Mutual monogamy means that you agree to be sexually active with only one person, who has agreed to be sexually active only with you. Being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner is one of the most reliable ways to avoid STDs. But you must both be certain you are not infected with STDs. It is important to have an open and honest conversation with your partner.

How to protect against an std

Correct and consistent use of the male latex condom is highly effective in reducing STD transmission. Use a condom every time you have anal, vaginal, or oral sex.

If you have latex allergies, synthetic non-latex condoms can be used. But it is important to note that these condoms have higher breakage rates than latex condoms. Natural membrane condoms are not recommended for STD prevention.

Put Yourself to the Test

Knowing your STD status is a critical step to stopping STD transmission. If you know you are infected you can take steps to protect yourself and your partners.

Be sure to ask your healthcare provider to test you for STDs — asking is the only way to know whether you are receiving the right tests. And don’t forget to tell your partner to ask a healthcare provider about STD testing as well.

Many STDs can be easily diagnosed and treated. If either you or your partner is infected, both of you need to receive treatment at the same time to avoid getting re-infected.

STDs are spread through sexual contact — like oral, anal, and vaginal sex. STDs are common, and often don’t have symptoms. There are ways to prevent and treat STDs.

Do I need to worry about STDs?

You may have heard of sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, HIV, and others. STDs are super common — most people will get one at some point in their life. And young people between the ages of 15-24 have a higher chance of getting an STD than anyone else. Some of the most common STDs (like gonorrhea and chlamydia) can be cured with antibiotics, and aren’t dangerous if you get treatment right away. But others can cause serious health problems, especially if you don’t get treatment.

Even though STDs are common, sometimes people feel a lot of shame and embarrassment when they get one. But STDs are like any other infection that gets passed from one person to another — sex just happens to be the way they’re passed.

So if you do get a STD, it doesn’t mean you’re “dirty” or a bad person. You’re just one of the millions of people who got an infection. And like other infections, there are medicines to help you stay healthy if you do get an STD. There are also things you can do to protect yourself from STDs.

How do I prevent STDs?

The only 100% guaranteed way to avoid STDs is to not have any kind of sexual contact — like vaginal, anal, or oral sex, or skin-to-skin genital touching — with another person. No sex = no STDs. But if you do have sex, safer sex lowers your chances of getting an STD.

Safer sex means using condoms, internal condoms, or dental dams . These barriers help block fluids and some skin-to-skin touching that can pass STDs. You can use condoms for vaginal sex, anal sex, and oral sex on a penis . You can use internal condoms for vaginal sex and anal sex. And you can use dental dams for oral sex on a vulva or anus . Read more about using condoms and dental dams.

Not having sex at all, or using condoms if you do have sex, are 2 of the best ways to prevent STDs. But there are other things you can do too:

Get tested for STDs. If you do have an infection, you can get treatment so you stay healthy and avoid spreading the STD to other people.

Talk to your partner. Good communication, especially about safer sex, can help you build trust and bring you closer together.

Choose sexual activities that are less risky. There are lots of ways you can be sexual and stay safe. Masturbation, dry-humping (rubbing genitals with clothes on), talking sexy, and cuddling are just some of the things that you can do that won’t spread STDs.

If your partner doesn’t want to use condoms or help prevent STDs, then they’re not respecting you. If someone really cares about you, they’ll want you to be safe. And it’s not OK for anyone to pressure you to do anything sexual you’re not comfortable with, even if you really like or love each other. Get tips on talking to your partner about safer sex.

How are STDs spread?

STDs are usually spread by having vaginal sex , anal sex , or oral sex without using protection (like a condom). But it’s not always that simple — there are many STDs, and different STDs are spread in different ways.

Some infections are spread through body fluids like semen (cum) , vaginal fluids, and blood. Others can also be passed when the skin of your mouth or genitals rubs against the skin of someone else’s.

So basically: any type of sexual contact that involves body fluids or touching genitals can put you at risk for STDs. That’s why using condoms and other barriers (like dental dams ) makes sex safer — they help block skin and fluids that can spread STDs.

Vaginal sex (penis-in-vagina) and anal sex (penis-in-butt) are especially risky if you don’t use a condom — using a condom makes them much safer. Oral sex (mouth on a vulva, penis, or anus) can also spread certain STDs (like herpes or HPV). Using condoms and dental dams for oral sex can help protect you and your partner.

Some STDs (like HIV) can also be spread by sharing needles (like for drugs, piercings, or tattoos), or to a baby during childbirth or breastfeeding. But you can’t get STDs from casual contact like hugging, holding hands, or toilet seats. You can only get an STD from contact with semen, vaginal fluids, blood, or skin-to-skin genital touching.

STDs can’t appear out of thin air – you can only get an STD from someone who already has one. But many people who have an STD don’t know it, because a lot of times there aren’t any symptoms. That’s why getting tested for STDs and using condoms is so important.

How can I tell if someone has an STD?

The ONLY way to know for sure if you or someone else has an STD is to get tested. Most of the time, STDs don’t even have any symptoms. So just looking at someone’s penis or vulva can’t tell you whether they have an STD. People with STDs may look and feel totally normal — but they can still give the infection to someone else.

Sometimes STDs do cause problems that you might notice. Get tested for STDs if you have any of these symptoms in or near your genitals :

weird bumps, sores, or rashes

itching and/or burning

Pain or burning when you pee

discharge from your penis

vaginal discharge that has a different smell, color, or texture

bleeding from your genitals (that isn’t your period)

These symptoms don’t always mean you have an STD. Other health problems can cause similar symptoms. For example, burning while you pee could be a UTI. Weird discharge might be a yeast infection. The only way to know for sure what’s going on is to visit your doctor or a Planned Parenthood health center.

How to protect against an std

Each year, nearly 20 million people in the United States contract an STD. The eight most common STDs include: chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B virus (HBV), herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), human papilloma virus (HPV), syphilis, and trichomoniasis. While many of these infections can go undetected because of their lack of symptoms, they can lead to serious health consequences if left untreated.

Undiagnosed and untreated chlamydia or gonorrhea, for example, can put a woman at increased risk of chronic pelvic pain and life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, and can also increase a woman’s chance of infertility.

At least 15 percent of all women in the United States can attribute their infertility to tubal damage caused by pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which is the result of an untreated STD.

Because STDs are preventable, significant reductions in new infections are not only possible, they are urgently needed. Prevention can minimize the negative, long-term consequences of STDs, which is why it’s important to take precautions to stay safe – like using condoms or reducing the number of sexual partners.

5 ways to prevent STDs include:

  1. Abstinence – The most reliable way to avoid infection is to not have sex.
  2. Vaccines – They are safe, effective and recommended ways to prevent Hepatitis B and HPV.
  3. Reduce Number of Sex Partners – If you have more than one sex partner, it is imperative that you and your partners tested, and that you share your test results with one another.
  4. Mutual Monogamy – Being in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner is one of the most reliable ways to avoid STDs.
  5. Use Condoms – Correct and consistent use of the male latex condom is highly effective in reducing STD transmission. Use a condom every time you have anal, vaginal, or oral sex.

