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Safe sex

Show Alternative Names
Chlamydia - safe sex
STD - safe sex
STI - safe sex
Sexually transmitted - safe sex
GC - safe sex
Gonorrhea - safe sex
Herpes - safe sex
HIV - safe sex
Condoms - safe sex

Safe sex means taking steps before and during sex that can prevent you from getting an infection, or from giving an infection to your partner.

STI Myths & Facts Quiz

  • You can’t get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) the first time you have sex.

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is myth. You can get an STI any time you have sex with someone who has an STI. Some common STIs include chlamydia, herpes, genital warts, gonorrhea, HIV, and syphilis. If you think you might have an STI, see your doctor.
  • You can’t get an STI from oral sex.

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is myth. You can get an STI from any kind of sex. Using a male condom or a dental dam can protect you from STIs while having oral sex. A dental dam is a thin piece of plastic you place over the anus or vagina during oral sex.
  • A female condom isn’t as good as a male condom at protecting against HIV.

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is fact. Experts don’t know for certain that female condoms work as well as male condoms when it comes to protection against HIV. But if your partner won’t wear a male condom, a female condom is better than using nothing.
  • Using a male condom and a female condom together gives you double protection.

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is myth. Male and female condoms should never be used together. This can make them break or fall out of place, putting you at higher risk for STIs. For the best protection against STIs, use a male condom every time you have sex.
  • You can’t use condoms if you’re allergic to latex.

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is myth. People who are allergic to latex can use polyurethane condoms instead. These condoms are less likely to break, but cost a little more money. Avoid condoms that are labeled “natural” or made of lambskin. These don’t protect against STIs.
  • The best place to carry condoms is in your wallet, so you’ll always have one.

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is myth. It’s best to keep condoms in a place that's dry and cool. This makes them less likely to break while you’re using them. Always check the wrapper for the expiration date and don’t use the condom if it’s old, looks discolored, or has a hole.
  • Using a lubricant with a condom makes it less likely to break.

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is fact. But make sure to use a lubricant that is water-based, such as KY Jelly. Don’t use lubricants that are oil- or petroleum-based, such as petroleum jelly. These types of lubricants make latex condoms more likely to tear.
  • Which activity increases your risk for an STI?

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is all of the above. Any type of sex puts you at risk of getting an STI. Using alcohol or drugs makes you more likely to have unprotected sex. To reduce your risk of STIs, always use a condom or dental dam for any kind of sexual activity.
  • The best condoms are those with nonoxynol-9.

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is myth. Nonoxynol-9 is a type of spermicide. While it may lower your risk of pregnancy, it can increase your risk of getting an STI. For the most protection against STIs, don’t use any products that contain nonoxynol-9.
  • Which is the surest way to avoid STIs:

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is abstinence. The only way to completely avoid STIs is to not have sex. If you do choose to have sex, you can lower your risk by wearing a condom, waiting until you are older, and having only one partner.
  • Douching can help protect you from HIV.

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is myth. Douching can make you more likely to get HIV. This is because it removes some of the bacteria in the vagina that help prevent infection. To reduce your risk of HIV, don’t douche.

Information

A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is an infection that can be spread to another person through sexual contact. STIs include:

STIs are also called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

These infections are spread by direct contact with a sore on the genitals or mouth, body fluids, or sometimes the skin around the genital area.

Before having sex:

  • Get to know your partner and discuss your sexual histories.
  • Don't feel forced into having sex.
  • Don't have sexual contact with anyone but your partner.

Your sexual partner should be someone who you know does not have any STI. Before having sex with a new partner, each of you should get screened for STIs and share the test results with each other.

If you know you have an STI such as HIV or herpes, let any sexual partner know this before you have sex. Allow him or her to decide what to do. If you both agree to have sexual contact, use latex or polyurethane condoms.

Use condoms for all vaginal, anal, and oral intercourse.

  • The condom should be in place from the beginning to the end of the sexual activity. Use it every time you have sex.
  • Keep in mind that STIs can be spread by contact with skin areas around the genitals. A condom reduces but does not eliminate your risk of getting an STI.

