Can You Get an STD Without Having Sex?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are typically transmitted or passed through sexual activity such as oral, vaginal, or anal sex. However, some STDs may be transmitted through casual conduct, like sharing food or borrowing dirty towels.

Bloodborne infections, such as hepatitis B and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), can be transmitted through nonsexual contact with infected body fluids, such as blood.

This article reviews how STDs are transmitted, ways they spread without having sex, STD prevention, and signs of an STD.

Healthcare provider speaking with a patient.

Business / Getty Images

The Importance of Regular Screening and Testing

Up to 90% of STDs do not have symptoms. This makes prevention, screening, and testing vital for maintaining sexual and reproductive health.

How Are STDs Transmitted?

The most common way to transmit an STD is through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. However, STDs can be transmitted through bodily fluids during other types of intimate activity, such as kissing, genital touching, or sharing sex toys. 

STDs can also be transmitted through nonsexual contact with body fluids, such as saliva, vaginal fluids, male ejaculation, blood, and more. Mothers can pass some STDs to their babies during pregnancy, labor, and breastfeeding.

Ways STDs Are Spread Without Having Sex

Sexual intercourse does not have to occur for STDs to spread. Transmission can occur from the following activities. 


Mononucleosis, a type of herpes virus, is a highly contagious disease. It can be transmitted through sexual contact but is known as the “kissing disease” because it is passed through kissing and saliva. You can also get it by sharing utensils, drinks, and other types of close contact.

While herpes simplex 1 (oral herpes) is not considered an STD, you can transmit it through kissing. It could then transfer to the genital areas through oral-genital contact. Herpes simplex 2 (genital herpes) spreads through sexual intimacy.

Oral Sex

During oral sex, your lips, mouth, and throat come into contact with bodily fluids and possibly menstrual blood. 

There is a slight chance of getting a bloodborne STD, such as hepatitis B or HIV, if you have oral sex with someone who is menstruating (period bleeding). This is especially true if you have open sores or cuts in your mouth.

Chlamydia, human papillomavirus (HPV), genital herpes, syphilis, and gonorrhea can also be transmitted through oral sex. However, syphilis and genital herpes transmission is more likely if there are open sores in the genital area.

Skin-to-Skin Contact

Some STDs, such as herpes, syphilis, and HPV, can spread through brief skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the infection. This can occur when your genitals or mouth touch their genitals, mouth, or anal area. 

It is also possible to get an STD if you touch a sore and then touch your genitals, mouth, or eyes before washing your hands. The HPV that causes genital warts can be transmitted through genital-to-genital or genital-to-anal contact, even if there is no contact with the wart. 

Contaminated Food

Hepatitis A (HAV) is passed through the oral-fecal (poop) route. For example, someone can transmit HAV if they do not wash their hands before preparing food or drinks. 

You can also get HAV by sharing food with someone, especially if their blood gets into a sore or cut in your mouth. The blood in their mouth could come from a sore or bleeding gums. While contracting HAV this way is rare, it’s best not to share food with others.

Contaminated Fabric

Trichomonas vaginalis is the parasite that causes one of the most common STDs, trichomoniasis. This parasite can live on damp fabrics for up to an hour.

Pubic lice or “crabs” can be spread through infested bedding, clothing, and towels.

Contaminated Surfaces

Bloodborne infections, including HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C can be transmitted by sharing needles or syringes. Theoretically, you could get it from a contaminated toothbrush or razor if blood is present.

Shared Medical Equipment

Most people associate needle or syringe sharing with illegal drug use. However, it can also occur through sharing contaminated blood sugar monitoring equipment or insulin needles and syringes. 

While most STDs don’t live outside the body for long, some can remain on surfaces such as unwashed sex toys. STDs that can spread by sharing unwashed sex toys include:

  • Trichomoniasis
  • Gonorrhea
  • Herpes
  • HPV
  • Chlamydia

Blood Transfusion

One could transmit bloodborne STDs, such as HIV or hepatitis, through blood transfusions. However, this is highly unlikely in countries with strict screening and testing requirements for blood and blood donors. The risk increases if you are residing in a country with fewer restrictions.

Nonsexual Transmission Chances

Transmission through nonsexual contact is rare, but it does occur. Less than 1% of bloodborne STDs arise due to an accidental needlestick. 

Nonsexual transmission risk increases with pregnancy (mother to baby), sharing drug injection equipment, and direct exposure to body fluids, blood, or open sores. 

STD Prevention

STD prevention starts with screening, testing, and available STD vaccinations. There are at-home STD tests you can use, but it’s essential to notify your healthcare provider if you receive a positive test result. 

