Top tips for avoiding an STI
It is important to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections. Taking the necessary precautions, having regular check ups (ideally your partner too) and talking to your partner about safe sex can help prevent infection. Here are some tips for avoiding STIs.
Do: Use condoms every time you have sex
Why: If you are having sex without a condom, the chances of catching an STI are quite high. Condoms help protect against most STIs including chlamydia, gonorrhoea and HIV. These infections don't always have symptoms, which means that you might not even know if you have an infection. You then run the risk of not getting treatment (and complications) and passing on the infection to others.
Using condoms also lowers your chances of getting genital herpes and warts but they do not give you 100% protection. These viruses can be present on areas not covered by a condom so can still be passed on by genital contact. Even when used correctly, there is a risk that condoms can still tear or break, so be vigilant.
Do: Use a water-based lubricant as opposed to oil-based lubricants
Why: Oil-based lubricants can damage latex condoms, making them less effective and causing them to break or tear. Stick to water based lubricants to avoid this happening. If you are sensitive to latex you can use plastic condoms.
Do: Avoid giving oral sex if you have cuts or sores in the mouth
Why: There is a risk of contracting STIs through mouth-to-genital contact. The risk is higher if you have cuts, sores or ulcers in or around the mouth. Avoid brushing your teeth or using dental floss shortly before giving oral sex as this could cause your gums to bleed. For oral sex on a man use a condom and for oral sex on a women use a dam (female condom).
Do: Get vaccinated for Hepatitis B
Why: This is a series of three injections which anyone who is at greater risk of contracting Hepatitis B should get such as: men who have sex with men, those who inject drugs, change partners frequently, have sex with a partner infected with Hepatitis B or at high risk of Hepatitis B or those travelling to or from high risk countries.
Do: Keep condoms cool
Why: Heat can damage condoms so store them somewhere cool and dry. Check the expiry date on the packaging as condoms don't last forever and may have passed the point at which they are effective to use.
Do: Know what birth control does
Why: Birth control pills, patches, rings and long acting reversible contraceptives are very good at preventing pregnancy, if used correctly and consistently. But they don't protect against STIs. Therefore it is important to use condoms as well as they can can help to reduce your risk of getting an STI.
Do: Take any unusual genital symptoms seriously
Why: These include for women any unusual discharge from your vagina, a burning sensation when urinating, any abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain in the lower abdomen, pain when having sex or any unusual lesions. Ignoring these symptoms could lead to serious infection, and if left untreated increase your risk of infertility, miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy pregnancy outside the womb), so make sure you see a doctor.
For men these symptoms include unusual discharge from the tip of the penis, a burning sensation when urinating, having pain or swelling of the testicles or if you've noticed any unusual lesions. Ignoring these symptoms could lead to serious complications including infertility if left untreated, so make sure you see a doctor.
Do: Know the STI and HIV link
Why: Having another STI increases your chances of getting HIV. In addition having a sore or break in the skin can allow HIV to enter the body more easily so always use condoms, get tested regularly, stay vigilant when it comes to symptoms and don't let anything go untreated.
Do: Know the STI and cervical cancer link
Why: The human papilloma virus (HPV) is a common virus that's often spread during sex. There are more than 100 different types of HPV. However two strains of the virus called HPV 16 and HPV 18 are known to be responsible for 70% of all cases of cervical cancer. These types of HPV infection often have no symptoms so many women will not realise they have the infection. It is therefore very important for women to have regular cervical smear tests, as these can pick up changes in the cervix at a very early stage.