If you feel like you may already be at risk, please call our toll free number to make an appointment for STD testing. Asking is the only way to know whether you are receiving the right tests. If either you or your partner are infected, both of you need to receive treatment at the same time to avoid getting re-infected.​

By educating yourself, you can avoid STDs through changes in sexual behavior and use of recommended prevention services and programs that ACCESS offers.

Anju Goel, MD, is board-certified in internal medicine. She has over 10 years of experience in the California public health system addressing communicable disease, health policy, and disaster preparedness.

The only way to completely avoid getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is to abstain from all intimate contact. However, that is not practical for most people. Fortunately, STIs are largely preventable by practicing safer sex both correctly and consistently.

Make these strategies for lowering your risk of getting an STI part of your overall commitment to your health.

Watch Now: 7 Tips For Preventing STDs

Seek (and Encourage) STI Testing

You and your partner should strongly consider being tested before entering a new sexual relationship. If one or both of you are at high risk of disease, you should be tested even more frequently.

If you're being treated for an STI, wait until you're done with treatment before resuming sexual activity. If you don't, you and your partner could end up passing an infection back and forth.

Only Have Sex Within a Mutually Monogamous Relationship

One benefit of long-term monogamy is a reduction in the likelihood of bringing a new STI into the relationship. This, of course, hinges on starting the relationship having tested negative and, importantly, ongoing trust and commitment to this shared promise.

It is important to note that STI testing is not 100% accurate and both false positives and false negatives can occur.

With herpes, the virus can lay dormant and undetected for years before a flare-up occurs. If you or your partner is diagnosed with herpes despite long-term monogamy, this could be why.

Make All Sex Safer Sex

Of course, mutual monogamy is not for everyone. If you or your partner are having sex with other people, or you are not sure of your partner's behaviors, you need to practice safer sex.

Use an external condom, internal condom, or dental dam, as appropriate, when engaging in intimate contact. This includes vaginal and anal sex, as well as oral sex.

Barriers are not 100% protective against all STIs, but they will greatly reduce your risk.

Practicing safer sex is only effective if you do it every time you have an encounter. Take responsibility for your own sexual health and bring your own safer sex supplies.

Know Your Limits

It can be hard to think clearly and critically "in the moment." That's why it's wise to be certain about how far you are willing to take things before things heat up.

While making a decision ahead of time can help you have an agenda you can lean on later, it is also important to be prepared with external or internal condoms in case you change your mind.

Talk to Your Partner

Open and honest communication is important in all aspects of a relationship, including this one.

Talk openly with your partner about sex, practicing safer sex, and STI testing. Share not only that testing was done, but what tests were performed and when.

It is also important to be comfortable talking to your partner about whether or not you are exclusive and what monogamy means to you.

Sharing this information with your partner will not only make your sex life safer, but it could also help further define your relationship.

Don't Drink or Use Drugs Before Having Sex

It is difficult to make responsible choices about your sex life and practicing safer sex if you're impaired by drugs or alcohol.

When under the influence, a person is more likely to have sex with someone they may not pick if they were sober.

In addition, being inebriated can make it more difficult to remember to practice safer sex.

Be Comfortable Saying "No"

If you don’t want to have sex, say so. Sex is not something you "owe" someone because they bought you dinner or because you've been on a certain number of dates, for example.

It's your choice to say "yes" to sex. It's also your choice to say "no." Own those rights, demand they be respected, and extend respect for your partner's same decisions in kind.

Consider Vaccination

Vaccines are available to protect against hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV)—sexually transmitted infections that can have long-term consequences.

Hepatitis B infection can result in a mild illness including fever, fatigue, vomiting, and jaundice, but it can also be more serious and lead to liver failure.

The hepatitis B vaccine is given as a series of shots over the course of several months and is recommended at birth. Children, adolescents, and adults who have not been previously vaccinated should consider getting the vaccine.

HPV infection can cause warts and certain types of cancer. The vaccine—Gardasil 9—protects against nine strains of HPV, including types 16 and 18, which cause about 70% of cervical cancers.

Recommended at age 11 or 12 years, the vaccine can be administered between the ages of 9 and 45.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the male latex condom is the best method for protecting against STDs, including HIV/AIDS. 1 Polyurethane condoms are an effective alternative if either partner has a latex allergy. Natural/lambskin condoms do not prevent the spread of STDs because of the presence of tiny pores (holes) that may allow viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B, and herpes to spread.

It is important to know that male condoms cannot completely protect you and your partner from contracting an STD. For example, the most common STD is the human papilloma virus, or HPV. No method of contraception can fully prevent the transmission of HPV, because it can infect areas not covered by a condom. However, using a condom with every sex act can lower the risk of transmission. 2

It is important to discuss the risk factors for STDs with your healthcare provider and ask about getting tested. It is possible to have an STD and not know it, because many STDs do not cause symptoms.

See your healthcare provider for treatment as soon as possible after receiving a diagnosis of an STD. Notify all recent sex partners and advise them to see their healthcare providers and be treated. All sexual partners should be treated at the same time, to prevent re-infection. All partners should avoid sex until treatment is complete and your healthcare provider advises that it is safe to resume.

Many STDs have significant health consequences. Infections from STDs can cause infertility in both men and women. Some STDs can increase the risk of some forms of cancer. STDs can be passed on to the fetus during pregnancy or delivery. A person with an STD other than HIV is two to five times more likely to contract the HIV virus than a person without an STD. If a person is already HIV positive, having another STD increases the chances that they will pass the HIV virus on to their sexual partner.

How to protect against an std

There are 3 different types of STDs: bacterial, viral and parasitic.
• Bacterial STDs can generally be cured with antibiotics. However, if left untreated
they can lead to further complications. Common bacterial STDs are Chlamydia,
Gonorrhea and Syphilis
• Viral STDs cannot be cured, although many can be treated with medication. Some
viral STDs, such as Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), can disappear on their own.
Common viral STDs include HIV, genital herpes, HPV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
There is a vaccine available to prevent both HPV and Hepatitis B
• Parasitic STDs can be cured with medications and creams. Common
examples include scabies and pubic lice

  • The U.S. has the highest rate of STDs in the industrialized world,
    with approximately 19 million new infections occurring each
    year
  • More than half of all Americans will contract an STD in their
    lifetime
  • Chlamydia is the most commonly reported disease in the U.S.
  • Sexually active youth (ages 15-24) have the highest STD rates of
    any age group in the U.S.
  • Racial and ethnic minority groups experience disproportionately
    high rates of STDs

While many STDs can be cured or treated with medication, the consequences of untreated STDs can include: infertility, pregnancy complications, cervical cancer, pelvic inflammatory disease, birth defects and a 3- to 5-fold increased risk of HIV transmission.

The only 100% effective way to prevent the transmission of STDs is abstinence. For sexually active persons, correct and consistent use of male latex condoms is highly effective in preventing many STDs.

Ensuring access to STD information, including comprehensive, accurate information on how to prevent STDs and where to seek testing and treatment, is an integral part of sexual health and overall health and wellness for adults and adolescents.

