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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.

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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?
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