Safe sex means taking steps before and during sex that can prevent you from getting an infection, or from giving an infection to your partner.
Myths and Facts of STIs
You can’t get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) the first time you have sex.
The correct answer is myth. You can get an STI any time you have sex with someone who has an STI. Some common STIs include chlamydia, herpes, genital warts, gonorrhea, HIV, and syphilis. If you think you might have an STI, see your doctor.
You can’t get an STI from oral sex.
The correct answer is myth. You can get an STI from any kind of sex. Using a male condom or a dental dam can protect you from STIs while having oral sex. A dental dam is a thin piece of plastic you place over the anus or vagina during oral sex.
A female condom isn’t as good as a male condom at protecting against HIV.
The correct answer is fact. Experts don’t know for certain that female condoms work as well as male condoms when it comes to protection against HIV. But if your partner won’t wear a male condom, a female condom is better than using nothing.
Using a male condom and a female condom together gives you double protection.
The correct answer is myth. Male and female condoms should never be used together. This can make them break or fall out of place, putting you at higher risk for STIs. For the best protection against STIs, use a male condom every time you have sex.
You can’t use condoms if you’re allergic to latex.
The correct answer is myth. People who are allergic to latex can use polyurethane condoms instead. These condoms are less likely to break, but cost a little more money. Avoid condoms that are labeled “natural” or made of lambskin. These don’t protect against STIs.
The best place to carry condoms is in your wallet, so you’ll always have one.
The correct answer is myth. It’s best to keep condoms in a place that's dry and cool. This makes them less likely to break while you’re using them. Always check the wrapper for the expiration date and don’t use the condom if it’s old, looks discolored, or has a hole.
Using a lubricant with a condom makes it less likely to break.
The correct answer is fact. But make sure to use a lubricant that is water-based, such as KY Jelly. Don’t use lubricants that are oil- or petroleum-based, such as petroleum jelly. These types of lubricants make latex condoms more likely to tear.
Which activity increases your risk for an STI?
The correct answer is all of the above. Any type of sex puts you at risk of getting an STI. Using alcohol or drugs makes you more likely to have unprotected sex. To reduce your risk of STIs, always use a condom or dental dam for any kind of sexual activity.
The best condoms are those with nonoxynol-9.
The correct answer is myth. Nonoxynol-9 is a type of spermicide. While it may lower your risk of pregnancy, it can increase your risk of getting an STI. For the most protection against STIs, don’t use any products that contain nonoxynol-9.
Which is the surest way to avoid STIs:
The correct answer is abstinence. The only way to completely avoid STIs is to not have sex. If you do choose to have sex, you can lower your risk by wearing a condom, waiting until you are older, and having only one partner.
Douching can help protect you from HIV.
The correct answer is myth. Douching can make you more likely to get HIV. This is because it removes some of the bacteria in the vagina that help prevent infection. To reduce your risk of HIV, don’t douche.
Chlamydia - safe sex; STD - safe sex; STI - safe sex; Sexually transmitted - safe sex; GC - safe sex; Gonorrhea - safe sex; Herpes - safe sex; HIV - safe sex; Condoms - safe sex
A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is an infection that can be spread to another person through sexual contact. STIs include:
STIs are also called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
These infections are spread by direct contact with a sore on the genitals or mouth, body fluids, or sometimes the skin around the genital area.
Before having sex:
- Get to know your partner and discuss your sexual histories.
- Don't feel forced into having sex.
- Don't have sexual contact with anyone but your partner.
Your sexual partner should be someone who you know does not have any STI. Before having sex with a new partner, each of you should get screened for STIs and share the test results with each other.
If you know you have an STI such as HIV or herpes, let any sexual partner know this before you have sex. Allow him or her to decide what to do. If you both agree to have sexual contact, use latex or polyurethane condoms.
Use condoms for all vaginal, anal, and oral intercourse.
- The condom should be in place from the beginning to the end of the sexual activity. Use it every time you have sex.
- Keep in mind that STIs can be spread by contact with skin areas around the genitals. A condom reduces but does not eliminate your risk of getting an STI.
Other tips include:
- Use lubricants. They may help reduce the chance that a condom will break.
- Use only water-based lubricants. Oil-based or petroleum-type lubricants can cause latex to weaken and tear.
- Polyurethane condoms are less likely to break than latex condoms, but they cost more.
- Using condoms with nonoxynol-9 (a spermicide) may increase the chance of HIV transmission.
- Stay sober. Alcohol and drugs impair your judgment. When you are not sober, you might not choose your partner as carefully. You may also forget to use condoms, or use them incorrectly.
Get tested regularly for STIs if you have new sexual partners. Most STIs have no symptoms, so you need to be tested often if there is any chance you have been exposed. You will have the best outcome and will be less likely to spread the infection if you are diagnosed early.
Consider getting the HPV vaccine to keep from getting the human papillomavirus. This virus can put you at risk for genital warts and for cervical cancer in women.
Gardella C, Eckert LO, Lentz GM. Genital tract infections: vulva, vagina, cervix, toxic shock syndrome, endometritis, and salpingitis. In: Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 23.
LeFevre ML, on behalf of the US Preventive Services Task Force. Behavioral counseling to prevent sexually transmitted infections: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2014;161(12):894-901. doi:10.7326/M14-1965. annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1906847.
Scott GR. Sexually transmitted infections. In: Walker BR, Colledge NR, Ralston SH, Penman ID, eds. Davidson's Principles and Practice of Medicine. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2014:chap 15.
Workowski KA, Bolan GA; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2015. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2015;64(RR-3):1-140. PMID: 26042815. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26042815.