Think You're Safe?

Laura Gilbert

So you think you're disease-free. You got a clean bill of sexual health the last time you went to the doctor, your partner seems totally clean, and besides, the two of you haven't even slept together yet.

With all the emphasis on "safe sex," you may be surprised to learn that even kissing, manual (hand-to-genitals), and oral sex can pass along sexually transmitted diseases. Don't assume you're totally safe just because you haven't gone all the way.

Here's what you need to know to keep from contracting a sexlessly transmitted disease:

  • "Use as much protection as you can, particularly early in a relationship," says Duncan Turner, M.D., an OB/GYN in private practice in Santa Barbara, California. This means using a barrier method each and every time you engage in oral sex or sexual activity in which you and your partner's genitals are in contact (up to and including intercourse). For oral sex, use condoms (try the flavored ones) or dental dams (you can improvise by using a sheet of plastic wrap or even a condom that's slit from top to bottom and spread out).
  • Wash your hands before and after sexual contact. This simple common sense move can help reduce the risk that you'll catch (or give) an infection or disease to (or from) your partner.
  • Urinate after any sexual contact. "If there's no barrier protection, emptying your bladder afterwards can at least help a little-you'll reduce your risk of a bladder infection or a yeast infection," says Turner.
  • Get screened for STDs every six months if you're having any type of unprotected sexual contact (whether or not you have intercourse).

It's not that often that partners pass along diseases through foreplay, but that doesn't mean it's not as serious when it does happen. "People don't take these diseases as seriously as they should," says Turner. Regardless of how you got 'em, certain diseases can sterilize, sicken and even kill you.

Here's a quick look at some of the VD that even virgins are at risk for.

Gonorrhea
How you can get it: Oral sex. How common it is: 325,000 new cases a year in the U.S.* The symptoms: Sometimes none, otherwise pain and discharge. Is it serious? Besides being painful, untreated gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancies and conjunctivitis in women, and arthritis in men.

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