How to Protect Yourself from STDs

Medically Reviewed

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are about twice as likely to be transmitted from a man to a woman as from a woman to a man. Most STDs are treatable. Syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis can be cured with antibiotics. Genital herpes, genital warts, and AIDS cannot be cured, but they can be treated or managed.

But no sexually transmitted disease can be accurately diagnosed and treated without professional help. There are no home remedies, so see a doctor or another healthcare professional if you are infected or suspect you might be.

Apart from abstinence, the most reliable way to prevent a sexually transmitted disease is monogamy with a monogamous partner. If these circumstances do not apply in your case, you should take the following measures.

Use latex condoms. When used correctly and consistently, latex condoms provide highly effectivethough not infallible—protection against infection. Condoms made from polyurethane or other synthetic material offer comparable protection. However, condoms made from natural membrane (lambskin) cannot be relied on to block the transmission of HIV and other STDs. Use a new condom for each sex act—genital, oral, or anal. Condoms may not offer as much protection against infection with HPV, which can be a precursor to cervical cancer.

Consider a female condom if a male condom can’t be used. If used correctly and consistently, a female condom might substantially reduce the risk of some STDs, according to a few clinical studies.

Don’t count on a diaphragm for STD prevention. Use of a diaphragm has been demonstrated to protect against gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis, but not against other STDs. On the basis of all available evidence, diaphragms should not be relied on as the sole source of protection against HIV infection.

Vaginal spermicides containing nonoxynol-9 (N-9) are not recommended for STD reduction. Used with or without a diaphragm, vaginal spermicides containing N-9 are not effective in preventing certain STDs. In addition, condoms lubricated with spermicides are no more effective at STD prevention than other lubricated condoms. Spermicide-coated condoms also have a shorter shelf life. Moreover, frequent use of N-9 spermicides has been associated with inflammation of vaginal tissue, which might increase the risk of HIV transmission.

Know your partner. It’s risky to have sexual intercourse with someone you’ve just met.

Be observant. Don’t have sexual contact with anyone who has genital or anal sores, a visible rash, a discharge, or any other sign of an STD. But being observant is not a substitute for knowing your partner. You may also wish to ask your partner to get tested for infections such as HIV.

Know the signs. Recognize the symptoms of STDs and seek medical treatment at once if you notice them in yourself. A lesion, blister, sore, discharge, or rash in the genital or anal area should be a signal to seek medical help. If you’re at risk for STDs, persistent unexplained flu-like symptoms and abdominal pain are other signals to see your doctor.

Use caution with needles. Syphilis and hepatitis B and C, like HIV, can be transmitted by contaminated needles. Make sure such instruments used in tattooing, acupuncture, and even ear piercing are sterile (or, better yet, disposable). Of course, injectable drug users should never share needles.

Get vaccinated against hepatitis B. The shot will protect you against contracting that STD.