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Safer Sex

Table of Contents


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.

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:

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.

For more information see: Sexually Transmitted Infections.


Credits for Safer Sex

Current as of: February 11, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Peter Shalit MD, PhD - Internal Medicine


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