How Are STIs Transmitted? 8 Things Doctors Want You To Know
Safe sex is definitely one of those topics where a lot of misinformation resides. It's important to know all the facts about how STI's are passed to go forward having conscious, responsible sex with other people. And it goes without saying but why not say it anyway: practicing consensual, informed, communicative sex is sexy AF.
"Safer sex should include conversations about sexual practices with your partner before you have sex the first time," Dr. Allison Hill, OB/GYN, tells Bustle. "Ideally, both partners should have STI screening before being active together."
Using condoms prevents the spread of infections which are passed through bodily fluids, Dr. Hill says. Often infections like HIV, and hepatitis, as well as those passed through mucous membrane contact like chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and gonorrhea can be prevented through condom use. However, STIs like herpes, genital warts, and syphilis are not easily guarded against by condom use.
If you do have STIs, know that you are not alone in this. Trust that STIs are common, can happen to literally anyone who is sexually active, and they can be treated or managed. Ask your healthcare provider for some information on how to safely engage in sexual activities and for a treatment plan. Again, there is no shame in this.
While all the details involved in making sure you're having safer sex might make you nervous or overwhelmed, it's all a really important part of engaging in sex. Again, the best way to approach new sexual relationships is simply with straightforward communication and by making sure you and your partner(s) are up to date on all your testing.
Below, some pros talk about a few things you might not now about how STIs are transmitted.
1. They Can Be Transmitted Through Inanimate Objects
Washing sex toys and tools is definitely a good idea. Make sure you are doing this after every use.
"Another fact that individuals may not be aware of is that you can also transmit STIs through inanimate objects such as sex toys," dermatologist Dr. Susan Bard, MD, tells Bustle.
2. Condoms Are Not Foolproof
It's true that condoms are a way to reduce transmission of STIs, but it isn't the only thing to think about.
"Another myth is that you are safe as long as you use a condom," Dr. Bard says. Condoms allow for safer sex, she says, but ultimately there is no way to totally avoid STIs.
Why is this? Well, condoms only cover a portion of the areas potentially exposed during sexual interaction, Dr. Bard says.
It's important to utilize condoms along with testing when you are engaging in any kind of penetrative sex in order to minimize disease transmission, Dr. Bard says.
3. Showering Does Not Diminish The Likelihood Of Transmission
Popping into the shower immediately after you engage in sexual activity is not going to do reduce transmission of STIs.
"Another myth is if you have unprotected sex for just a few seconds or minutes and shower immediately afterwards then you decrease likelihood of STI transmission. This is untrue." Dr. Bard says. "It can take but seconds to get infected and washing up after does not [get rid of] infection."
4. STIs Can Be Transmitted Through Oral Sex
Engaging in oral sex does not mean you are free from the possibility of passing STIs along.
"One of the biggest myths about STIs is that they can't be transmitted through oral sex," Dr. Bard says.
This is entirely false, she says. Any STI that can be transmitted through vaginal or anal sex can be transmitted through oral sex as well.
Certain STIs can be transmitted simply via skin-to-skin interaction and do not require penetrative intercourse to be transmitted, such as vaginal rubbing, touching genitals with someone else's sexual fluids on your hands, or sharing sex toys. STIs that can be transmitted this way include trichomoniasis, which is an infection caused by a parasite, or herpes, which can be passed with any skin-to-skin contact.
5. It Isn't Always Obvious When You Have An STI
It is true that some STIs are asymptomatic. Again, this is why its super important that you and any new partner you get regularly screened.
"While some STIs can cause symptoms such as sores or vaginal and penile discharge, others do not cause symptoms or only periodically cause symptoms," Dr. Sangini S. Sheth, MD, MPH, a Yale Medicine OB/GYN, tells Bustle.
6. Birth Control Does Not Prevent Any STIs
Birth control doesn't provide any protection from STIs. While this might seem obvious, transmitting STIs is still something you need to consider even if you use a form of birth control. You will still need to use barrier protection and get tested before having sex with a new partner.
"Birth control is important in preventing pregnancies," Dr. Sheth says. "Birth control of any form, however, does not prevent STIs."
7. You Don't Need To Have Multiple Partners To Be At Risk
It's definitely a misconception that you are only really at risk if you have multiple sexual partners.
"While those who have multiple sexual partners are at increased risk of having STIs, anyone who is sexually active is at risk," Dr. Sheth says. Infections aren't discerning — STIs affect people of all ages, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic backgrounds says Dr. Sheth
8. They Do Not Go Away Without Treatment
Another thing to remember? If you do have an STI, don't ignore it or try to treat it on your own. Seek medical attention, and support if you are feeling emotional challenges as a result.
"STIs that are caused by bacterial infections, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, can be treated with antibiotics," Dr. Sheth says. "Delays in treatment, however, or repetitive infections can cause more long-term damage which could lead to pelvic pain, infertility or broader spread of the infection to other parts of the body."
While STI prevention might not seem like the most ideal thing to think about when you're about to have sex, it's important for all of us to rid of the stigma that exists around STIs. And trust that the more information you have, the more sexual freedom you have!