Today, we have a better understanding of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). There is a tremendous amount of information on how to prevent the spread of STDs and yet, in 2010, there was a 5.4 percent increase in the number of people being diagnosed with Chlamydia alone and it is estimated that more than one half of all people will have an STD/ STI at some point in their life. While some of this can be attributed to more accessible and better screening and an advance in education about this disease, it is also troubling. With so much information available on lowering risks of contracting STDs/STIs, why are more and more people being diagnosed each year?
While abstinence is certainly the most effective way of preventing contracting an STD/ STI, most people choose to take the chance, opting for an active sex life. There are however, steps you can take to reduce your risk of contracting an STD/STI:
1. Educate Yourself. Learn about risk factors, prevention, symptoms and treatment. The more you know, the more you can prevent developing an STD/STI.
2. Create an open, honest communication with your partner. It is hard, especially in the early stages of a relationship, to talk openly about sex, STDs/STIs, and safe sex. But communication is essential to a good, long-term relationship. Start early by finding out each other’s viewpoints on monogamy, birth control, condoms and other sexual matters.
4.** Practice safe sex, every time.** Using barrier methods, such as condoms, female condoms or gloves, helps to reduce your chance of contracting an STD/STI but only if you practice safe sex every time you have sex. It only takes one time to contract a disease or infection. If you participate in oral sex, barrier methods should be used as well. Remember, it is your responsibility to make sure you have safe sex. Don’t rely on your partner, whether you are male or female, have “safe-sex supplies” with you instead of counting on your partner to have them.
5.** Schedule regular STD/STI screenings.** If you have an active sex life, you should be regularly tested (and treated if necessary) for STDs/STIs. Before entering a new sexual relationship, talk to your partner about being tested before having sex. If you or your partner are in high risk categories for STD/STI, you should have testing more frequently. If any screenings or testing is positive, follow up on all treatment and don’t resume your sex life until you have finished the treatment.
6. Choose to have sex within monogamous relationships. Rather than using sex as part of the dating process, hold off on having sex until you both have committed to a monogamous relationship. If you both have been tested and are free of any STDs/STIs, then as long as you both remain faithful, you can safely have a sexual relationship without concern about new illnesses.
7.** Limit the number of sexual partners.** Although it is possible to get an STD/STI the first time you have sex, research shows that every new partner increases your risk. Be selective about who you have sex with and know that sex is never a necessity. You don’t have to have sex with someone because you think he expects it. Sex is always your choice. Choose carefully.
8. Delay having sex. Okay, so for many of you, it’s too late for this, your “first time” has come and gone. But when talking with your children or other teens who are considering have sex, let them know that the earlier they begin, the greater their chance of catching an HPV virus and other STDs/STIs.
9. Plan ahead. Before heading out the door for your date, decide if you are ready to enter a sexual relationship with your date, if the opportunity develops. If you aren’t sure if you are ready, then decide that you are not going to have sex tonight. Decide how far you are willing to go, is it okay to fool around a little but sexual intercourse is not alright? Are you ready to begin a more intimate relationship? Knowing ahead of time what you are emotionally and physically prepared for will help you enter into this stage of the relationship without regretting your decision.
10. Stay away from alcohol and/or drugs. Being intoxicated, whether by alcohol or drugs, can impede your decision making process and your good judgment. You may be more willing to have sex and less likely to practice safe sex when under the influence. If you are planning a night of partying, decide to not have sex until you can think about your decision with a clear head.
"National Overview of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 2010, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“Safe Sex,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Cigna Behavioral Health
“Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD),” Updated 2011, Feb 16, Staff Writer, Clark County Public Health
“STD/STI Statistics,” Updated 2011, July 18, Staff Writer, American Social Health Asociation
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.