Health classes usually do a good job of warning students about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. And while you may not remember every single detail, it’s so important that you know how to protect yourself. Considering that STDs are, by definition, “sexually transmitted,” it’s no surprise that unprotected sexual intercourse is the most common way to contract an STD. But what you might not know is that it’s still possible to contract an STD even if you have never had sex or are not currently sexually active.
We’ve got the low down on the more obscure ways that you could get an STD and tips on how to stay clean.
The danger of getting an STD might not be the first thought that runs through your head when you think about making out with that cute guy at a party, but it is possible to get an STD just from kissing. When someone has type I herpes (also known as oral herpes), they carry it for life, says Senior Physician at Boston University Dr. Mark Weber. So even though the disease may not be visibly showing, the danger of infection still exists. However, the possibility of transmitting the disease is much lower if there is not an outbreak of sores. Dr. Weber says that another difficulty with type I herpes is that many people carry the disease without even knowing it.
Even though infection is sometimes possible without visible symptoms, the best way to protect yourself from getting infected by someone who has type I herpes is to know how to recognize it. A sore on someone’s lip that is made of small clusters of fluid-filled blisters is an indication of herpes, says Annabeth Elliott, the STD Program Coordinator at the Idaho Department of Health. She says that even if the cluster is red, crusted or scabbed over and peeling, this is still a sign of the disease.
The biggest danger of becoming infected comes when there is a break in the skin that comes in contact with sores. If you have chapped lips or other breaks in the skin and you come in contact with infected secretions, it is more likely that you will get infected than if your skin is completely intact. So if you are tempted to plant a kiss on someone with these signs, think twice before you do.
2. Oral Sex
Although some people might not consider oral sex to actually be “sex” because it does not involve vaginal penetration, it can still lead to the spread of STDs. Dr. Weber says that oral sex should still be considered as sex, despite some misconceptions that many students have, and it can lead to transmission of herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and other diseases. An STD can be spread during oral sex by contact with infected secretions and surfaces on the body. Dr. Weber emphasizes that although condoms can reduce the spread of diseases, they cannot always be sure to completely prevent infection. But it is always safer to use condoms during penile-oral sex or dental dams for oral-vaginal sex.
“Avoiding sex when you have any breaks in the skin or other involved bodily tissue which may come in contact with another person can be protective as well,” Dr. Weber says.
3. Dry Sex
Also described as body-to-body rubbing, Elliott says that dry sex can spread herpes even though there is no penetration or bodily fluids involved. But the only way that herpes could be spread by dry humping is if there is skin-to-skin contact, which means that you are safe if clothes are kept on. But if there is skin-to-skin contact, Dr. Weber says that infectious material from warts (HPV) and other viral or bacterial infection could be present. The risk of transmission depends on the amount of infection that someone has and the number and severity of breaks in the skin. Dr. Weber also warns about shaving “down there,” and how that can increase the risk of infection as well.
“The popularity of shaving the hair in various areas of the body including the genital area has the potential to increase the transmission of infections because of the risk of even small breaks in the skin,” Weber says. “Stubble from hair growing back can be very abrasive to the other person’s skin, and the blade used can itself pick up infectious material from one part of your skin and spread it to another.” So keep this in mind during your next down-there grooming sesh.
4. Indirect Contact
Even though a sexually transmitted disease or infection usually implies an infection that is transmitted through intimate contact, Dr. Weber says that it is possible to get an STD in indirect ways. One example is sitting on a toilet seat. Dr. Weber says that while transmission of an STD from sitting on a toilet seat is possible if there is infectious material on the seat that comes in contact with a break in the skin, it is pretty unlikely. But, when in doubt, squat instead of sit down on public toilets.
Another possible indirect way that STDs can be spread is through a damp or moist object, such as a towel, coming in contact with infected areas. Elliott says that the disease Trichomoniasis, more commonly known as Trich, is a parasite that can live outside the body for up to 45 minutes. She recommends that a way to prevent the possibility of spreading diseases is by not sharing damp or moist items like clothing or towels that touch down below. And while some people might think that you can get Trich from a hot tub, Elliott says this is a myth because it would be too hot in this environment for the parasites to live.
Dr. Weber also points out that sharing needles, razors, or other cutting devices with someone who has an STD can also spread diseases because they are items that break skin contact and let the infections into the body, so avoid sharing these items at all to be safe.
How To Stay In The Clear
One of the easiest ways to protect yourself against STDs is simply to know whether your partner has been tested, if he has had other partners since the last time he was tested, and what his sexual relationships have been like in the past. And by limiting the number of sexual partners you have, you reduce the chances of coming into contact with someone with an STD.
“It is important for each person to think about the risks they are willing to take for intimacy and sex,” Dr. Weber says.
Dr. Weber suggests that you can minimize the potential of breaks in the skin by using lubricant to cut down on friction, which can also reduce direct skin-to-skin contact. By not combining intimacy with mind-altering substances, like alcohol and drugs, you can be in your best state of mind to use the best protection on a consistent basis. And make sure to always have protection available so that you’re not left scrambling or making rash decisions when things start to get hot and heavy.
While you shouldn’t let the fear of getting an STD keep you from touching anyone ever, knowing how to protect yourself as best as possible will keep you safe rather than sorry.
Got more questions about STDs? Check out this article for more info.