Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are spread by
sexual contact involving the genitals, mouth, or rectum, and can also be spread
from a pregnant woman to her fetus before or during delivery. STIs, which
affect both men and women, are a worldwide public health concern.
Although most STIs can be cured, some cannot, including
HIV (which causes
genital herpes, and
human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause
STIs can be spread by
people who don't know they are infected. Always use protection every time you
have sex, including oral sex, until you are sure you and your partner are not
infected with an STI.
If you are in a relationship, delay having
sex until you are physically and emotionally prepared, have agreed to only have
sex with each other, and have both been tested for STIs.
Abstinence as prevention
sexual contact (abstinence), including intercourse and oral sex, is the only
certain way to prevent an infection.
Discuss safer sex with your partner
before you have sex with someone. Even though a sex partner doesn't have
symptoms of an STI, he or she may still be infected.
ask someone before having sex include:
- How many people have you had sex
- Have you had sex without a condom?
- Have you ever
had unprotected oral sex?
- Have you had more than one sex partner
at a time?
- Do you inject illegal drugs or have you had sex with
someone who injects drugs?
- Have you ever had unprotected sex with a
- Have you had a test for HIV? What were the
- Have you ever had an STI, including
hepatitis B or
hepatitis C? Was it treated and cured?
Safer sex practices
Some STIs, such as HIV, can
take up to 6 months before they can be detected in the blood. Genital herpes
and the human papillomavirus (HPV) can be spread when symptoms are not present.
Even if you and your partner have been tested, use condoms for all sex until
you and your partner haven't had sex with another person for 6 months. Then get
- Watch for
symptoms of STIs, such as unusual discharge, sores,
redness, or growths in your and your partner's genital area, or pain while
- Don't have more than one sex partner at a time. The
safest sex is with one partner who has sex only with you. Every time you add a
new sex partner, you are being exposed to all of the diseases that all of their
partners may have. Your risk for an STI increases if you have several sex
partners at the same time.
- Use a condom every time you have sex. A condom is the best way
to protect yourself from STIs. Latex and polyurethane condoms do not let STI
viruses pass through, so they offer good protection from STIs. Condoms made
from sheep intestines do not protect against STIs.
- Use a
water-based lubricant such as K-Y Jelly or Astroglide to help prevent tearing
of the skin if there is a lack of lubrication during sexual intercourse. Small
tears in the vagina during vaginal sex or in the rectum during anal sex allow
STI bacteria or viruses to get into your blood.
- Avoid douching if you are a woman,
because it can change the normal balance of organisms in the vagina and
increases the risk of getting an STI.
- A mouth barrier, such as a dental dam, can be used to reduce the spread of infection through oral
sexual activity. You can discuss this method with your dentist or doctor.
- Be responsible. Avoid sexual
contact if you have symptoms of an infection or if you are being treated for an
STI, such as HIV. If you or your partner has herpes, avoid sexual contact when a
blister is present and use condoms at all other times.
For more information see: Sexually Transmitted Infections.
- Genital Herpes
- Genital Warts (Human Papillomavirus)
- Health Screening: Finding Health Problems Early
- High-Risk Sexual Behavior
- HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) Infection
- Sexually Transmitted Infections