“The majority of sexually active people contract an STD at some point in their lives, but most don't know it,” shares Jenelle Marie Pierce, the founder of TheSTDProject.com and a spokesperson for PositiveSingles.com. According to TheSTDProject.com, 56 to 65 million Americans have an STD, and at least 1 in 4 will contract an STD at some point in their lives.

“When you are ready to accept and take responsibility for some risk… then you are ready to be a sexually responsible, sexually active person.”

That may seem like a scary truth to stomach, but before you swear off sex forever, Pierce advises: “Remember, all things contain risk, but we accept that risk, to some extent, because we want the reward associated with the activity. Partnered sexual activities are no different — there's risk involved, and there's also possibility of reward and satisfying our wants, needs and experiencing enjoyment. When you are ready to accept and take responsibility for some risk — understanding that there are things you can do to reduce your risk but not eliminate it entirely — then you are ready to be a sexually responsible, sexually active person.”

Time to test

Two critical aspects of comprehensive safer sex are dialogue with your sexual partner or partners and regular STD testing. A pre-sex conversation should cover consent and boundaries, sexual history and contraception preference. Pierce points out, “it's up to you and your partner(s) how you would like to incorporate comprehensive safer sex into your sex lives.”

Pierce recommends full STD screenings and sexual health exams at least once a year, but more frequently if you have new or multiple partners. Testing can be done by your health care provider, at health centers or even in the comfort of your own home with at-home STD testing kits like the comprehensive options Private iDNA offers.

Myth-busting

Building a safer sex life also means separating truth from fiction when it comes to STDs. “One of the biggest misconceptions about contracting STDs is that you can only get them if you are having traditional, penis-in-vagina sex,” Pierce explains. “In reality, you can contract STDs from manual sex, like hand-jobs, oral sex, as the giver or the receiver and during all types of penetrative sex, including anal sex.”

Another myth is that condoms prevent against all STDs. “Condoms are awesome, don't get me wrong,” says Pierce, “but they only reduce your level of risk; they don't eliminate it. Condoms can greatly reduce your risk of contracting infections like chlamydia and syphilis, which are transmitted via bodily fluids, but with infections like scabies or herpes, which are transmitted via skin-to-skin contact, the condom will only protect the area of the skin that it covers.”

Birds and bees

Through her advocacy work, Pierce hopes to help people set their assumptions and judgements aside when it comes to all aspects of preventing, contracting, testing for and living with an STD.

“The most common symptom of all STDs is no symptom at all,” says Pierce. “That means that it's very likely that someone could have an infection and transmit it to their partner(s) without ever knowing they were infected in the first place. Physical symptoms often come and go, even when the infection isn't necessarily gone, so the only way to know for sure is to see a professional and get tested.”

Pierce wants to help everyone have safer sex, but she also wants active adults of all ages to know that if you do contract an STD, it isn’t the end of the world — or the end of your sex life. “All STDs,” she says, “can be relatively easy to live with given the right access to STD testing, medication and treatment.”