Skip to content

Birth Control Health Center

Font Size

Safer Sex - Topic Overview

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are spread by sexual contact involving the genitals, mouth, or rectum, and can also be spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus before or during delivery. STIs, which affect both men and women, are a worldwide public health concern.

Although most STIs can be cured, some cannot, including HIV (which causes AIDS), genital herpes, and human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause genital warts.

Recommended Related to Birth Control

Is Your Birth Control as Safe as You Think?

By Laura Beil Christen Childs woke up on September 12, 2009, in the pitch dark of early morning with what she thought was a pulled muscle in her leg. She reached down to massage the cramp, trying to fathom how her left calf could be so achingly sore when she hadn't made it to the gym in weeks. This was a Saturday — by Monday, her leg was swollen and hot, and when she tried to stand, jolts of pain shot up to her spine. She consulted her brother-in-law, a doctor, and he told her to go to the ER immediately...

Read the Is Your Birth Control as Safe as You Think? article > >

STIs can be spread by people who don't know they are infected. Always use protection every time you have sex, including oral sex, until you are sure you and your partner are not infected with an STI.

If you are in a relationship, delay having sex until you are physically and emotionally prepared, have agreed to only have sex with each other, and have both been tested for STIs.

Abstinence as prevention

Completely avoiding sexual contact (abstinence), including intercourse and oral sex, is the only certain way to prevent an infection.

Discuss safer sex with your partner

Discuss STIs before you have sex with someone. Even though a sex partner doesn't have symptoms of an STI, he or she may still be infected.

Questions to ask someone before having sex include:

  • How many people have you had sex with?
  • Have you had sex without a condom?
  • Have you ever had unprotected oral sex?
  • Have you had more than one sex partner at a time?
  • Do you inject illegal drugs or have you had sex with someone who injects drugs?
  • Have you ever had unprotected sex with a prostitute?
  • Have you had a test for HIV? What were the results?
  • Have you ever had an STI, including hepatitis B or hepatitis C? Was it treated and cured?

Safer sex practices

Some STIs, such as HIV, can take up to 6 months before they can be detected in the blood. Genital herpes and the human papillomavirus (HPV) can be spread when symptoms are not present. Even if you and your partner have been tested, use condoms for all sex until you and your partner haven't had sex with another person for 6 months. Then get tested again.

  • Watch for symptoms of STIs, such as unusual discharge, sores, redness, or growths in your and your partner's genital area, or pain while urinating.
  • Don't have more than one sex partner at a time. The safest sex is with one partner who has sex only with you. Every time you add a new sex partner, you are being exposed to all of the diseases that all of their partners may have. Your risk for an STI increases if you have several sex partners at the same time.
  • Use a condom every time you have sex. A condom is the best way to protect yourself from STIs. Latex and polyurethane condoms do not let STI viruses pass through, so they offer good protection from STIs. Condoms made from sheep intestines do not protect against STIs.
  • Use a water-based lubricant such as K-Y Jelly or Astroglide to help prevent tearing of the skin if there is a lack of lubrication during sexual intercourse. Small tears in the vagina during vaginal sex or in the rectum during anal sex allow STI bacteria or viruses to get into your blood.
  • Avoid douching if you are a woman, because it can change the normal balance of organisms in the vagina and increases the risk of getting an STI.
  • Be responsible. Avoid sexual contact if you have symptoms of an infection or if you are being treated for an STI, such as HIV. If you or your partner has herpes, avoid sexual contact when a blister is present and use condoms at all other times.

For more information see: Sexually Transmitted Infections.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: January 28, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
    1
    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    IUD
    Here's what to expect.
    man opening condom wrapper
    Do you know the right way to use them?
     
    birth control pills
    Here's what to do next.
    doctor and patient
    His and her options.
     
    Forgot To Take Your Birth Control Pills
    Article
    pelivic pain slideshow
    Slideshow
     
    Birth Control Pills Weight Gain
    Article
    Ortho Evra Birth Control Patch
    Article
     
    Comparing Birth Control Pill
    Article
    New Birth Control Pill
    Video
     
    HPV Vaccine Future
    Article
    Young couple holding hands
    Quiz