Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are passed between people through sexual contact. But in general, by taking the right precautions they are mostly preventable.
The only guaranteed way to completely protect yourself from STIs is to abstain from all sexual contact. But that’s not everyone’s cup of tea! Here are five things you can do today to limit your risk of contracting an STI, while still enjoying an active sex life.
All You Need to Know About STIs
Sexually transmitted infections are caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites that are transmitted during sexual contact, including vaginal, anal and oral sex (read our blog on how to have safe oral sex). Some STIs, such as herpes and syphilis, can even be passed on through skin-to-skin contact, such as kissing.
Infections are typically able to pass between people via blood, semen, vaginal secretions and other bodily fluids. Types of sexual activities that are likely to cause tearing of skin, such as anal sex, carry higher risks of passing on infections.
Contracting an STI can cause a great deal of embarrassment. Many people feel ashamed or dirty, when really this is far from the truth. You wouldn’t feel so bad about yourself if you had the flu, for example. And while there are some hygiene measures you can take to reduce your chances of contracting an STI, like rinsing off after sexual contact, STIs themselves are not linked to personal hygiene. Absolutely anyone can get them! They are also extremely common. In fact, it is estimated by the World Health Organization that 1 million STIs are acquired every day worldwide.
Some common symptoms to look out for that might indicate you have an STI include:
- Pain during urination
- Unusual discharge from the vagina or penis (read our blog article all about vaginal discharge)
- Sores or bumps in the genital, rectal or oral areas
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Pain during sex
- Sore or swollen lymph nodes
- Lower abdominal pain
- Unusual rashes
If you have any of these symptoms and are sexually active it's important to book yourself in as soon as possible with your doctor.
How to Reduce Your Risk
Yep, you guessed it! Condoms (male or female) are one of the best barrier methods. They are 98% effective at protecting against STIs that are passed through bodily fluids, like chlamydia and gonorrhoea. Studies that looked at the rate of HIV infection in condom users and non-users, who have HIV positive partners, found that those who used protection had significantly reduced infection rates.
However, they are not as effective at protecting you from STIs that are spread through skin-to-skin contact, including herpes, genital warts and syphilis. Which is why it’s important to discuss sexual history with your partner(s) before engaging in sexual activities.
But, as the majority of STIs are transmitted through genital fluids, condoms can significantly reduce your risk of contracting one, so we advise stocking up! Make sure to have them available at all times to ensure you don’t get caught out. Perhaps it might help to have them throughout the house, in your car, or wherever you’re likely to have sex!
Read our blog article on the different types of condoms and how to pick the right one.
Be Open with Your Partner(s) About Your Sexual History
We know that talking about your sexual history can feel embarrassing and awkward, especially if you’ve just got a new sexual partner. But open communication can encourage trust and respect and help reduce the risk of STIs.
It can be helpful to discuss when you both last got tested for STIs, and whether you have had any sexual partners since. If your partner hasn’t been tested in a while, it might be a good idea to gently ask them if they could get checked before you engage in any sexual activities.
Get a Regular STI Check
This is one of the most important points. Sometimes STIs are symptomless and you may contract an infection from someone who appears to be healthy. It is completely possible to have an STI without knowing anything about it! Which is why it’s important to get tested regularly, to avoid passing it on.
How often you should get tested depends on how sexually active you are. If you don’t have a regular long term partner(s) and engage in lots of casual sex, it’s a good idea to get tested every time you change partners - and ask your partner(s) to do the same.
Yoxly’s at-home tests make getting an STI check more convenient, safe and secure. Find out more and get tested today!
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Limit Number of Sexual Partners
The more partners you have, the greater your risk of contracting an STI. Simple as that. We aren't by any means suggesting sticking only to one partner – many people find monogamous relationships don’t suit them. But if you are engaging in lots of casual sex with multiple partners, get tested frequently and remember to discuss your sexual history beforehand. Or, if you are worried about STIs, limit the number of people you have sex with.
Avoid Having Sex Under the Influence
We aren’t the fun police, but if you are trying to reduce your risk of contracting an STI, it might be a good idea to avoid sex when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These substances can impact our ability to make good decisions when it comes to safe sex and may increase the risk of mistakes, like not putting on a condom properly.
STIs are transmitted through sexual contact in blood, semen, vaginal and other bodily fluids, as well as skin-to-skin contact. An STI is nothing to be ashamed of. Many people will contract an STI at some point in their lives - they’re probably more common than you think!
If you are sexually active, there are a number of ways you can reduce your risk of contracting an STI. Practising safe sex is key, so always use a condom and be open about your sexual history with a new sexual partner. Having sex with multiple different people can increase your risk of contracting an STI, especially if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
To keep on top of your sexual health and make sure you aren’t passing on infections to new partners, get regular STI checkups. Use our super easy at-home tests to make the process less stressful!