Communication around STD prevention is also a central component of a healthy relationship. Partners that can discuss sensitive issues such as sexual history, risk behavior, testing and condom use help to build a healthy relationship by showing mutual respect and making each other feel safe and healthy, both physically and emotionally.

The U.S. has the highest rate of STDs in the industrialized world, with approximately 19 million new infections per year. The direct medical cost of STDs, not including HIV/AIDS, is nearly $8.4 billion per year. This figure does not take into account the indirect costs of STDs, including lost wages and productivity, or the emotional costs of living with infertility or cancer.

While investing in STD prevention is extremely cost effective, federal investment for STD prevention has consistently declined in recent years. For every dollar spent on prevention, $43 is spent eachyear on STD-related treatment costs.

How to protect against an stdWhether you call them sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), one thing is true: Women are at risk of infection. Not only does a woman’s anatomy make her vulnerable to STIs, women are less likely to have symptoms than men. Untreated STIs can lead to serious health issues, including infertility, cancer, and even death. It’s not fun to think about, but protecting yourself from STIs like genital herpes, genital warts, chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, and HIV is an important part of staying healthy.

  1. Get the facts. About 20 million new STIs occur in the United States every year, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds. Many STIs are spread through intimate sexual contact, but you don’t have to have vaginal or anal sex to be at risk — some common STIs are spread easily by oral sex and genital touching. And because many STIs have only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, you can’t tell by looking at someone whether or not they have an infection. Know the STI basics.
  2. Talk to your partner. It’s important to talk with your partner about STIs and practicing safe sex before you have sex. Get tips for talking with your partner Everyone deserves to be in control of their own health, including their sexual health.
  3. Get tested. It’s important to know whether or not you have an infection — to make sure it’s treated quickly and to avoid spreading it to others. If you are infected, you can take steps to protect yourself and your partner(s). Many STIs can be easily diagnosed and treated, and under the Affordable Care Act, STI prevention, screening, and counseling services are fully covered by most insurance plans, at no cost to you. Talk to your health care provider at your annual well-woman visit about which STIs tests you might need. Having an STI can also increase your risk for getting HIV. The same behaviors and situations that put you at risk for STIs also put you at increased risk for getting HIV. Plus, some types of STIs may cause sores or breaks in your skin that make HIV transmission easier. If you test positive for an STI, you should also get tested for HIV.
  4. Practice monogamy. This means being in a sexual relationship with only one partner who is also faithful to you. Make sure you’ve both been tested for STIs and know each other’s results. Condoms should be used with any partner outside of a long-term, monogamous sexual relationship.
  5. Use condoms. Use a condom correctly every time you have anal, vaginal, or oral sex to reduce the risk of STI transmission. Get tips for using male and female condoms correctly.
  6. Get vaccinated. Safe and effective vaccines are available to help prevent the spread of the human papillomavirus (HPV). While it’s recommended for kids who are 11 or 12, young women can receive the series of shots through the age of 26. HPV vaccines can help protect you from the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. Vaccines for HPV are covered as preventive services under the Affordable Care Act, which means most insurers must cover them at no cost to you. Learn more about HPV, then talk to your doctor about whether the vaccines are right for you.

If you think you may have been exposed to infection, get tested right away. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can start treatment and reduce the risk of spreading it to others. Find a testing site near you.

Remember, it’s your body. By taking steps to protect yourself, you can lower your risk for STIs. Please share this important reminder with the teen girls and women in your life.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are passed from one person to another through unprotected sex or genital, oral or anal contact. Anyone who has sex can get an STI, you don’t need to have lots of sexual partners. Anyone can get and pass on STIs.

Using a condom when you have sex is the best way to avoid catching an STI, however here are a number of things you can do to help prevent the risk of exposure to infections.

  • Talking with your partner(s) about STIs, sexual health and contraception use before having sex.
  • Getting tested, along with your partner before sexual activity. Many STIs have no symptoms at all so it’s safer to get tested.
  • Avoiding sex when under the influence of alcohol or drugs as this can reduce your ability to make good decisions.
  • Some clinicians may recommend that you have a vaccine against Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis B (Hep B).

Protect Yourself

Condoms work really well in stopping most STIs from being passed from an infected partner to another. Although they are not 100% guaranteed, when used properly condoms are extremely effective. Use a condom every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Post Exposure Prophylaxis against HIV (PEP or PEPSE)

Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP or PEPSE) is medication to help reduce HIV transmission after the virus has entered the body. It is a course of drugs that is taken after sex where there has been a higher risk of exposure.

If you are concerned you might have been exposed to HIV (had unprotected sex with someone whose HIV status you do not know, or know to be positive, or shared injecting equipment), you may be eligible for PEP. Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP or PEPSE) is medication you can take to help reduce the chance of HIV transmission. It is a course of medication that is taken after unprotected sex where there has been a higher risk of exposure. PEP or PEPSE should be taken as soon as possible after sex, and definitely within 72 hours. The earlier it is started the more likely it is to work. You will need to have an assessment with a doctor or nurse before you are prescribed this medication.

In hours, attend one of our clinics or after hours attend your nearest A&E department.

If you are worried that you have been exposed to HIV you should attend one of our clinics, or an Accident and Emergency department straight away.

PrEP: For information about PrEP, visit the iwantprepnow website or our information page.

Did You Know?

If you change or have changed your sexual partner regularly we recommend you should repeat your HIV test regularly as well.

If you change your sexual partner every 6 to 12 months we suggest a full health screen, we would also advise screening if you are having multiple sexual partners too.

How to protect against an std

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are very common. In fact, about 50% of sexually active individuals contract an STI by the time they’re 25 years old.

As the terms imply, STIs and STDs are contracted through sexual contact. The only way to ensure you won’t get one is by abstaining from sexual activity. However, there are still lots of ways to lower your risk of STDs even if you are sexually active.

Daniel McDonald, MD , Marc Wilson, MD , and our team at OB/GYN Specialists in Denton, Texas, offer comprehensive gynecologic care for women, including STD testing and education. Take a look at our best tips for reducing your risk of STDs and staying healthy.

1. Use condoms every time you have sex

Along with reducing your risk of unintended pregnancy, condoms are one of the most effective ways to prevent STDs. Both external and internal condoms, when used correctly, can protect against STDs.

Use latex or polyurethane condoms every time you engage in any type of sexual activity. Keep the condom on the whole time, and make sure you and your partner know how to use condoms correctly.

If you use lubricant, choose one that’s water-based so it doesn’t compromise the efficacy of the condom.

2. Maintain good hygiene before and after sex

STDs are spread through sexual contact and bodily fluids. The best way to avoid contracting an STD is using a condom every time you have sex, but practicing good hygiene habits can further reduce your risk.

Wash your hands before engaging in sexual contact. After sex, wash or rinse off. Urinating after penetrative sex can help flush bacteria from your body, which may reduce your risk of STDs and urinary tract infections (UTIs). Always use clean towels, and never share towels or underwear with others.

