The term sexually transmitted disease (STD) is used to refer to a condition passed from one person to another through sexual contact. A person can contract an STD by having unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the STD.
An STD may also be called a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or venereal disease (VD).
That doesn’t mean sex is the only way STDs are transmitted. Depending on the specific STD, infections may also be transmitted through sharing needles and breastfeeding. However, sexual contact is still the major cause to sexual infection
When engaging in sexual activity, there are steps to limit the risk of STIs.
Protection before sex
Effective STI prevention begins before any sexual activity. Here are some steps you can take to reduce your STI risk:
- Talk honestly with potential partners about both of your sexual histories.
- Get tested, along with your partner, before having sex.
- Avoid sexual contact when under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Get vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis A, and hepatitis B (HBV).
- Consider pre-exposure prophylaxis(PrEP), a medication that someone who is HIV negative can take to reduce their risk of contracting HIV.
- Use barrier methods every time you engage in sexual activity.
Having a conversation about sexual health with your partner is key, but not everyone with an STI knows they have one. That’s why it’s so important to get tested.
If you or your partner has an STI diagnosis, talk about it. That way you can both make informed decisions.
Sexual health practices
Using barrier methods can lower your risk of contracting STIs. These methods can include:
- using external or internal condoms for penetrative intercourse, including with sex toys
- using condoms or dental dams for oral sex
- using gloves for manual stimulation or penetration
Maintaining good hygiene before and after sexual contact can also help prevent STI transmission. This can include:
- washing your hands before any sexual contact
- rinsing off after sexual contact
- urinating after sex to help prevent urinary tract infections(UTIs).
When using condoms and other barrier methods, it’s important to follow instructions. Using condoms correctly makes them more effective. Follow these safety precautions when using internal and external condoms:
- Check the expiration date.
- Make sure the package has an air bubble, which shows it hasn’t been punctured.
- Put the condom on correctly.
- For external condoms, always leave room at the tip and unroll the condom onto the penis or sex toy, not before it goes on.
- Use condom safe lubricant, avoiding oil-based lubes with latex condoms.
- Hold onto the condom after sex, so it doesn’t slip.
- Dispose of the condom properly.
- Never remove a condom and try to put it on again.
- Never reuse a condom.
Condoms and other barriers are very good at preventing the exchange of bodily fluids that contain the virus or bacteria. They can also help to minimize skin-to-skin contact, though they don’t completely remove this risk.
STIs that spread through skin-to-skin contact include:
If you have herpes, you may want to talk to your doctor about suppressive therapy. This type of therapy helps to prevent herpes outbreaks. It also helps to prevent transmission, but it doesn’t cure the infection.
It’s important to know that herpes can be transmitted even when there isn’t an active outbreak.
Though STIs are common, there are ways to prevent them and reduce your risk. If you’re unsure about the right method for you, talk honestly with your partner or your doctor.