The following are also crucial STD prevention strategies:

  • Limit your number of sexual partners or abstain from sexual activity.
  • Limit sexual activity to a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. 
  • Use barrier devices such as condoms, finger cots, and dental dams
  • Avoid sharing medical equipment or drug injection equipment (needles, syringes, razors, blood glucose monitoring devices).
  • Clean sex toys after every use.
  • Get STD vaccinations (when available).
  • Avoid sharing food, utensils, or unwashed linens.
  • Wash your hands after sexual intimacy.
  • Take antiviral medications (this is for the infected partner with viral STDs).

Bacterial Vaginosis

While bacterial vaginosis (BV) is not considered an STD, it is linked to sexual activity. Untreated BV also increases a woman’s risk of getting STDs. To prevent BV, follow the above STD precautions and avoid douching and using fragranced feminine hygiene products. It’s also helpful to wear breathable underwear and wipe front to back. 

Signs of an STD

Signs and symptoms of an STD vary based on the disease. Many do not have symptoms for months or years, and STDs may go unnoticed until you or a partner receives a positive test result. 

 When there are signs or symptoms of an STD, they may include:


Oral, vaginal, or anal sex are the most common ways to spread sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). You can also get STDs through intimate skin-to-skin contact or kissing without intercourse. Sometimes people pass STDs to one another through casual conduct, like sharing food or borrowing unclean linens. 

Bloodborne infections like hepatitis B and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can be transmitted through nonsexual contact with infected body fluids. They can also be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy or delivery.

The majority of those with STDs do not have any symptoms or have delayed symptoms. This makes prevention, screening, and testing essential for sexual and reproductive health.

A Word From Verywell

There is a lot of stigma and stress attached to STDs, and it can be shocking to receive a diagnosis. It’s especially surprising if you contracted one through nonsexual contact or don’t have symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial. While not all STDs are curable, medical treatment decreases the harmful effects of an STD. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take for an STD to go away?

    This depends on the STD and treatment. Rarely do STDs such as HPV resolve on their own within a few weeks or years. Bacterial STDs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, start resolving within a few days of taking antibiotics. Viral STDs, such as HIV, HPV, and herpes, do not have a cure. However, antiviral medications help decrease their harmful effects on the body. 

  • Can you get an STD from a toilet seat?

    While some STD organisms can live on contaminated surfaces for a limited time, getting an STD from a toilet seat is rare and highly unlikely. This would require direct genital or anal contact with a very recently deposited body fluid. Risk increases with damp toilet seats or if you have a sore that comes into contact with an organism that causes STDs.

  • What are the early signs of STDs?

    Early signs and symptoms include unusual or foul-smelling vaginal discharge; penile discharge; oral, genital, or anal sores; painful intercourse, ejaculation or urination; a visible infestation of pubic lice; and flu-like symptoms. It’s worth noting that 90% of those with STDs do not have symptoms. 

15 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wagenlehner F, Brockmeyer N, Discher T, Friese K, Wichelhaus TA. The presentation, diagnosis, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2016;113(1-02):11-22. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2016.0011

  2. How is HIV transmitted? How do you get or transmit HIV?

  3. Nemours Kids Health. Mononucleosis (mono).

  4. Limeres Posse J, Diz Dios P, Scully C. Viral diseases transmissible by kissing. Saliva Protection and Transmissible Diseases. 2017:53-92. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-813681-2.00004-4

  5. World Health Organization. Herpes simplex virus.

  6. Dahlstrom K, Burchell A, Ramanakumar A, et al. Sexual transmission of oral human papillomavirus infection among men. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2014;23(12):2959-64. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-14-0386

  7. Chow E, Fairley C. The role of saliva in gonorrhea and chlamydia transmission to extragenital sites among men who have sex with men: new insights into transmission. J Int AIDS Soc. 2019;22:e25354. doi:10.1002/jia2.25354

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital herpes: basic fact sheet.

  9. Planned Parenthood. Oral and genital herpes.

  10. Nemours Kids Health. Genital warts (HPV).

  11. Nemours Kids Health. Pubic lice (crabs).

  12. Anderson T, Schick V, Herbenick D, Dodge B, Fortenberry JD. A study of human papillomavirus on vaginally inserted sex toys, before and after cleaning, among women who have sex with women and men. Sex Transm Infect. 2014;90(7):529-31. doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2014-051558

  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): detailed fact sheet.

  14. Bagnall P, Rizzolo D. Bacterial vaginosis: a practical review. J Am Acad Phys Assist. 2017;30(12):15-21. doi:10.1097/01.JAA.0000526770.60197.fa

  15. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV fact sheet.

Additional Reading

By Brandi Jones, MSN-ED RN-BC
Brandi is a nurse and the owner of Brandi Jones LLC. She specializes in health and wellness writing including blogs, articles, and education.