3. Talk to your sexual partner(s)

Take the time to talk with any potential partners about your sexual history before you choose to have sex. Tell them about any STDs you may have, and ask them to do the same.

Being honest with your sexual partners is important, but remember that many STDs don’t exhibit symptoms. Without symptoms, it’s possible for an STD to go unnoticed and undiagnosed. That’s why it’s a good idea to get STD testing before beginning a new sexual relationship.

Your risk of STDs increases if you have multiple partners, or if your partner has additional partners. Your risk of contracting an STD is low if you’re in a monogamous relationship and both you and your partner have tested negative for STDs.

4. Consider getting STD vaccinations

With over 30 different types of bacteria, viruses, and parasites causing STDs, there’s not a vaccine for every one. However, there are FDA-approved vaccines for a few common STDs: human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis A, and hepatitis B.

These vaccines are most effective when administered before you’re sexually active, typically between the ages of 9 and 14. But they can still help prevent STD infection in older teens and adults who have already started having sex.

Practicing safe sex with partners you trust is a good way to reduce your risk of contracting an STD, but your health care plan should still include regular STD screening. Many STDs don’t cause noticeable symptoms, so the only way to know if you have an STD is with a test.

If your results are positive, our team offers a range of treatment options to cure the disease or minimize your symptoms, depending on the type of STD you have.

To learn more about how you can prevent STDs and maintain your best health, contact OB/GYN Specialists to schedule an appointment.

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In general, sexually transmitted infections are highly preventable.

The only method guaranteed to prevent STIs is to avoid any kind of sexual contact, but we know this won’t appeal to everyone! There are things you can do to limit the risk of exposure to infections while still enjoying an active sex life.

The best way to avoid most STIs is to use a condom when you have sex. There are some other things you can do to reduce the chances of catching a sexually transmitted infection. These include:

  • limiting the number of people you have sex with
  • talking honestly with potential partners about your sexual history
  • getting tested, along with your partner, before having sex
  • avoiding sex when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. People who are drunk or using drugs often fail to have safe sex
  • where appropriate, getting vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B (HBV)

The only time unprotected sex is completely safe from infection with chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV or syphilis is if you and your partner have sex only with each other, and each of you tested negative for these STIs at least three months after you had sex with any other partners. Otherwise, you should take precautions.

Having sex

Use condoms every time you have sex. If you use a lubricant, make sure it’s water-based (lubricants which are not water-based might damage the condom). You should wear a condom throughout sex.

Condoms are not 100% guaranteed to prevent disease or pregnancy, but they are extremely effective if used properly.

  • Check the expiry date on the condom
  • Make sure the condom’s packaging has not been punctured
  • Follow the instructions to make sure you put the condom on correctly
  • Always leave room at the tip of the condom
  • Unroll the condom onto the penis. Don’t try to unroll it before putting it on
  • Use a condom-safe lubricant during intercourse (look for water-based lubricants to avoid damaging the condom)
  • Hold the base of the condom when withdrawing after sex, so it doesn’t slip off
  • Dispose of the condom properly
  • Never remove a condom and put it on again
  • Never reuse a condom. Use a new condom each time you have sex

Oral sex

Using a condom or dental dam during oral sex stops the mouth from coming into direct contact with the genitals or anus. This can prevent the spread of STIs which can be passed via the mouth.

A dental dam is a rectangular piece of latex that can be used to cover the genitals or anus during oral sex.

Avoid contact

Always avoid sex with anyone who has genital sores, a rash, discharge or other potential symptoms of an STI.

To prevent giving an STI to someone else if you suspect you may have one:

  • stop having sex until you see a doctor and are treated
  • follow your doctor’s instructions for treatment
  • use condoms whenever you have sex, especially with new partners
  • don’t resume having sex unless your doctor has given you the all-clear
  • return to your doctor to get rechecked if advised
  • be sure your partner or partners are also treated

Avoid other types of contact

Condoms and other barriers, including dental dams, are very good at preventing the exchange of infected bodily fluids. They can also help to minimise skin-to-skin contact. This reduces the transmission of diseases that spread from skin to skin. However, they don’t prevent transmission entirely. STIs that spread through skin-to-skin contact include:

  • syphilis
  • herpes
  • genital warts

Avoid sharing towels or underclothing.

You can also catch scabies and pubic lice through skin-to-skin contact or sharing towels, bedding and clothing.

Summary

Though STIs are common, there are ways to reduce your risk and make sex safer.

If you’re unsure about the right method for you, talk to your partner, your GP or your local Umbrella service provider. Being honest about your sexual practices with your medical advisors can help them to help you reduce the risk of catching an STI. Safer sex is good for everyone, because everyone who is sexually active is potentially at risk.

What is “safer sex”? We often hear about tips and strategies for having ‘safe’ sex, but the reality is that having sex at all means there’s a risk of getting Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). We don’t shy from the facts! Thankfully, there are many ways to reduce your risk–that’s what we call having safer sex.

How do I have safer sex?

Safer sex is a way to reduce the risks of STIs, while still having sex. It’s not hard, but it’s important to keep these strategies in mind and be cautious, even when you’re getting caught up in the moment.

If you want to reduce your risks of catching or passing on an STI as much as possible, all three of these safer sex components are critical:

Correct, consistent (always, not just some of the time) use of barriers (condoms and other barriers, like dental dams) on body parts or toys for any kind of vaginal, anal, or oral sex

Being open and communicating with your partner about who you are having sex with

Regular testing for all STIs, by you and your partner(s)

How are STIs transmitted?

Different types of sexual activities can put you at risk for different STIs. When anticipating different encounters you may have with people and how you want to keep yourself safe, it’s helpful to know what exactly you’re being cautious about.

The thing is, STIs are transferred through more than just semen. They can also travel through vaginal fluids, direct mucous membranes (your skin), blood, saliva, and feces (1). Ultimately, it's hard to know exactly which sex act is responsible for disease transmission, since people often engage in more than one type of sexual activity (like having both oral sex and penis-in-vagina sex during the same session). With that in mind, it’s best to practice safer sex no matter what.

Here's a list that can help you figure out which STIs you might be at risk for during different sexual activities (2, 3):

Kissing: Oral herpes (HSV-1)

Oral sex: Chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV, herpes (HSV-1 and HSV-2), syphilis, HIV, trichomoniasis, Giardia, Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli (4)

Fingering and fisting (anal and vaginal): HIV, hepatitis B and C

Penis-in-vagina sex: HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, HPV, syphilis, chancroid, hepatitis B and C, trichomoniasis, genital warts

Anal sex: HIV, hepatitis B and C, HPV, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, genital warts

Sex toys: Not much research has been dedicated to STI transmission via sex toys. It is possible that STIs transmission can occur from genital fluids on the sex toy.

Vulva-to-vulva sex (scissoring): HPV, HSV-1, HSV-2, syphilis, chancroid, chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital warts, HIV

How to prevent STIs

As we said above, having sex at all introduces risk of STIs.

It might sound bleak, but there are lots of ways you can be sexual and stay safe! Solo masturbation, dry-humping (rubbing genitals with clothes on), sexy talk, massage (without touching genitals) and cuddling are some of the things that you can do that won’t spread STIs.

