Safe Sex and STIs
The best way to avoid getting an STI (sexually transmitted infection)? Abstinence. The second best way? Use a condom every time you have sex.
Half the people in your homeroom will have had an STI by the time they’re 25. Scary, but true. STIs can cause cancer, affect your future fertility, and even threaten your life. And since there is no way to know who has an STI, you’ll need to be extra careful to protect your health.
Common STI Myths
“You can tell when someone has an STI.”
Despite the gross-out pictures they showed you in health class, the majority of people with an STI have no symptoms and no visible sores. Most people who have herpes got it from partners who didn’t even know they have it.
“I’ve been tested; I’m fine.”
The claim of having “been tested” isn’t always what it seems. Here’s why:
Men and women can be tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV. There is a blood test for herpes; however, it is always ordered by doctors, and many people with herpes have no symptoms, so they never get tested.
There is currently no test to determine if a man has HPV, and while there is a test for women to see if they have the cervical-cancer-causing strains of HPV, there is no test for the other strains of HPV (including the kind that cause genital warts).
Just because someone claims they’ve been tested doesn’t mean they’ve been tested for everything, and definitely doesn’t mean there’s no need to use a condom.
“I already had unprotected sex with my partner, and I didn’t catch anything, so I don’t need to use a condom.”
You won’t always catch an STI the first time you have sex with an infected partner, but you’ll catch it eventually if you keep having unprotected sex with that person. That’s why it’s important, even if you’ve had unprotected sex in the past, to use a condom every time.
“I used a condom, so I can’t have an STI.”
A few STIs, like herpes and genital warts, can be spread just by naked skin-to-skin contact. But condoms are still the best protection we have against most STIs, including the potentially lethal ones like HIV, so it’s important to use one every time you have sex.
If you choose to have sex, use a condom AND another form of birth control such as an IUD, implant, or the pill to prevent both STIs and pregnancy. Learn more about birth control options and how to make a plan with your partner.