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Practice Safer Sex to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

It is easier to prevent a sexually transmitted infection (STI) than to treat an infection after it occurs. You can limit your exposure to STIs. Practice the following prevention tactics:

  • Use a condom. It is the best way to protect yourself from STIs.
  • Delay sexual activity until you are prepared both physically and emotionally to have sex.
  • Limit your sex partners. The safest sex is with one partner who has sex only with you. Every time you add a new sex partner, you are being exposed to all of the diseases that all of their partners may have.
  • Ask a potential sex partner about his or her sexual history. You will want to know how many partners your new potential partner has had and whether he or she has ever had an STI, including hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. You will also want to know whether that STI was treated and cured. If your new partner has an STI that is not curable, you will want to know how best to protect yourself. You will also need to decide whether you really want to have sex with this person, because there is no perfect way to protect yourself.
  • Ask a potential sex partner about high-risk behaviors that might increase his or her risk for a blood disease (such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV) that is transmitted by sexual contact. High-risk behaviors include intravenous (IV) drug use, anal sex, sex with a prostitute, sex with a partner who has high-risk behaviors, or exchange of sex for money or drugs.
  • Ask a potential sex partner to be tested for HIV and other STIs. Use condoms for all sex until you and your partner have not had sex with another person for a full 6 months. After 6 months, get tested again before you decide to have sex without condoms.
  • Use a male condom or female condom every time you have sex. Latex and polyurethane condoms do not let the viruses that cause STIs pass through, so they offer good protection from STIs. Animal skin (lamb skin) condoms do not protect against viruses. Do not use them for protection against STIs.
  • A long-term relationship with the same partner (monogamy) may eliminate the need for condoms. Remember, you can only be sure of your own monogamy.
  • Use a water-based lubricant such as K-Y Jelly or Astroglide to help prevent tearing of the skin if there is a lack of lubrication during sexual intercourse. Small tears in the vagina during vaginal sex or in the rectum during anal sex allow STIs to get into your blood.
  • Know the symptoms of STIs and do not have sex with anyone who has these symptoms.
  • Remember that anyone can have an STI and not have any symptoms.
By Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Revised October 8, 2013

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