According to the CDC, millions of new STD infections occur in the United States every year. Thankfully, most STDs are preventable. The only way to prevent an STD is through abstinence, meaning anyone sexually active is at risk of infection. To help keep you safe, here’s how you can avoid getting or giving a sexually transmitted disease:
Condoms can lessen the risk of all STDs, although they aren’t 100% effective. You can still contract specific sexually transmitted infections even with barrier methods, including HPV or herpes. These STDs transmit through skin contact, even when practising safe sex. Less than 25% of all people regularly use condoms during intercourse.
The most common STD currently has a vaccine available to protect against the most common strains. The HPV vaccine is an effective and safe option for limiting HPV-related health issues like genital warts and cancers. Anyone under 45 years old can receive their HPV vaccine, although it’s most effective before sexual activity.
Know What You’re Looking For
Always visually inspect your partner for any lesions, sores, or bumps. While not every spot or sore is an STI, it’s always better to abstain until they’ve healed, or a doctor has the chance to inspect them first.
Avoid Sharing Items
Some STIs like molluscum contagiosum can spread with personal objects like razors, clothing, or towels. Avoid sharing intimate items like sex toys or accessories between partners. Never share personal items between partners and wash all clothing or towels in hot soapy water after use.
Have Sober Sex
Research has shown that individuals engaging in drug or alcohol abuse are more likely to engage in unprotected sex. People under the influence can also not consent to sexual activity, making it a risky move for everyone involved.
Talk About Your Risks with Your Doctor
Anyone engaging in sexual activity should have a conversation with their doctor about potential risks. There are medications currently available that can reduce your risk of becoming HIV-positive. For example, PEP (Post-exposure prophylaxis) and PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) can reduce HIV transmission in at-risk individuals. PrEP effectiveness minimizes the risk of transmission by 99% when used as prescribed.
Refrain From Sexual Activity During Treatment
If either partner is undergoing a sexually transmitted infection treatment, refrain from all sexual activity until your doctor clears you both. Have honest and open conversations about your diagnosis to prevent your partner from becoming infected or prevent reinfection without treatment. When one partner is receiving treatment for an infection, the other partner will most often need treatment.
Limit the Number of Sexual Partners
Agree to have sexual relations with one individual (and they agree to have only sexual relations with you). Studies have shown the more sexual partners an individual has, the more likely they are to contract an STI. Make sure both parties undergo testing to ensure that neither of you has an STI.
Get Tested for STDs
Many sexually transmitted diseases don’t have symptoms but can still cause significant health problems. The only way to know if you have an STD is to get tested. These tests might include urine samples, blood tests, or physical exams. Several medications can cure STDs like syphilis and gonorrhea.
Understand that Birth Control Doesn’t Protect You
When used correctly, many birth control methods have high levels of protection against unwanted pregnancy. Any form of contraception that isn’t a barrier method can still transmit STIs to a partner. The only time unprotected sex with a partner is safe is six months after a negative STD panel and an ongoing monogamous relationship.
STIs Make You More Vulnerable
Having one sexually transmitted disease can make you more susceptible to other infections. Many STDs will irritate the genital region; these microscopic sores create an easy passageway for additional infections. While several STDs are curable, a few conditions are chronic issues that will stay permanently. Although many interventions can occur for those living with an incurable STI (like herpes or HIV), prevention is far easier to manage long term.
It’s essential to know and understand the risks of all sexual activity. Taking the proper precautions for those engaging in sexual activity can minimize the risk of becoming another statistic. Although barrier methods offer some protection against sexually transmitted diseases, they’re not 100% effective. The only guaranteed prevention is abstinence.
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