And if you do choose to engage in sexual activity, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk.

1. Get vaccinated

Human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common STI in the USA, can have long-term consequences, like genital warts and cancers of the cervix, penis, and throat (5, 6). But the HPV vaccine can protect against the HPV virus. Routine vaccinations are offered to children around ages 11 and 12, and booster shots are available for people up to age 26, or some adults ages 27 to 45 who are not adequately vaccinated (7). If you’ve already had sex, don't worry! You can still get the vaccine (7).

2. Use barrier methods

Barrier methods like external condoms, internal condoms, gloves, or dental dams are protective during any type of sexual activity.

What it’s like to have an STI

STIs are a common and varied experience. We reached out via social.

They do what their name suggests—they create a barrier between your genitals/mouth/anus and your partner’s genitals/mouth/anus. Keep in mind that these types of barriers reduce the risk of STI transmission during sex, but they don’t fully eliminate the risk altogether. The best way to be protected is to always consistently and correctly use a barrier method during every sex act (2).

External (male) condoms are a cheap, readily available (in many countries), and easy to use barrier method if you are having vaginal/oral/anal sex with a person with a penis. If you are having sex with a partner and are using sex toys (like vibrators, dildos, or anal inserts), an external condom should also be used over the sex toy to prevent the transmission of STIs between partners (2).

Latex external condoms are the most commonly researched and available methods for preventing STIs. If you or your partner have an allergy to latex, acceptable alternatives are readily available, though some data suggests non-latex condoms may break more easily (8, 9).

When it comes to condom efficacy, HIV is the most studied STI. Research suggests that condoms prevent HIV transmission during penis-in-vagina sex by 70 to 95% of the time (10-13). Although less studied, consistent and correct condom use is also effective in reducing the spread of other STIs that are spread through genital secretions, like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis (2). STIs that are spread through direct skin-to-skin contact, like genital herpes or genital ulcer diseases may not offer as much protection as a condom, as if the infected skin is exposed, then the condom can only offer limited protection (2).

To protect yourself during oral sex, use a dam, or a condom cut lengthwise to cover the vulva and/or anus. During oral sex on the vulva (cunnilingus) or anus (anilingus), infections—including HIV, syphilis, herpes, gonorrhea, HPV, trichomoniasis, and chlamydia—can be passed from mouth to genitals, or vice versa (14).

To prevent STI transmission during touching, you can use latex or nitrile gloves.

If you’re touching your partner’s genitals, or they are touching yours, then there is a risk of transmitting some STIs (such as HPV, genital warts, chlamydia, herpes simplex virus (HSV) 1 and/or 2, syphilis). Infection risks increase when more fingers or a whole hand are inside the vagina or anus (sometimes called fisting), as this can cause small tears or trauma, which can increase STI transmission (14).

3. Get tested for STIs

Whether it's a casual or serious relationship, it’s important to discuss your sexual health history with your partner, and ask them about theirs.

This gives both of you the chance to make an informed decision about what types of sex you want to have and what safer sex precautions you want to take.

This can feel like an awkward conversation at first, but you’ll get better at it with time. Plus, your partner’s reaction to discussing this subject will help you get to know them better. If they are really against getting tested, and talking about safer sex, this might affect your decision about having sex with them. They could also be completely open and excited that you initiated an honest conversation! When it comes to having safer sex, it’s important to look out for your health and well-being.

Safer sex is the best option if you want to have sex and also be protected against STIs, but it's up to each of us to decide what we want, and what level of risk we and our partners are comfortable with.

Track your sex life in Clue.

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on October 13, 2020. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Since its invention a century ago, the latex condom has proven effective at reducing the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs/STDs) by blocking contact with bodily fluids that can spread sexually transmitted infections.

But can you get an STD with condom use during sex—and if so, how does it happen?

That’s the question we tackle here—so read on to learn how condoms help prevent STDs, what kind of infections condoms are especially well-suited for prevention, techniques for using condoms effectively, and more.

How to protect against an std

How condoms help prevent STDs

Though they can’t guarantee 100% protection from sexually transmitted infections, condoms—when used consistently and correctly—can dramatically reduce the risk of getting or transmitting STDs. (Related content: How to Prevent STDs)

Here’s how it works:

First, a condom must be used correctly to provide protection. When it’s used incorrectly, slippage or breakage can occur.

STD transmission is a risk any time you engage in sexual activity—so to offer effective protection, a condom needs to be used every time you have sex (whether vaginal, oral, or anal).

In laboratory settings, the latex condom has been shown to provide a nearly “impermeable barrier” to particles that are the size of STD-causing pathogens. This means that it prevents the infectious agent from passing through the barrier, significantly reducing the risk of contracting or transmitting an STD.

How STDs are transmitted

To understand what condoms protect against, it’s first helpful to understand how STDs are spread. Infections like HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis are commonly spread when infected secretions of the urethra or vagina contact mucosal surfaces, which include the male urethra, the vagina, or the cervix.

Infections typically associated with genital ulcers—such as genital herpes, syphilis, and human papillomavirus (HPV)—are often passed on through contact of one’s skin with the mucosal surfaces or infected skin (such as sores) of a partner who has the infection.

What condoms protect against

Condoms are estimated to be 98% effective at protecting against most STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea. In addition, proper condom usage is highly effective in preventing HIV (the virus that causes AIDS).

Latex condoms also reduce the risk of other sexually transmitted infections, including those associated with genital ulcers such as herpes and syphilis. Frequent condom usage may also lower the risk of HPV infection—which is the most significant risk factor for cervical cancer.

Condoms offer different degrees of protection depending on the STD

“Can you get an STD with a condom?” It’s a key question for people who are looking to protect their sexual health while still enjoying an active sex life. Condoms provide varying amounts of protection depending on the STD under consideration. In particular, condoms are somewhat less effective at protecting against infections like herpes, HPV, and syphilis. That’s because these STDs can spread through skin-to-skin contact (versus only being transmitted via bodily fluids like semen or blood), and condoms don’t always cover all areas of potentially infected skin.

For example, HPV and the herpes virus “shed” infectious virus particles beyond the area typically covered by condoms, which means condoms don’t always provide complete protection against STDs that can be transmitted in this way.

That being said, although condoms aren’t totally foolproof (after all, no protective method is), they remain one of the most effective—and convenient—ways to stop the spread of STDs. And with routine STD testing in addition to consistent condom use, you can not only lower the risk of getting an STD, but also stay in the know about your status—so if you do happen to get an infection, you can find out about it and seek treatment sooner rather than later. (Related: How often you should get tested for STDs)

How to use a condom effectively to protect against STDs

According to the CDC:

Use a new condom any time you and your partner change the kind of sexual activity engaged in (such as vaginal, anal, or oral sex). Put the male condom on with the rolled side out before there is any genital contact.

For male condoms: If the condom doesn’t have a reservoir tip, make sure you pinch the tip so that there’s about half an inch of space where the semen can collect. Hold the tip then unroll the condom onto the erect penis. After ejaculation, grip the condom’s rim and pull out, gently pulling it off to ensure there is no semen leakage.

