A sexually transmitted disease (STD) is an infection that’s spread during sexual contact with another person. This includes touching, since some STDs can be spread from skin-to-skin contact.
In general, STDs are highly preventable. Almost 20 million new STDs are diagnosed each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, a large number of those infections could be avoided if people made different decisions about their sexual health.
The only guaranteed method to prevent STDs is to abstain from all sexual contact. However, most people don’t find this to be a practical solution. When engaging in sexual activity, there are steps people can take to limit their risk of STDs.
Protection before sex
Effective STD prevention begins before sexual activity occurs. Here are some steps you can take to reduce your STD risk before having sex:
- Limit your number of sexual partners.
- Talk honestly with potential partners about both of your sexual histories.
- Get tested, along with your partner, before having sex.
- Avoid sex when under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Get vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B (HBV).
Having a conversation about sexual health with your partner is key, but not everyone with STDs knows they’re infected. That’s why it’s so important to get tested before you have sex with a new partner.
If you’ve been diagnosed with an STD, tell your partner. That way you can both make informed decisions about risk. You should also explicitly ask your partner if they have (or have had) an STD.
Practicing safe sex
Having safer sex means using a latex or polyurethane barrier for all forms of sex. This can include:
- using a male or female condom for intercourse
- using condoms or dental dams for oral sex
- using gloves for manual penetration
Rinsing off after sex can help remove any infectious material on your skin. Women in particular should urinate after sex. This can reduce the risk of urinary tract infections (UTI).
Using condoms correctly
When using condoms and other barriers for safer sex, it’s important to follow the instructions on the box. Using condoms correctly makes them more effective. Follow these safety precautions when using condoms:
- Check the expiration date.
- Make sure the condom package has an air bubble, which shows it hasn’t been punctured.
- Put the condom on correctly.
- Always leave room at the tip.
- Unroll the condom onto the penis, not before it goes on.
- Use condom-safe lubricant during intercourse.
- Hold onto the condom when withdrawing after sex, so that it doesn’t slip off.
- Dispose of the condom properly.
- Never take a condom off and try to put it on again.
- Never reuse a condom.
Condoms and other barriers are very good at preventing the exchange of infected bodily fluids. They can also help to minimize skin-to-skin contact. This reduces the transmission of diseases that spread through touch. However, it doesn’t prevent transmission entirely. STDs that spread through skin-to-skin contact include: