Anyone who is sexually active is at risk for acquiring or transmitting an STI. While some behaviors are riskier than others, here are five ways you may not know you can get an STI:
Kissing is generally safe, but if either person has open sores or cuts in their mouth or bleeding gums from recently brushing or flossing their teeth, some STIs can be transmitted. Help protect yourself and your partner(s) by not kissing when either of you have open sores or cuts, and avoid brushing your teeth or flossing immediately before kissing.
2. Oral sex
Some STIs can be passed from mouth or throat to genitals or genitals to mouth or throat when performing oral sex on a partner of either sex. Performing oral sex when you have cold sores or sores/cuts on either the mouth or genitals provides an easier way for viruses and bacteria to enter the body. Some STIs can be transmitted through pre-cum or ejaculate. Using a non-lubricated condom on the penis or placing a dental dam, a condom cut open lengthwise, or non-microwaveable plastic wrap on the labia as a barrier can reduce the risk of STI transmission.
3. Oral-anal contact (rimming)
The risk of transmitting an STI to either partner through rimming is possible because the anal canal has a less protective lining (mucus membrane) and is more prone to tears and lacerations that may allow transmission of an STI. Using a dental dam, a condom cut open lengthwise or non-microwavable plastic wrap as a barrier can provide some protection.
4. Sharing sex toys
It’s possible to transmit some STIs when sharing sex toys. To reduce risk, don’t share sex toys, wash them after each use and use a new condom each time to cover penetrative sex toys.
5. Non-penetrative sex (dry sex, outercourse)
While sexual activities that don’t include direct contact with your partner’s semen, blood or vaginal/cervical or anal secretions are considered safer, some STIs, such as herpes, syphilis and HPV, can also be transmitted through genital skin-to-skin contact.
The most effective way of reducing STI risk is choosing to postpone or abstain from all sexual activity. If you are sexually active, you can help protect yourself against STIs by using barrier methods of protection, such as external or internal condoms and dental dams, consistently and correctly each time you engage in sexual activity. And because STIs don’t always have symptoms, be sure to talk to your health care provider about getting tested for STIs as part of a regular medical check-up.
Joanne Brown, DNP, APRN, WHNP, FNP, Chair, American College Health Association Sexual Health Education and Clinical Care Coalition, [email protected]