Around 20 million new sexually transmitted diseases/infections (STDs/STIs) occur every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many STDs are asymptomatic, meaning there are no outward symptoms to alert you to the disease. Instead, they may cause serious health problems years later. While you might not be able to completely eliminate your risk of contracting an STD, you can reduce the risk. The following are 10 ways to lower your chances of contracting an STD.
Not having sex is the only way to avoid contracting an STD, including HIV. This is not a choice most people are willing to make. Practicing abstinence doesn’t mean that you can’t have a close and intimate relationship. Physical affection can be shown through kissing, hugging, massaging, etc. You can spend time together talking, going to the park, and enjoying one another’s company. Having sex can be saved until you and your partner are ready to make a monogamous commitment to one another.
Practice Safe Sex Every Time
You might practice safe sex on nights when you know there is a good possibility of having sex and are prepared. But on nights (or days) when sex is spontaneous or unexpected, you might give in to the moment and the passion. You might think "one time won’t matter." But one time does matter. Make it a rule that you will only have sex when you have the tools (male or female condoms) to practice safe sex. Remember, you should practice sex with intercourse (vaginal and anal) and oral sex.
Talk to Your Partner Before You Have Sex
Many people feel uncomfortable talking about sex, but it is important to be able to talk to your partner first. Make sure you both agree on safe sex methods and birth control. Make sure you are both ready to commit to a mutually exclusive relationship. Ask your potential partner to have STD testing done before you have sex (be willing to have this testing done yourself). Honest and clear communication is important to any relationship. If you don’t feel you can talk to your partner, there might be something lacking in the relationship.
Get Tested on a Regular Basis
If you have, or have had, multiple sexual partners, it is important to have STD testing done on a regular basis. Some STDs, including HIV, can take several months before showing up on test results. You should schedule STD screening several times per year if you are sexually active.
Avoid Drinking or Doing Drugs
Drinking and drugs can lead to poor decision-making. It is easier to give in to sex, or to give in to not using condoms after having a few drinks or smoking a joint. If you are heading out to a party and know you will be drinking or getting high, make a promise to yourself that you won’t have sex. Ask a friend to help you keep that promise and bring you home instead of allowing you to leave with someone else.
When heading out on a date (or to a party), decide whether you want to end the night with sex. You can decide ahead of time and stick to your decision. Make the decision early before you are swayed by a few drinks or sexual attraction. This way, it is a rational decision and you are more likely to stick with it.
Accept That You Have the Right to Say "No"
Having sex is a decision and both partners should be comfortable with. You might worry that your potential partner won’t want to see you again if you say no, or you might feel your partner will break up with you if you don’t give in to their advances. You have the right to say no. You have the right to not have sex. You have heard it before: If the person doesn’t respect your choice, then you need to rethink the relationship. On the other side, if your partner says no, you need to respect that decision and find a different way of showing that you care.
Don’t Rely on the Other Person for Protection
You are responsible for your health; therefore, you are responsible for your protection. Whether you are male or female, if there is a possibility of sex, you should have a condom with you. Don’t rely on the male to carry condoms. If neither of you have a condom, sex should wait until a time when you do have one.
Limit Your Sexual Partners
Each sexual partner increases your risk of being exposed to an STD. Reducing your risk means limiting the number of people with whom you have sex. Be selective in choosing sexual partners. You might want to create a list of "needs" before engaging in sex. This list can include monogamy, dating for six months (or a period of time you see as reasonable), willingness to get tested, and willingness to use condoms. Limit your sexual partners to those who share your sexual values.
Don’t Rely on "Impressions"
It is impossible to know whether someone has an STD. Don’t assume that someone who looks "shady" has an STD and someone who looks "clean cut" doesn’t. You can’t tell if someone has an STD by looking at them. It is important to remember that anyone can have an STD and that many people have an STD without having any symptoms. Some people don’t even know they have an STD. Don’t rely on your impression that he or she is "nice" and, therefore, is safe.
Practicing safe sex (or at least safer sex) can help protect you from STDs, including HIV and unwanted pregnancies. Always remember that you have a choice and your choice should be respected.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.