Wrap the condom in a tissue before disposing of it.

If the condom breaks during sexual activity, stop, withdraw, and put on a new condom.

Use water-based lubricants instead of oil-based lubricants (which can weaken the latex and cause it to break).

Unprotected sex may result in the spread of STDs and put the health of yourself and others at risk. Thankfully, though, using condoms consistently and correctly is one of the most effective safe sex practices and is also one of the easiest ways to help prevent STDs.

Easily test for 6 common STDs (including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV) from the convenience and privacy of home with the at-home STD test for women and at-home STD test for men.

1. Condoms. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed November 13, 2020.

2. Condom Fact Sheet In Brief. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed November 13, 2020.

3. It’s your future. You can protect it. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed November 13, 2020.

4. How You Can Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed November 13, 2020.

Correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of getting other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including discharge and genital ulcer diseases.

While the effect of condoms in preventing human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is unknown, condom use has been associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer, an HPV-associated disease.

There are two primary ways that STDs can be transmitted.

    (HIV), as well as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis – the discharge diseases – are transmitted when infected semen or vaginal fluids contact mucosal surfaces (for example, the male urethra, the vagina or cervix).
  1. Bodily fluids must be exchanged through oral, anal, or vaginal sex. In contrast, genital ulcer diseases – genital herpes, syphilis, and chancroid, HIV are primarily transmitted through contact with infected skin or mucosal surfaces.

Do condoms protect you from the virus that causes AIDS?

Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

AIDS is, by far, the most deadly sexually transmitted disease, and considerably more scientific evidence exists regarding condom effectiveness for prevention of HIV infection than for other STDs. The body of research on the effectiveness of latex condoms in preventing sexual transmission of HIV among people is both comprehensive and conclusive. In fact, the ability of latex condoms to prevent transmission of HIV has been scientifically established in "real-life" studies of sexually active couples as well as in laboratory studies.

Do condoms protect you from discharge diseases?

Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, can reduce the risk of transmission of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis.

Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis are termed discharge diseases because they are sexually transmitted by genital secretions, such as semen or vaginal fluids. HIV is also transmitted by genital secretions.

Studies have demonstrated that latex condoms provide an essentially impermeable barrier to particles the size of STD viruses, fungi, and bacteria. The physical properties of latex condoms protect against discharge diseases such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis, by providing a barrier to the genital secretions that transmit STD-causing organisms.

While condoms do provide protection against most sexually transmitted infections (STIs), some infections can be passed through skin-on-skin contact alone. It is important to get clued up on which STIs you may be at risk of.

The primary function of a condom is to prevent the transmission of bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal secretions, and blood. In turn, this can help to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) during sexual intercourse.

Transmission of most STIs, such as Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea, can be prevented with a condom. When used correctly, condoms are around 98 percent effective, meaning that 2 out of 100 people will become pregnant in a year [1].

However, even if a condom is worn during sexual contact or intercourse, some infections can be passed by skin-to-skin contact. So, let’s discuss three STIs you can catch, even if you use a condom.

How to protect against an std

1. Syphilis

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can be spread through oral, vaginal or anal sex. One of the first symptoms of Syphilis is a sore, also known as a ‘chancre’, which forms at the site of infection and can be transmitted to a partner through skin-to-skin contact.

Wearing a condom reduces the likelihood of contracting Syphilis and can be beneficial if the chancre is covered by the condom. However, the infection can be passed if a chancre is not covered by the condom.

2. Herpes

The Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) can be transmitted through oral, vaginal or anal contact with an infected person. The virus can cause sores to appear around the mouth, genitals or anus. HSV-1, or oral Herpes, causes cold sores or fever blisters commonly around the mouth and lips. HSV-2, or genital Herpes, causes sores to form usually around the genitals or anus. During an active outbreak (when you are most infectious), it is recommended to refrain from sexual activity in order to lower the risk of transmitting Herpes to your partner.

3. Genital Warts

Genital Warts are caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – a family of viruses of which there are more than 140 different types. While Genital Warts are caused by low-risk types of the virus, high-risk types are associated with several different cancers. HPV can be transferred through skin-to-skin contact with areas of the genitals which are not covered by a condom.

Take care of your sexual health with Better2Know

Better2Know can help you to take care of your sexual health. If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to an STI, speak to our highly trained sexual health advisors in confidence today by phone or live chat. Our dedicated team is here for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to help you gain peace of mind surrounding your sexual health. We can arrange confidential STI testing with fast and accurate results at a clinic near you, with a private nurse visit, or you can order a convenient home test kit.

Women can catch STIs such as herpes, genital warts and chlamydia when exchanging bodily fluids.

Any one-on-one contact, such as oral sex or using the same hand when touching yourself and then your partner, can put you at risk. If 2 women are both menstruating they are at a higher risk, too.

Tips for safer sex between women

  • If you’re using sex toys, use a new condom for each partner or between penetration of different body openings. Sex toys should be washed with soap and water between sessions. Find out more about cleaning sex toys.
  • Avoid oral sex if either of you has any cuts or sores in the mouth or on the lips, or use a dental dam. A dental dam is a latex or polyurethane (very thin, soft plastic) square, of about 15cm by 15cm, which you can use to cover the anus or female genitals during oral sex. It acts as a barrier to help prevent sexually transmitted infections passing from one person to another.
  • Some infections can be transmitted by hands, fingers and mutual vulval rubbing. Wash your hands before and after sex.
  • Wear latex gloves and use plenty of water-based lubricant for vaginal and anal fisting.

Tips for bisexual women on safer sex with men

If you have vaginal, anal or oral sex with a man, use a condom. When used correctly, condoms protect against unintended pregnancy and STIs. In addition to using condoms, find out about the form of contraception that suits you best.

If you think you could be at risk of unintended pregnancy, you have the option of using emergency contraception (the “morning after” pill or an IUD).

The emergency pill is available from some pharmacies, GPs, contraception (family planning) clinics and some sexual health clinics. The IUD is available from contraception clinics, some sexual health clinics and some GPs.

Symptoms of STIs in women

Genital herpes

This is caused by a virus, which can spread if you have vaginal, anal or oral sex, or share sex toys. It can also cause cold sores on the mouth and nose.

Symptoms include painful blisters and ulcers around the genital area, although some women may have no symptoms.

Antiviral tablets can help the healing process. Read more about genital herpes.

Genital warts

These are fleshy growths in the vulval and anal region. They may be itchy, but are usually painless.

They are caused by certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), which are usually sexually acquired through skin contact, such as rubbing vulvas together.

Women with genital warts do not need more regular smear tests than those without them. There are a variety of treatment options, including freezing and medicated creams. Read more about genital warts.

Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis can be passed between women during any sexual activity that involves the exchange of vaginal fluid.

Symptoms include a frothy discharge, pain when peeing, vulval soreness, and sometimes an unpleasant vaginal odour. Some women do not have any symptoms. It is treated with antibiotics.

