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How can I avoid getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?

Angela Lowery
Family Medicine

The only sure way to avoid getting a sexually transmitted infection is by abstinence. Another way to increase your protection is to use condoms. Condoms must be used properly and consistently to be effective against STIs. Limit your sexual partners. Have sex with only one person.

You can lower your risk of getting an STI with the following steps. The steps work best when used together. No single strategy can protect you from every single type of STI.

Don't have sex. The surest way to keep from getting any STI is to practice abstinence. This means not having vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Keep in mind that some STIs, like genital herpes, can be spread without having intercourse. Be faithful. Having a sexual relationship with one partner who has been tested for STIs and is not infected is another way to lower your risk of getting infected. Be faithful to each other. This means you only have sex with each other and no one else. Use condoms correctly and every time you have sex. Use condoms for all types of sexual contact, even if intercourse does not take place. Use condoms from the very start to the very end of each sex act, and with every sex partner. A male latex condom offers the best protection. You can use a male polyurethane condom if you or your partner has a latex allergy. For vaginal sex, use a male latex condom or a female condom if your partner won't wear a condom. For anal sex, use a male latex condom. For oral sex, use a male latex condom. A dental dam might also offer some protection from some STIs. Know that some methods of birth control, like birth control pills, shots, implants, or diaphragms, will not protect you from STIs. If you use one of these methods, be sure to also use a condom correctly every time you have sex. Talk with your sex partner(s) about STIs and using condoms before having sex. It's up to you to set the ground rules and to make sure you are protected. Don't assume you're at low risk for STIs if you have sex only with women. Some common STIs are spread easily by skin-to-skin contact. Also, most women who have sex with women have had sex with men, too. So a woman can get an STI from a male partner and then pass it to a female partner. Have a yearly pelvic exam. Ask your doctor if you should be tested for STIs and how often you should be retested. Testing for many STIs is simple and often can be done during your checkup. The sooner an STI is found, the easier it is to treat. This answer is based on the source infromation from the National Women's Health Information Center.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.