Vacations are a time to relax, let your hair down, have fun … and have sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 20 percent of travelers have casual sex while traveling in a foreign country. It’s new, exciting, and (usually) no one back home will ever know.
But it is also dangerous. Chances are, you aren’t going to ask your casual partner about HIV or other sexually transmitted infections and diseases, and even if you do, there isn’t any guarantee they are going to tell you the truth, because they don’t ever expect to see you again. The CDC states that “travelers who have casual sex, whether vaginal, anal or oral sex, are at risk for STDs such as HIV, herpes and gonorrhea.” Today, besides STIs, women who could become pregnant on vacation or within the months following their vacation must also worry about the Zika virus.
You might get caught up in the romance of it all, the exotic new city, the fascinating accent of the other person, the attention, the anonymity. You might like the idea that you can shed the person you are at home and let loose. While there are many reasons to fall into a fleeting romance, there are also things you can do to help keep yourself safe.
Who is most at risk?
Of course, anyone who goes on vacation and participates in casual sex is at risk of contracting an STI or STD. But some people who are more likely to engage in this behavior according to some recent studies.
_Single women _, especially those traveling alone or with one other companion, are more likely to have casual sex with someone they just met while on vacation than those who travel in a group. A study released in 2015 found that these women were more likely to engage in unprotected sex and were less likely to see the interactions as dangerous, especially when engaging in oral sex. They were also more likely to overestimate the effectiveness of condoms.
Another study, published in 2011, found that close to one-half of gay or bisexual men who had sex while on vacation did not know their partner’s HIV status.
What you can do
Some people plan on having casual sex during their vacation. To them, they see it as part of the fun. For others, it happens because of alcohol, drugs, or in the heat of the moment. No matter which group you fall into, there are a few ways you can prevent your chances of contracting an STD.
Get vaccinations before you travel. You should be up to date on hepatitis A, hepatitis B and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines. If you haven’t had these or aren’t sure, talk to your doctor before leaving on your trip.
Bring latex condoms** with you.** Both men and women should have a supply of condoms. If you have them, you are more likely to use them and it is better to buy them in the U.S. because some countries may not have the same quality standards for manufacturing condoms.
Limit your alcohol consumption. Drinking will lower your inhibitions and make you more prone to taking risks. To be safe, limit yourself to one or two drinks each night.
Avoid recreational drugs. Besides the fact that recreational drugs aren’t usually a good idea, you can’t be sure of the strength of drugs in different countries or the effect of the drugs.
Prostitution is legal in some countries, but that doesn't mean it is risk-free. Some prostitutes might show you a license or other paperwork indicating they are free of STDs. It is still better to avoid sex with prostitutes in all instances.
If you do have “vacation sex,” getting tested once you get home is a good idea. Of course, the best way to prevent STDs is to abstain from sex altogether.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author ofIdiot's Guide to Adult ADHD,Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love andEssential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on twitter@eileenmbaileyand on Facebook ateileenmbailey.