7 Personal Care Habits That May Affect Your Chances Of Getting An STI, According To Experts
When it comes to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), there is a lot of misinformation. Due to a lack of safe sex education, "how can you get an STI?" is still a question many people have. But the more you can learn about safe sex practices, as well as any habits that might increase your chance of getting an STI, the healthier we can all be.
First off, it's a good idea to keep the convo going with your partners, so you can be on the same page about safe sex practices. But it never hurts to talk to your doctor, too. "There is so much evidence-based information available to you that can help keep you safe," Kongit Farrell, Licensed Marriage, Family, & Sex Therapist, tells Bustle. "All you need to do is invest a few moments into reaching out to a sexual health professional to talk about your sexual practices. They are trained to be very easy to talk to, and can offer you simple and valuable insights that can literally save your life — and both you and your partner are worth that."
Basically, the more you know about the facts regarding sexually transmitted infections, the better off you'll be. Because there are so many other ways to get an STD or STI that you may not be aware of. For that reason, as Farrell says, "knowledge is power," and with knowledge we can start to acknowledge, and ultimately remove the stigma surrounding STIs. Because of the misinformation that creates this stigma, many people often feel ashamed to discuss, or get tested for STIs, and being open about sexual health may sometimes feel worse than the infection itself. But this doesn't have to be the case; by sharing the correct information surrounding STIs, we can take away the shame that often wrongly coincides with keeping ourselves protected. Here are a few habits that experts say can increase your chances of getting an STD, so you can stay safe.
1. Shaving Your Pubic Hair Before Sex
Feel free to do whatever feels best with your pubic hair. But do be aware that any grooming practices that have the potential to nick or cut your skin can increase your risk of infection.
"Use caution when shaving before having any form of intercourse or genital/skin contact, because if there are any cuts or lesions and your partner has an STI, it may be transmitted, even if you use a condom," says Farrell. Even a small cut can allow your partner's fluids to enter your bloodstream, which can lead to an STI.
"A better practice may be to trim or wax and wait 48 hours before having sexual contact to give any potential wounds and opportunity to heal," Farrell says. That way, if you like to groom, you can totally do so.
2. Forgetting To Use Protection
It can be easy to forget that the same infections you pick up vaginally can also be transmitted orally or anally. "You can pick up an STI no matter how you’re hooking up: vaginal, oral, or anal sex — even genital skin-to-skin contact can spread STIs," sexologist and sex/relationships educator Logan Levkoff, PhD tells Bustle.
So make sure you always use a condom, or other form of protection. This practice will lower your risk for a variety of STIs that can be transferred from the genitals to the throat, Farrell says, including herpes simplex virus, human papillomavirus, HIV, and chlamydia.
Many women douche right before sex in order to feel more fresh, but there are two things you should keep in mind before doing this. The first is that douches and other vaginal soaps and sprays remove protective bacteria from your vagina. And by cleaning out this bacteria, you can raise your risk of infection.
"Douching is no longer recommended because douching cleans the healthy flora in the vaginal area, creating more empty space for bad organisms to grow, causing ... itching and discharge," Dr. Yen Tran, an OB-GYN at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, tells Bustle. "These organisms could cause bacterial vaginosis (BV) and yeast."
Since BV can cause vaginal itching and discharge — and can even make you more susceptible to other STIs, such as herpes, HIV, and chlamydia — it may need to be treated by a doctor, with a course of antibiotics.
4. Sharing Personal Care Products
If you live with roommates, it can feel like everything that's theirs is yours, and vice versa. But be careful about sharing personal care products, such as razors. As Tran says, "If you share a shaving device with roommates or partners who happen to have hepatitis, you could potentially contract the disease."
Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV), according to the Mayo Clinic, and its symptoms include abdominal pain, fever, joint pain, and a yellowing of the skin called jaundice.
While there are other ways to contract the virus, such as through unprotected sex and sharing needles, the more you can do to avoid the virus, the safer you'll be. Keeping your razor to yourself is a great place to start.
5. Using Water-Based Lubes During Sex
Using lube is a great way to stay, well, lubricated during sex. And that can help things slide around easier and prevent those micro-tears in your vagina or anus. Again, micro-tears make it easier for STIs to enter your body, so the more you can do to prevent them from happening, the better.
Just make sure you use a water-based lubricant — instead of an oil-based lube — with condoms. As Farrell says, "Oil-based lubricants can breakdown latex, increasing the possibility of a condom tearing and STI transmission."
6. Choosing Condoms Coated In Spermacide
Using a condom during vaginal sex, anal sex, and oral sex is always a good idea, but be careful about which ones you choose. "Condoms with spermicides are growing out of favor," Dr. Shaughanassee Williams, DNP, CNM, founder of HealthyHER Center for Women's Care, tells Bustle. "It is thought that spermicide use may actually increase a woman’s chance of contracting HIV by breaking down the barrier protection in the vaginal walls." She recommends going for the trustable latex ones that aren't coated in spermicide.
7. Forgetting To Clean Sex Toys
If you like to use toys, do yourself (and your partners) a favor, and make sure you clean them off. "Bacteria can grow over time and cause serious infections if [toys are] used without cleaning first," Bryan Stacy, sexual health advocate and founder of the digital sexual health company Biem Health, tells Bustle. "We recommend cleaning afterwards and before if not stored in a sanitary location."
And, always wipe them off before using toys with a new a partner, so you aren't spreading viruses and bacteria from them to you, or from them to someone else.
By following these safe sex practices, and avoiding certain habits before sex, you can lower your chances of contracting an STI, and increase your chances of staying safe.