Chlamydia and gonorrhoea

These STIs are caused by bacteria, which can infect the cervix, rectum, throat and urethra. There may be a discharge, but usually there are no symptoms.

If the conditions are not treated, the bacteria may lead to an infection in the fallopian tubes and infertility.

Chlamydia and gonorrhoea can be passed between women through shared sex toys, hands, and by rubbing vulvas together. Treatment is with antibiotics.

Syphilis

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that causes a painless ulcer, usually in the genital area. It will disappear on its own, but other symptoms may appear. These can include a rash on the body and swollen glands.

If it is not treated, syphilis can cause serious nerve and body organ damage later in life.

In its early stages, syphilis is extremely infectious and can be passed on by close skin contact during sex. Treatment is with antibiotic injections or tablets.

Read more about syphilis.

Keeping your vagina healthy

The vagina is self-cleansing, so there’s no need to wash inside it (douching). Vaginal soreness and vulval irritation can be caused by overuse of perfumed soaps, bubble baths and shower gels.

After going to the toilet, always wipe from front to back (from vagina to anus).

When to see a doctor about sexual health

If you have any of the symptoms above or are worried you may have an STI, speak to your GP or visit an STI clinic.

Getting tested regularly is a good idea to ensure you have a healthy sex life. NHS services are free.

Important: Using sexual health clinics during coronavirus (COVID-19)

Call a sexual health clinic if you need help or advice. Only go to a clinic if you've been told to.

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No type of condom prevents pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) 100% of the time. For better protection from pregnancy, many couples use condoms along with another method of birth control, like birth control pills or an IUD.

A condom is the best way to protect you from most sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). They must be used correctly and must be used every time you have sex. But even when used correctly, condoms do not protect against infections spread from sores on the skin (such as genital herpes ) not covered by a condom.

To use a condom correctly:

  • Make sure it is put on right side out.
  • Check the expiration date (condoms can dry and crack if they’re old).
  • Choose condoms made of latex, which is thought to be most effective in preventing STDs. If one of you has an allergy to latex, use polyurethane condoms instead.
  • Keep condoms away from heat and light, which can make them more likely to break.
  • Only use water-based lubricants with condoms. Shortening, lotion, petroleum jelly, or baby oil can break down the condom.
  • Open the condom packet with your hands, not your teeth, and open it carefully so you don’t tear the condom.
  • Choose a condom with a reservoir tip to catch semen after ejaculation. Lightly pinch the top of the condom and place it at the top of your (or your partner’s) penis. This gets rid of trapped air, which can cause a condom to burst.
  • Roll the condom down until it’s completely rolled out — if it’s inside out, throw it away and start over.
  • When you’re done, you (or your partner) should withdraw while holding the condom at the base of the penis to prevent the condom from slipping off.

If a condom breaks or slips off and you are worried about pregnancy, call your health care provider or pharmacist to discuss emergency contraception. And both partners should be tested for STDs.

While condoms aren’t perfect, if you’re going to have sex, they are the best way to protect yourself, even if you are using another form of birth control.

Click here for a list of HIV, STD, Hepatitis C, and PrEP provider locator.

How to protect against an std

HIV and AIDS in South Carolina

  • In South Carolina, almost 15,000 of your neighbors — including about 200 children and teens — are living with HIV infection or AIDS.
  • Throughout the United States, more than 1 million residents are living with HIV or AIDS, and nearly one-fifth do not know they have it.
  • Each year, more than 56,000 new cases are diagnosed. An estimated 600,000 U.S. citizens have already died from the virus.*
  • Worldwide, more than 60 million people, including millions of children, have been infected since the early 1980s. As many as 25 million people have died from AIDS.**

*U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
** Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS

What are HIV and AIDS?

  • HIV is a virus that attacks and weakens a person’s immune system. The immune system is made up of a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body and fight off germs and diseases.
  • If the immune system of an HIV-positive person gets so weak that it can no longer fight off a range of health problems it would normally be able to cope with, the person is considered to have AIDS.
  • HIV can be passed from person to person through blood, semen, vaginal fluids, breast milk and other body fluids. It can happen:
    • When a person has sex with someone who has the HIV virus and they do not use a condom
    • When people exchange infected needles or syringes
    • During pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding, when an HIV-positive mom can pass the virus to her baby (although, with effective treatment and care the risk of transmission from mother to child can be greatly reduced).

    Protect Yourself

    Here are steps you should take to protect yourself from the virus:

    • Abstain from sex or use a condom when having sex.
    • Never share needles, syringes or any other injecting equipment.
    • If you are sexually active, get tested.
    • Act aware. This means:
      • Taking care of your own health and wellbeing
      • Acting responsibly to protect the health and wellbeing of others
      • Treating everyone living with HIV fairly and with understanding.

      That last point is important. Many people who have HIV find it hard to tell other people they have the virus. Some have had to deal with rejection from friends, family or colleagues and have even experienced verbal or physical abuse.

      There is still a great deal of ignorance about how HIV is transmitted, a lack of understanding of what it’s like to live with HIV, and unfair assumptions and judgments made about people who get HIV. The stigma keeps many people from getting tested and treated.

      We know that regularly testing people most at risk for HIV — and then providing antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS patients — dramatically reduces the number of new infections. Without treatment or education, people will continue to transmit the virus to their partners.

      By acting aware, you become part of the solution.

      This site contains HIV prevention messages that may not be appropriate for all audiences. Since HIV infection is spread primarily through sexual practices or by sharing needles, prevention messages and programs may address these topics. If you are not seeking such information or may be offended by such materials, please exit this website.

      What Can Women Do?

      • Talk about it.Learn the facts about HIV, and share this lifesaving information with your family, friends, and community. Let’s Stop HIV Together, part of Act Against AIDS, has many resources for raising awareness about HIV and includes many video testimonials from people living with HIV.
      • Start Doing It – getting tested for HIV . Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information to help keep you and your partner healthy. If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, get an HIV test as soon as possible.

      The most effective way to prevent HIV is to abstain from sexual activity and injection drug use. However, if you are sexually active or use injection drugs, today there are more tools available to prevent HIV. You can:

      When you think of HIV prevention, condoms are probably the first thing that comes to mind (which is great, because they should! Condoms are a proven method to reduce your risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections during intercourse.) But there is another option for those who may be at higher risk for HIV—pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.

      PrEP involves taking medication to prevent HIV infection. Oral PrEP involves taking a pill once daily to prevent HIV infection in someone who is HIV-negative. Currently there are two pills approved for PrEP:

      • Truvada (for anyone at-risk for HIV) and
      • Descovy (for those at risk except for people assigned female gender at birth who may be at risk for HIV from vaginal sex).

      When taken consistently, every day, oral PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are at high risk by about 99%.

      The newest PrEP option—Apretude—is given as an injection every two months (following two initiation doses given a month apart). This option is approved to reduce the risk of sexually acquired HIV in at-risk adults and adolescents weighing at least 77 pounds.

      Who should take PrEP?

