Steps you can take to lower your risk of getting STIs

How to protect yourself from STIs
Even though STIs pass easily from person to person, there are steps you can take to lower your risk of getting an STI. The following steps work best when used together—no single strategy can protect you from every single type of STI.

Don’t have sex

The surest way to avoid getting any STI is to practice abstinence, which means not having vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Keep in mind that some STIs, such as genital herpes, can be spread without having intercourse.

Be faithful

Having sex with one uninfected partner who only has sex with you will keep you safe from STIs. Both partners must be faithful all the time to avoid STI exposure. This means that you have sex only with each other and no one else. The fewer sex partners you have, the lower your risk of being exposed to an STI.

Use condoms correctly and EVERY time you have sex

Use condoms for all types of sexual contact, even if penetration does not take place. Condoms work by keeping blood, a man’s semen, and a woman’s vaginal fluid—all of which can carry STIs—from passing from one person to another. Use protection from the very beginning to the very end of each sex act, and with every sex partner. And be prepared: Don’t rely on your partner to have protection.

Know that certain birth control methods—and other methods—don’t protect against STIs

Birth control methods including the pill, shots, implants, intrauterine devices (IUDs), diaphragms, and spermicides will not protect you from STIs. They only can help keep you from getting pregnant. Still, many women who use these forms of birth control don’t use condoms. If you use one of these birth control methods, make sure to also use a condom with every sex act. Also, don’t use contraceptives that contain the spermicide nonoxynol-9 (N-9). N9 can irritate the vagina, which might make it easier for an STI—including HIV—to get into your body. Keep in mind that women who are unable to become pregnant can get STIs. You might have heard of other ways to keep from getting STIs—such as washing genitals before sex, passing urine after sex, douching after sex, or washing the genital area with vinegar after sex. These methods DO NOT prevent the spread of STIs.

Talk with your sex partner(s) about using condoms before having sex. 

This way, you can set the ground rules and avoid misunderstandings during a moment of passion. Hopefully, you and your partner will agree to use condoms all the time. But know this: You can control their use by making it clear that you will not have any type of sex at any time without a condom. Remember, it’s your body, and it’s up to you to make sure you are protected.

Don’t assume you’re at low risk for STIs if you have sex only with women. 

Some common STIs are spread easily by skin-to-skin contact. Also, most women who have sex with women have had sex with men, too. So a woman can get an STI from a male partner, and then pass it to a female partner.

Don’t abuse drugs or alcohol

Heavy drinking and drug use can put you at greater risk of STIs. Drinking too much and using drugs are linked to sexual risk-taking, such as having sex with more than one partner and not using condoms. Drug users who share needles risk exposure to blood-borne infections that also can be passed sexually, such as HIV and hepatitis B. Drinking too much alcohol or using drugs puts you at risk of sexual assault and possible exposure to an STI.

Get tested for STIs

If either you or your partner has had other sexual partners in the past, get tested for STIs before becoming sexually active. Don’t wait for your doctor to ask you about getting tested—ask your doctor! Many tests for STIs can be done at the same time as your regular pelvic exam.

Have regular checkups and pelvic exams—even if you think you’re healthy

During the checkup, your doctor will ask you a lot of questions about your lifestyle, including your sex life. This might seem too personal to share. But answering honestly is the only way your doctor is sure to give you the care you need. Your doctor might also do a Pap test to check for signs of cancer in your cervix. Ask your doctor how often you need a Pap test. Also, ask your doctor if the HPV vaccine is right for you.

Let partners know

Although you might not want to tell anybody about your STI, informing all your sexual partner(s) is the only way to stop the STI from getting passed to others or possibly reinfecting you. If your partner has other partners, they should be notified too. There are a few ways to do this:
1. Tell your partner(s) yourself and urge your partner(s) to get treated for the STI. For gonorrhea or chlamydial infection, you might be able to give your partner the needed medicine without him seeing a doctor. This is called expedited partner therapy (EPT). EPT is a last-resort option for partner(s) who won’t or can’t see a doctor. EPT is not possible in all states. If your partner is unwilling to seek treatment, ask your doctor if EPT is possible where you live.
2. Ask your doctor or the clinic where you were diagnosed to notify your sexual partner(s) anonymously. That means they won’t disclose your name.
3. Tell your main partner, but ask that your medical provider inform all other or past partners.
4. Ask your doctor for help if you fear that notifying your partner(s) might lead to a violent or abusive reaction.
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