How to Prevent STIs

The only way to completely avoid getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is to abstain from all intimate contact. For most people, though, that's not very practical. Fortunately, practicing safer sex correctly and consistently can help prevent STIs.

This article looks at eight different strategies for lowering your risk of getting an STI.

1:18

Watch Now: 7 Tips For Preventing STDs

Seek (and Encourage) STI Testing

Before you enter a new sexual relationship, consider STI testing for you and your partner. 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 STI, 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.

Only Have Sex Within a Mutually Monogamous Relationship

Long-term monogamy reduces your chances of getting an STI. To keep the risk down, each partner needs to start the relationship with a negative test result. Ongoing trust and commitment to monogamy is also essential.

It is important to note that STI testing is not 100% accurate. False positives and false negatives can occur.

If you have 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.

Make All Sex Safer Sex

Mutual monogamy is not for everyone. If you or your partner also have sex with other people, you need to practice safer sex. This is also true if you are not sure of your partner's behaviors.

Use an external condom, internal condom, or dental dam whenever you engage in intimate contact. This includes vaginal and anal sex as well as oral sex. Barriers are not 100% protective against all STIs. They will greatly reduce your risk, however.

Practicing safer sex is only effective if you do it every time you have an encounter. Take responsibility for your sexual health and bring your own safer sex supplies.

Know Your Limits

It can be hard to think clearly when you're "in the moment." That's why it's wise to be sure about how far you are willing to go before things heat up.

Making a decision ahead of time can help you know where to draw the line. Still, it is also important to be prepared with external or internal condoms in case you change your mind.

Talk to Your Partner

Open and honest communication is important. Talk openly with your partner about sex, practicing safer sex, and STI testing. Tell your partner that you've been tested, what tests you had, and when you had them.

It is also important to be comfortable talking to your partner about if you are exclusive and what monogamy means to you.

Sharing this information with your partner will help make your sex life safer and could also help further define your relationship.

Don't Drink or Use Drugs Before Having Sex

It is difficult to make responsible choices about sex if you're impaired by drugs or alcohol. When you are under the influence, you may be more likely to have sex with someone you might not have had sex with if you were sober. You may also have a harder time remembering to practice safer 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.

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

Consider Vaccination

Scientists have developed vaccines for three STIs: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and human papillomavirus (HPV). All three vaccines are given as a series over the course of several months.

The hepatitis A vaccine series consists of two shots given six months apart. The hepatitis B vaccine is usually given in three shots. The second and third shots are given one and six months after the first, respectively.

Doctors recommend all babies and young children receive hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccination. Adolescents and adults who have not been previously vaccinated should consider getting the vaccine.

The HPV vaccine protects against nine strains of HPV, including types 16 and 18. These types cause about 70% of cervical cancers.

The vaccine is recommended for all children ages 11 to 12 years. It can be administered between the ages of 9 and 45, however.

Summary

You can practice safer sex by using a barrier every time you have sex. It is important to be consistent with your use of barrier protection.

You can also reduce your risk of an STI by getting tested and asking your partner to get tested before you begin a sexual relationship. Staying monogamous, setting limits, and avoiding drugs and alcohol before sex can also help keep you safe. The STIs hepatitis B and HPV can also be prevented with vaccination.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best way to prevent an STI?

    The best way to prevent an STI is to abstain from all intimate contact. If you do have intimate contact with someone, make sure to use barrier protection at all times, even during oral sex. Get tested for STIs and make sure your partner is also tested. If possible, practice monogamy with a partner you trust.

  • Can you prevent an STI after you've been exposed?

    You cannot prevent an infection after you've been exposed. Douching after sex, for example, won't stop you from getting an STI and may even increase your risk.

    You can, however, visit a healthcare provider for testing and any necessary treatment. This is important even if you don't have symptoms. Early treatment can prevent potentially dangerous complications and stop you from passing the infection along to someone else.

  • Can you test for STIs at home?

    If you would rather not visit a healthcare provider, you can order an at-home test. To use one of these tests, you will need to take a blood, urine, or swab sample and send it to a lab. You will usually get your results by phone, email, on a website, or on an app.

4 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. 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

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital herpes screening: FAQ.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How you can prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

  4. Ekpenyong CE, Daniel NE, Akpan EE. Vaginal douching behavior among young adult women and the perceived adverse health effects. Med Med Sci. 2014:182. doi:10.5897/JPHE2014.0622