      So who is PrEP recommended for? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers these guidelines on people who should consider taking PrEP:

      • Anyone who is in an ongoing relationship with someone who is HIV-positive.
      • Gay or bisexual men who have had anal sex without a condom or have been diagnosed with an STI in the past 6 months.
      • Heterosexual men or women who do not regularly use condoms with partners with an unknown HIV status who are at substantial risk for HIV infections (e.g. people who inject drugs).
      • People who have injected illicit drugs in the past 6 months and have shared injection equipment or have been in treatment for injection drug use in the past 6 months.

      While PrEP is recommended for different groups, it has received the most attention in the gay community. Gay and bisexual men are disproportionately affected by HIV: in 2013, they accounted for 81% estimated HIV diagnoses among all males aged 13 years and older and 65% of all persons receiving an HIV diagnosis that year. Given these alarming statistics, PrEP has been endorsed as an important prevention tool by a number of prominent activists and organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, AIDS United, and the World Health Organization.

      However, PrEP has garnered some controversy as well. Among the criticisms is one that echoes the controversy that surrounds HPV vaccines—the assumption that PrEP will lead to risky sexual behavior and promote promiscuity. But as with HPV vaccination, research has shown that such fears are unfounded. A study of the multinational iPrEx study that first established the effectiveness of a daily dose of Truvada to prevent HIV found “no evidence of risk compensation that would offset the benefits of PrEP.” In other words, no evidence that taking PrEP led to risky sexual behavior. In fact, the reverse was true. As the study authors note, “Indeed, participation in the study was associated with safer sexual behavior.”

      Another concern voiced is that PrEP will cause gay and bisexual men to abandon condoms, which have been a mainstay of HIV prevention efforts. But an analysis by CDC shows condom use on the decline before the approval of Truvada as PrEP in 2012. The CDC data indicate that in 2011, 57 percent of men who have sex with men reported having unprotected anal sex at least once in the previous 12 months, up from 48 percent in 2005. Given the decline in condom use, the availability of another prevention method should be welcomed.

      But this not to suggest that PrEP replaces condoms. Far from it. Rather, PrEP offers a new option to those at high risk—another tool in the HIV prevention toolbox that fits alongside condoms, not as a replacement. After all, while PrEP helps prevent HIV infection, condoms offer protection against a host of other STIs as well.

      Despite the promise offered by PrEP, it is necessarily the right choice for everyone. In addition to requiring taking a pill every day consistently, those on PrEP are also advised to see healthcare provider regularly for follow up and get tested for HIV every 3 months. But for those willing to take on the commitment, PrEP offers the promise of a highly effective way to prevent HIV.

      Where to Find PrEP

      If you are interested in PrEP, you’ll want to find a provider who is both knowledgable about PrEP and supportive of your decision. If you have a regular healthcare provider, you can start there. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a brochure with questions to ask your doctor about PrEP. If you don’t have a healthcare provider, you can check our site sayyestoprep.org to search for a provider in your area.

      Planned Parenthood clinics also offer PrEP. You can search for a clinic near you here.

      The Ready, Set, PrEP program provides access to PrEP medications for free to people who qualify. You can apply for the Ready, Set, PrEP program if you:

      STD stands for Sexually Transmitted Disease, which is a disease that is spread through sexual behavior like vaginal intercourse, oral sex, anal sex or sometimes intimate skin-to-skin contact. Some types of STDs are Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Herpes, HPV and HIV.

      How do I know if I have an STD?

      There is no way to know for sure without being tested. Many STDs don’t have obvious symptoms. Being sexually active can include vaginal intercourse, anal and/or oral sex. When doctors or nurses ask this question, they are really asking if you’ve done anything since your last check up that might have exposed you to an STD or pregnancy. STD tests should be part of your regular check-up. But, if you have any concerns at all that you may have been exposed to an STD, see a doctor and ask to be tested.

      What are the symptoms of STDs?

      Many STDs may have no symptoms at all or the signs are so mild that you may not notice. However, if you have any of the symptoms described below, you should seek care right away because they may be signs that you have an STD.

      • None
      • Discharge or unusual fluid that may be white or yellow that comes out of the vagina or penis (not semen).
      • An unexplained rash
      • A burning sensation when urinating (peeing), going to the bathroom.
      • Bumps, sores, blisters, or warts on the genital area – in women this includes the outer and inner lips, vagina and clitoris. In men this includes the penis and testicles.

      Some STDs are curable while others have no cure and if you get one of those, it may stay with you for the rest of your life.

      How many people have STDs?

      The easiest answer is about 1 in 4 young adults have an STD. It could be even more because many people who are infected don’t realize it.

      I have an STD. Did my partner cheat on me?

      Not necessarily. Many STDs can stay hidden with no symptoms for years. So, while your partner may have given it to you, he or she may have had it before they were with you. The most important thing is for both of you to get tested and treated at the same time so you don’t re-infect each other.

      How can I avoid getting an STD?

      There are many things you can do to reduce your chances of getting an STD.

      • Be faithful. Have sex with only one other person whom you trust. Having sexual contact only with someone who is not infected means that you won’t get an STD from them and they won’t get one from you.
      • Use condoms. Used correctly every time you have sex, latex or polyurethane condoms can be very good protection against many STDs.
      • Have fewer partners. The more people you have sex with, the greater your chances of getting an STD. Go with new partners to get tested.
      • Don’t mix drugs and alcohol with sex. Getting drunk or high can affect your ability to make smart decisions about sex.
      • Don’t use IV street drugs and never share needles. Many STDs are transmitted through blood.
      • Don’t have sex. Abstinence is the surest way to avoid getting an STD.

      Yes. A common misconception is that you cannot get an STD from giving or receiving oral sex. This is not true. Gonorrhea and herpes are commonly transmitted through oral sex.

      Can I get an STD if I’m a virgin?

      It really depends on how you define being a virgin. As mentioned before, STDs can be transmitted through oral and anal sex, but many people believe that if they haven’t had vaginal intercourse they are still a virgin. Some STDs can be transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact even when there isn’t any penetration.

      Are condoms effective against all STDs?

      Not 100%, but if used correctly every time, condoms are a great way to protect yourself from STDs that are spread through body fluids, like semen or vaginal secretions. They don’t protect as well against STDs that are spread through skin-to-skin contact.

      Can I get an STD even though my partner has no symptoms?

      Yes, many people who are infected have no symptoms but are still very contagious.

      Are cold sores really herpes?

      Yes, cold sores on your mouth are a symptom of the Herpes Simplex Virus-1 and can be transmitted to the genitals as well as the mouth.

      Can I get an STD from kissing?

      It is possible to get Herpes through kissing, but with most STDs, the chances are pretty slim.

      Should I get tested for an STD?

      Anyone who has had vaginal, anal or oral sex with a new partner should be tested. Everyone who is sexually active should be tested during regular check-ups. Pregnant women should be tested. Find a clinic to get tested on our Getting Tested webpage.

      Can I get an STD more than once?

      Yes. You can get bacterial infections such chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis more than once, even if you’ve been treated before. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your partners are tested and treated.

      Can I get an STD from a public toilet?

      It’s very unlikely. There is no evidence STDs can be transmitted by contact with public toilets.