STD Prevention & Testing: Just the Facts
Originally Published: March 31, 2015
Revised: April 22, 2015
STDs. Those initials are a little menacing. But the full phrase, “sexually transmitted diseases,” is worse. STDs are those things health teachers show detailed, terrifying pictures of. Sometimes you just hear about the horrifying symptoms that come along with STDs—anything from sores to warts to death. With so much focus on what’s scary about STDs, how are you supposed to know the difference between myth and fact? How do you get them? How do you get tested? I have separated the facts from fiction about STDs so you can learn how to be healthy, safe—and a lot less frightened when you hear the letters S. T. D.
Myth: You don’t have an STD if you don’t have any symptoms.
Fact: Many STDs don’t have symptoms immediately or at all. The most common symptom is no symptoms. When symptoms are present, they usually occur within 10 days of contracting the disease, but are often mistaken for something else. Testing is the only sure way to tell if you have a STD.
Myth: You can tell by looking at someone if they have an STD.
Fact: You definitely can’t tell if someone has an STD just by looking at a person. Often times, symptoms do not show up, and even when they do, they’re not usually something that could be easily observed.
Myth: You can’t get an STD from oral or anal sex.
Fact: STDs can be transmitted from any sexual activity involving fluids, such as vaginal fluids, pre-ejaculate, semen or blood, or through skin-to-skin contact in the case of herpes and HPV. It’s not just vaginal sex that’s risky; oral and anal sex also pose a threat. When infected fluids come into contact with a mucus membrane like the mouth or anus or the skin of the mouth or anus, STDs can spread. So it’s important to always use protection.
Myth: You can only get an STD from semen.
Fact: STDs can also be spread through blood, vaginal and pre-ejaculatory fluid, and some are spread through skin-to-skin contact. For example, with oral herpes, when cold sores break out, the sores can spread the disease just through contact with a partner’s skin where the sore is present. Even when the sores are not apparent, the virus can be spread. With HPV, the virus is spread through genital skin-to-skin contact.
Myth: You can’t get an STD if you’re on the Pill.
Fact: The Pill does not protect against STDs. It releases hormones, which prevent ovulation and thicken the lining of the cervix to keep sperm from reaching an egg, resulting in the prevention of pregnancies. This does not at all stop STDs. Another form of non-hormonal protection, such as a condom or a dental dam, has to be used to prevent the spread of STDs.
Myth: You can’t have two STDs at once.
Fact: You actually can have more than one STD at a time! In fact, if you already have an STD, you are more likely to contract another because your immune system has already been weakened. Talk with your healthcare provider about being tested for multiple STDs to cover all the bases.
Myth: You can only get the same STD once.
Fact: Your body does not build up immunity to any STD except hepatitis B, so you can get the same STD more than once. (Hepatitis B has no cure, so it is a disease you will always test positive for once you have it.)
Myth: Having sex in a pool or hot tub is OK because chlorine will kill off STDs.
Fact: You can get STDs—or become pregnant—from having sex in a pool or hot tub. Also, latex condoms don’t work well under water. Having sex in a pool or a hot tub without protection isn’t safe. In fact, the chlorine being introduced to the body from vaginal or anal sex could irritate the skin, making STD infection even more likely.
Myth: You can contract an STD by coming in contact with a toilet seat, doorknob, swimming pool or hot tub that has fluids that contain an STD on or in it.
Fact: STDs are mainly sexually transmitted, and you can’t get one by touching a contaminated surface. STDs are spread through blood, pre-ejaculate, semen or vaginal fluids coming into contact with a mucus membrane like a mouth, anus or vagina, or through skin-to-skin contact for herpes and HPV. STDs cannot survive on a surface, like a toilet seat.
Myth: You can only catch herpes when your partner is having an outbreak.
Fact: When the sores from herpes die down, the infection hasn’t actually gone away; it’s just lying dormant for the time being. While the risk of spreading herpes is much greater when one partner has an outbreak, there is still a possibility of the STD being transmitted even without an outbreak present. To help prevent spreading herpes, the infected partner can take a medication that reduces flare-ups and the risk of transmission.
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