Other tips include:

  • Use lubricants. They may help reduce the chance that a condom will break.
  • Use only water-based lubricants. Oil-based or petroleum-type lubricants can cause latex to weaken and tear.
  • Polyurethane condoms are less likely to break than latex condoms, but they cost more.
  • Using condoms with nonoxynol-9 (a spermicide) may increase the chance of HIV transmission.
  • Stay sober. Alcohol and drugs impair your judgment. When you are not sober, you might not choose your partner as carefully. You may also forget to use condoms, or use them incorrectly.

Get tested regularly for STIs if you have new sexual partners. Most STIs have no symptoms, so you need to be tested often if there is any chance you have been exposed. You will have the best outcome and will be less likely to spread the infection if you are diagnosed early.

Consider getting the HPV vaccine to keep from getting the human papillomavirus. This virus can put you at risk for genital warts and for cervical cancer in women.

Text only

Review Date: 4/9/2020

Reviewed By

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

References

Del Rio C, Cohen MS. Prevention of human immunodeficiency virus infection. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 363.

Gardella C, Eckert LO, Lentz GM. Genital tract infections: vulva, vagina, cervix, toxic shock syndrome, endometritis, and salpingitis. In: Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 23.

LeFevre ML; US Preventive Services Task Force. Behavioral counseling interventions to prevent sexually transmitted infections: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2014;161(12):894-901. PMID: 25244227 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25244227/.

McKinzie J. Sexually transmitted diseases. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 88.

Workowski KA, Bolan GA; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2015. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2015;64(RR-03):1-137. PMID: 26042815. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26042815/.

Disclaimer

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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The female condom - Illustration Thumbnail

The female condom

The female condom, like the male condom, is a barrier contraceptive made of latex or polyurethane. The condom has a ring on each end. The ring that is placed inside the vagina fits over the cervix, while the other ring, which is open, rests outside of the vagina and covers the vulva. The female condom is sold over-the-counter.

Illustration

The male condom - Illustration Thumbnail

The male condom

The male condom is a barrier contraceptive made of latex or polyurethane. The condom must be fitted over the erect penis. The condom is sold over-the-counter and when used properly is an inexpensive, effective barrier to pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease.

Illustration

STDs and ecological niches - Illustration Thumbnail

STDs and ecological niches

Many sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) invade the host and reside for long periods of time without killing the host. A good example is syphilis, which may reside in its host for 30 to 50 years. HIV also can take 10 or more years to kill its host, allowing plenty of time to spread the infection.

Illustration

Primary syphilis - Illustration Thumbnail

Primary syphilis

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. Primary syphilis presents as a small painless open sore 3 to 6 weeks after exposure. Although the lesion heals within 6 to 8 weeks, the untreated organism will continue to multiply unchecked, causing many complications. Infection may last for 30 years or more and result in severe neurological complications.

Illustration

The female condom - Illustration Thumbnail

The female condom

The female condom, like the male condom, is a barrier contraceptive made of latex or polyurethane. The condom has a ring on each end. The ring that is placed inside the vagina fits over the cervix, while the other ring, which is open, rests outside of the vagina and covers the vulva. The female condom is sold over-the-counter.

Illustration

The male condom - Illustration Thumbnail

The male condom

The male condom is a barrier contraceptive made of latex or polyurethane. The condom must be fitted over the erect penis. The condom is sold over-the-counter and when used properly is an inexpensive, effective barrier to pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease.

Illustration

STDs and ecological niches - Illustration Thumbnail

STDs and ecological niches

Many sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) invade the host and reside for long periods of time without killing the host. A good example is syphilis, which may reside in its host for 30 to 50 years. HIV also can take 10 or more years to kill its host, allowing plenty of time to spread the infection.

Illustration

Primary syphilis - Illustration Thumbnail

Primary syphilis

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. Primary syphilis presents as a small painless open sore 3 to 6 weeks after exposure. Although the lesion heals within 6 to 8 weeks, the untreated organism will continue to multiply unchecked, causing many complications. Infection may last for 30 years or more and result in severe neurological complications.

Illustration

 
 
 
 

 

 
 

 
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