How to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases

In This Article

Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, are infections that spread through intimate contact with body fluids, such as semen, saliva, blood, and vaginal secretions. Common STDs include herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and HPV.

Abstinence, monogamy, and practicing safe sex are the top ways to prevent getting an STD.

If you're dating or engaging in casual sex, it's important to have sex safely. This is not limited to just sexual intercourse. STDs can be spread through oral sex, anal sex, or skin-to-skin contact, such as hands.

Practicing safe sex every time you have sex can help to protect you against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Making this commitment can also help you feel more confident in your sexual decision making. Safe sex may not be foolproof. However, choosing to practice it consistently also forces you to make a conscious decision to have sex instead of just letting it happen. That, along with the conversations that safe sex requires, is a great way to reduce the chance that you'll do something you regret.

Sexual Intercourse

Vaginal sex and anal sex are both types of sexual intercourse that can be made safer by using a condom. Always check the condom's expiration date before you open the packet and confirm the packaging is intact by checking for the air bubble.

Use a water- or silicone-based lubricant to reduce the risk of tearing and other damage during sex, which can reduce the risk of transmitting an STD. This is important even if you're using lubricated condoms. However, you may want to avoid lubricants that contain nonoxynol-9, a spermicide that may cause irritation.

Male Condoms

If you're using a male condom to have safe sex, you should put the condom on as soon as the penis becomes erect (or before using a toy for insertion). Putting the condom on early will reduce the risk of passing on any diseases that are spread from skin-to-skin contact as well as the risk of forgetting to put one on.

It is important to leave enough room at the tip of the condom for ejaculation and to ensure no air is trapped at the tip. This can help reduce the risk of the condom breaking.

If you start to put a condom on inside out, you should throw it out and start over again with a new condom. Do not roll it off and try again. When withdrawing from your partner, be sure to hold the base of the condom to decrease the risk of slippage and condom failure.

Female Condoms

Female condoms can be inserted at the start of genital contact, although you may need to use a little lube both on the outside and the inside.

Oral Sex

Intercourse is not the only way STDs are spread. There are several types of oral sex including oral-penile contact (fellatio, or a blow job), oral-vaginal contact (cunnilingus), and oral-anal contact (analingus, or rimming). All of these types of oral sex carry some amount of STD risk. This can be reduced by having safe sex.

Protected oral sex can reduce the risk of STDs that are spread by bodily fluids, such as gonorrhea, as well as those spread by skin-to-skin contact, such as syphilis and herpes.


For fellatio, use unlubricated or flavored condoms and put the condom on as soon as the man becomes erect.

Dental Dams

When performing oral sex on a woman or engaging in oral-anal contact, use a barrier such as a dental dam. Dental dams can either be purchased from a sex supply store or made by cutting up a condom. Some sex toy companies make dental dam harnesses to make it easier to have hands-free safe oral sex.

Putting lube on the back side of the dental dam (the side facing the genitals) can make safe oral sex much more enjoyable.

Hand-to-Genital Contact

Mutual masturbation and other ways that people have sex with their fingers and hands are less risky than ways of having sex when bodily fluids are exchanged. However, they can be made safer.

Using latex or nitrile gloves or finger cots can reduce the transmission of bacteria and other pathogens that can be found on the skin or under the nails. They can also reduce the risk of people transferring infections to themselves with their hands.

It's a good idea to use lubricant both when digitally penetrating a partner or giving a hand job. Lubrication reduces the risk of chafing and skin damage and improves sensation.

Latex and nitrile gloves are available in a wide range of colors, which some people find to be much sexier than the standard white. You can also make your own finger cots by cutting the fingers off of latex or nitrile gloves.

If you have long nails, padding them with cotton before putting on a glove can reduce your risk of both scratching your partner and making a hole in the glove. Using gloves can also make it less necessary to cut your nails before using your hands to have sex.

Always switch gloves between penetrating the anus and vagina or mouth to prevent the spread of bacteria.

A Word From Verywell

The basic principles of safer sex are independent of sexual orientation or gender identity. Safe sex is a useful tool in everyone's arsenal. 

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Article Sources

  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Updated January 8, 2018.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dental Dam Use. Updated August 12, 2016.

  3. Planned Parenthood. Surgical Gloves and Finger Cots: Not Just for Doctors and Not Just for Fingers.

Additional Reading