How to Prevent STDs

The only way to completely avoid getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) is to abstain from all intimate contact. However, that is not practical for most people. Fortunately, STDs are largely preventable by practicing safe sex both correctly and consistently.

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Make these strategies for lowering your risk of getting an STD part of your overall commitment to your health.


Watch Now: 7 Tips For Preventing STDs

Make All Sex Safer Sex

Practicing safe sex is only effective if you do it every time you have an encounter. Use a condom, female condom, and/or other appropriate barriers whenever you engage in intimate contact.

Take responsibility for your own sexual health and bring your own safe sex supplies. If your sex life involves anal or vaginal intercourse, always use a condom to have sex. Be consistent about barrier use (dental dams, condoms) during oral sex as well.

Barriers are not 100% protective against all STDs, but they will greatly reduce your risk.

Seek (and Encourage) STD Testing

Whether or not you are at high risk for an STD, you and your partner should strongly consider being tested before entering a new sexual relationship. If one or both of you are at high risk of disease, you should be tested even more frequently.

If you're being treated for an STD, wait until you're done with treatment before resuming sexual activity. If you don't, you and your partner could end up passing an infection back and forth.

Have Sex Only Within a Mutually Monogamous Relationship

One benefit of long-term monogamy is a reduction in the likelihood of bringing a new STD into the relationship. This, of course, hinges on starting the relationship having tested negative and, importantly, ongoing trust and commitment to this shared promise.

Have an open conversation with your partner about your and their definition of monogamy and whether they have been tested recently for STDs and what tests were done.

It is important to note that STD testing is not 100% accurate and both false positives and false negatives can occur. With herpes, the virus can lay dormant and undetected for years before a flare-up occurs. If you or your partner is diagnosed with herpes despite long-term monogamy, this could be why.

Know Your Limits

It can be hard to think clearly and critically "in the moment." That's why it's wise to think it through and be prepared before things heat up. Be clear with your own intentions and know how far you are willing to take things before you meet up.

While making a decision ahead of time can help you have a clear agenda you can lean on later, it is also important to be prepared with condoms in case you change your mind.

Talk to Your Partner

Clear communication is important for preventing STDs. Talk openly with your partner about sex, practicing safe sex, and STD testing. Open and honest communication is important in all aspects of a relationship, including this one.

It is also important to be comfortable talking to your partner about your relationship status, whether or not you are exclusive, and what monogamy means to you. Improving your communication skills will not only make your sex life safer, but it can also make it more fulfilling.

Don't Drink or Use Drugs Before Having Sex

It is difficult to make responsible choices about your sex life and practicing safe sex if you're impaired by drugs or alcohol. When under the influence, a person is more likely to have sex with someone they may not pick if they were sober. In addition, being inebriated can make it more difficult to remember to practice safe sex.

Be Comfortable Saying "No"

If you don’t want to have sex, say so. Sex is not something you "owe" someone because they bought you dinner or because you've been on a certain number of dates, for example.

It's your choice to say yes to sex, and it's also your choice to say no. Own those rights, demand they be respected, and extend respect for your partner's same decisions as well.

Consider Vaccination

Vaccines are available to protect against hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV)—sexually transmitted diseases that can have long-term consequences.

Hepatitis B infection can result in a mild illness including fever, fatigue, vomiting, and jaundice, but it can also be more serious and lead to liver failure.

The vaccine is given as a series of shots over the course of several months and is recommended at birth. Children, adolescents, and adults who have not been previously vaccinated should consider getting the vaccine.

The virus behind genital warts, HPV can lead to certain types of cancers. The vaccine, known as Gardasil 9, prevents infection with HPV types 16 and 18, which cause about 70% of cervical cancers.

Recommended at age 11 or 12 years, the vaccine can be administered between the ages of 9 and 45.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What can you do to reduce the risk of STDs?

    To prevent STDs, practice safe sex every time you have intimate contact. You should also get tested for STDs and have your partner tested before having intimate relations without using condoms or other barriers, such as dental dams. Having sex only within a mutually monogamous relationship can also reduce your risk of STDs. 

  • Can washing prevent STDs?

    Yes and no. Washing your genitals after having intercourse could wash away bacteria and virus germs before they have a chance to infect you. However, washing after sex is not guaranteed to prevent STDs.

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5 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. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How you can prevent sexually transmitted diseases. March 30, 2020.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital herpes screening: FAQ. February 9, 2017.

  3. MedlinePlus. Hepatitis B vaccine. August 15, 2019.

  4. Workowski KA, Bachmann LH, Chan PA, et al. Sexually transmitted infections treatment guidelines, 2021MMWR Recomm Rep. 2021;70(4):1-187. doi:10.15585/mmwr.rr7004a1

  5. American Academy of Family Physicians: What are sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? Updated April 25, 2019.