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How do you prevent STDs?

Updated: 9/27/2023
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10y ago

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100% avoidance of STDsThe one word answer is abstinence, but that one word is not very explicit. First, consider how STDs are transmitted: some are passed by close contact (pubic lice), some by skin-to-skin contact (HPV, herpes, molluscum, syphilis), and some by exchanging fluids (HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichimoniasis, hepatitis B and, less commonly, hepatitis C). So, in the context of 100% prevention of STDs, here is the definition of abstinence:
  • Avoid exchanging fluids (no anal, oral, or vaginal sex without a condom; no needle-sharing); AND
  • Avoid intimate skin-to-skin contact (no anal, oral, or vaginal sex even with a condom, no unclothed contact with genitals).

If you and your partner have followed these instructions to the letter throughout your lives, you will probably never get an STD. But one more step is needed.

Because oral herpes (cold sores) can be spread to the genitals during oral sex, you must avoid oral sex if either of you has a history of cold sores.

At some point, you may decide that abstinence is not a reasonable ongoing choice -- maybe at the time of marriage, or maybe outside of a life-long commitment. Whenever you decide to be sexually intimate with someone, the following strategies can lower the risk.

Other strategies for reducing the risk of STDs

Don't have casual sex. Know your partner well before having intimate contact that can spread STDs.

  • Ask your partner about his or her sexual history. Don't be taken in by the word "virgin" -- it's not a medical word, and some people consider themselves virgins even if they've had oral or anal sex, or have only had genital-genital contact. If she's had sex with three people before, but they were all "virgins," that doesn't give much information about risk.
  • Ask your partner if they've shared needles for narcotics or illegal steroids, even one time.
  • Get tested together for those infections that have tests available, but remember that there's no great test for herpes if someone doesn't have symptoms, and no commercially available test for HPV. Acknowledge that there's no such thing as "getting tested for everything" and knowing that you're "100% STD-free."
  • Make sure that both of you are committed to honesty in your relationship, so that you have clear expectations about whether either of you is having sexual contact with anyone else.

Reduce the number of sex partners. A person with fewer partners over the course of his or her life has a lower risk of all STDs.

On the other hand, don't think of marriage as STD prevention. A person who abstains from sexual contact until marriage comes to the relationship safe from STDs, but if his or her spouse has been sexually active before marriage, there is a risk for STDs.

Use condoms or other latex protection for oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Condoms are good at preventing transmitting diseases through fluids, but don't cover every part of the genitals. For that reason, you can still get herpes, syphilis, HPV and genital warts, and mollscum even if condoms are used perfectly.

Get immunized for those STDs with vaccination available (HPV and hepatitis B). Even a young person who anticipates only one lifetime partner should strongly consider immunization against vaccine-preventable STDs. You owe it to your family to protect yourself. Since STDs can be transmitted through your behavior AND your partner's behavior, vaccination is not a reflection of your sexual morals, but an acknowledgement that our STD status is not completely under our control once we become sexually active, even if only within marriage.

If you're a young teenager, delay sex for as long as possible. Some infections, like HPV and chlamydia, are much easier to contract when you're younger because of changes in the body as you grow.

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