You might not want to talk about them, but infections that occur in the genital area can be dangerous. It’s probably been awhile since you last had health class, but you need to shake off your embarrassment to keep your private parts working their best.
Sexually transmitted diseases are not a thing of the past. In fact, their prevalence continues to rise among some populations and in certain parts of the country. But there are ways to prevent these infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the people who are most at risk include those with multiple sex partners and sexually active teenage girls. The most common STDs are infections caused by Chlamydia, Molluscum Contagiosum, Herpes virus, HIV virus, etc.
There are many things you can do to reduce your risk of contracting an sexually transmitted disease or infection (STD/STI).
1) Abstinence; We hear often that “abstinence” is a fool-proof way to avoid the risks of sexual activity, but what exactly is abstinence?
- Abstinence (a.k.a. celibacy); Someone who chooses abstinence may have sexual feelings but chooses not to have sex with others–no oral, vaginal or anal sex of any kind. Someone who practices sexual abstinence does not run any risk of contracting a STD/STI or having an unwanted pregnancy.
- Selective abstinence; Many people are sexually active but limit what they do to avoid STD/STIs and/or pregnancy or because they do not feel ready to do some sexual things. Someone who chooses to be selectively abstinent might have some kinds of sex but not others. Someone who practices selective abstinence may or may not run the risk of contracting an STD/STI and/or having an unwanted pregnancy, depending on the activities in which he or she does.
2) Mutual monogamy; Mutual monogamy (only having sex with your partner) is another way to limit exposure to STD/STIs. If neither partner has ever had sexual contact of any kind with another person, there is no risk of STD/STIs. If either person has ever had sex with anyone else, we recommend getting tested and, if necessary, treated for STD/STIs at the beginning of each relationship. Know that many STDs/STIs can be “silent,” causing no noticeable symptoms in men or women. Also know that some STD/STIs may not be detectable through testing for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, so talk to your healthcare provider about the appropriate time to get tested.
3) Communication; Talk with your partner(s) about STDs/STIs, sexual health, and prevention prior to sexual activity. Open communication fosters trust and respect among partners and is a key aspect of reducing the risks for STDs/STIs. Also, don’t be afraid to talk honestly with your health care provider about your sexual practices or to ask about STD/STI tests, including determining which STDs/STIs you’ve been tested for–and which you haven’t been.
4) Understand low risk and high risk activities; Low risk activities include open mouth kissing (French-kissing) and hand-to-genital contact. Activities that are higher risk for STD/STIs include oral sex (genital or anal), vaginal intercourse and other genital-to-genital contact, anal intercourse and sharing sex toys with no barriers. Both vaginal intercourse and any contact between a penis and a vagina are high risk for pregnancy. A woman can become pregnant even if a man “pulls out” and does not ejaculate into her vagina.
6) Avoid alcohol and recreational drug use; Avoiding alcohol and recreational drug use reduces the risk of contracting an STD/STI, having an unwanted pregnancy, or being coerced to have sex. Alcohol and drug use can reduce our ability to make good decisions and make it less likely that we will actually implement the safer sex decisions we had made previously. It may also make us more likely to be coerced into participating in an activity without being able to give our full and informed consent.