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How can you avoid getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?

The only 100-percent effective way to avoid getting an STD is to abstain from sexual touching below the waist, such as rubbing bodies without clothes, vaginal-penile sex, oral sex and anal sex. Your next best bet is to practice safer sex, such as using either a male or female condom and/or dental dam every time and getting tested regularly for STDs and asking your partners to do the same.

STDs cannot spontaneously occur. There is risk only when one person already has an STD in their body. Since most STDs don’t have symptoms, you can’t always rely on what you see to tell you whether or not an infection is present since most STD infections do not have any symptoms, so it is better to be safe.

While different STDs are spread in different ways, most are spread either through skin-to-skin genital contact or getting sexual fluids (and sometimes blood) in the mouth, urethra of the penis, anus or vagina. This means that touching above the waist with clothes on is safe. But most other kinds of close sexual contact with an infected partner carries some risk—sometimes extremely low, sometimes very high—of getting an STD.

So, if you decide to be sexual with a partner, here are some things you can do to reduce your chances of getting an STD.

  • Practice safer sex with each partner each time. Fenway Community Health has a great brochure that can teach you how to be a safer sex expert!
  • Get tested regularly, and always get tested BEFORE you have sex with a new partner. Your partner should also be tested.
  • Know your partner well before having sex. Ask your partner if he or she has ever had an STD and if it was treated. Ask when your partner last got tested and if they are willing to get tested again. Ask if he or she practiced safer sex with past partners and if that included oral sex. Know that people sometimes don’t know they have an infection or may not consider certain behaviors risky, when in fact they are.
  • Learn about STDs, how they are transmitted, and which activities are low risk and which are high risk so that you can make informed decisions about how to protect your sexual health. For example, kissing and massage are low risk. Unprotected vaginal or anal sex is high risk.
  • Choose your sexual partners carefully. Take relationships slowly so you have the chance to get to know what your partner is about, what his or her sexual history is like and how your partner treats you in general. This will help you develop a relationship that is healthy and includes open, honest communication about these important issues.
  • Even if you’ve both been tested and nothing has shown up, you should still practice safer sex every single time you have sex to guarantee that you both remain safe and protected.

You should also use condoms if you have oral sex involving a penis. Flavored condoms are made specifically for oral sex and are available in most drugstores. During oral sex that involves a vulva or anus, use a dental dam, such as a Sheer Glyde Dam, to cover the vulva or anus. A condom cut open and placed over a vulva is also an effective barrier, and some people use plastic wrap—the kind used for food storage—for oral sex on a vulva, which is better than not using any protection. Still, a Sheer Glyde Dental Dam offers the best protection during oral sex on a female because it is less likely to break if stretched thin the way plastic wrap can.

What is important to remember is that although latex, polyurethane, polyisoprene or nitrile condoms are highly effective products, sometimes people don’t use them correctly. To make sure you know how to use a condom, review the steps here.

Got a question about STDs? Visit the American Sexual Health Association’s website.

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