Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) | Prevention

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Can STIs be prevented?

Yes. The only sure way to prevent STIs is by not having sex. If you have sex, you can lower your risk of getting an STI by only having sex with someone who isn't having sex with anyone else and who doesn't have an STI.

You should always use condoms when having sex, including oral and anal sex.

Do condoms prevent STIs?

Male latex condoms can reduce your risk of getting an STI if used correctly (see the box below). Be sure to use them every time you have sex. Female condoms aren't as effective as male condoms, but should be used when a man won't use a male condom.

Remember, though, that condoms aren't 100% safe and can't protect you from coming in contact with some sores (such as those that can occur with herpes) or warts (which can be caused by HPV infection).

How to use male condoms

  • Put the condom on before any contact is made.
  • Unroll the condom over an erect penis to the base of the penis. (Uncircumcised men should pull back their foreskin before unrolling.) The unrolled ring should be on the outside. Leave about 1/2 inch of space in the tip so semen can collect there. Squeeze the tip to get the air out.
  • Pull out after ejaculating and before the penis gets soft. To pull out, hold the rim of the condom at the base of the penis to make sure it doesn't slip off.
  • Don't reuse condoms.

How to use female condoms

  • Follow the directions on the condom package for correct placement. Be sure the inner ring goes as far into the vagina as it can. The outer ring stays outside the vagina.
  • Guide the penis into the condom.
  • After sex, remove the condom before standing up by gently pulling it out.
  • Don't reuse condoms.

What else should I do to prevent STIs?

Limit the number of sex partners you have. Ask your partner if he or she has, or has had, an STI and tell your partner if you have had one. Talk about whether you've both been tested for STIs and whether you should be tested.

Look for signs of an STI in your sex partner. But remember that STIs don't always cause symptoms. Don't have sex if you or your partner are being treated for an STI.

Wash your genitals with soap and water and urinate soon after you have sex. This may help clean away some germs before they have a chance to infect you.

Should I use a spermicide to help prevent STIs?

No. It was once thought that spermicides with nonoxynol-9 could help prevent STIs much like they help prevent pregnancy -- by damaging the organisms that cause the diseases. New research has shown that nonoxynol-9 can irritate a woman’s vagina and cervix, actually increasing the risk of STI infection.

Be sure to check the ingredients of any other sex-related products you own, such as lubricants and condoms. Some brands of these products may have nonoxynol-9 added to them. If you are unsure if your spermicide or any other product contains nonoxynol-9, ask your doctor before using it.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 04/14
Created: 01/00

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