10 Ways to Prevent Contracting an STD

The best way to prevent a sexually transmitted disease (STD) is not to have sex, but that isn't a choice that most people are always willing to make. Fortunately, once you have chosen to have sex, there are ways to reduce the risk of contracting an STD. How? Well first, you need to know yourself. Second, you need to know your partner. And third? You need to know about condoms and safer sex.

Make All Sex Safer Sex

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Safer sex, with a condom, female condom, gloves, and/or other appropriate barriers, only works if you are consistent about it.

Make up your mind to have safer sex every time you have sex. If your sex life involves anal or vaginal intercourse, determine that you'll never have sex without a condom.

If you or your partner is at high risk of STDs, 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

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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 is 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

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The number of partners you have at a given time is entirely up to you. A benefit of two people who only have intercourse or sexual contact with one another, however, is that there's no opportunity to bring 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 having been tested (what tests, when they were done). Also be clear about what monogamy means for each of you so you're sure you are on the same page.

Know Your Limits

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It's hard to think clearly and critically "in the moment." That's why it's wise to think through how far you want to go with a partner (or a potential partner) before things heat up.

Before you meet up, ask yourself:

  • If the opportunity arises, do you want to have sex?
  • Are you comfortable with fooling around a little, but not with oral sex or intercourse?

Make your decision ahead of time so you have a clear agenda you can lean on later.

Talk to Your Partner

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If you can't talk to your partner about sex, you can't talk to them about safer sex. Clear, open, and honest communication is important in all aspects of a relationship, including this one.

It is important to be able to talk comfortably with your partner not only about safer sex and STD testing, but about monogamy and whether your relationship is or isn't exclusive.

In all cases, try your best to focus on the truth as opposed to what you think your partner wants to hear. Improving your communication skills will not only make your sex life safer, it can make it more fulfilling.

Don't Drink or Use Drugs Before Having Sex

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It's difficult to make responsible choices about your sex life if you're starting out impaired by drugs or alcohol.

When you are under the influence, you are more likely to choose to have sex with someone you wouldn’t otherwise have picked as a partner. In addition, you're less likely to be able to successfully negotiate safer sex.

Also of note, if you’re on oral contraception and you vomit, your pill could lose some effectiveness.

If you do plan to go out drinking or use other substances, talk with a friend about what you would and would not want to do and where your limits are (in terms of substance use and sex). You can even write some keywords on your hand to remind yourself of your intentions.

Be Comfortable Saying No

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You never have to have sex. If you don’t want to have sex at all, or just not right then, that’s OK. 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.

Be Responsible for Your Own Protection

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Part of making responsible sexual choices is being prepared to enact them. It doesn’t matter if you're male or female.

Bring your own safer sex supplies so you have them handy if you need them; having to run to a store is often enough to cause people to forego using a condom.

Know How to Please Yourself

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Sometimes it’s impossible to get sex off your mind. You think about it constantly; you fantasize about it; you simply want it. This can make it tempting to jump into bed with someone just to have sex, not because you like them, or even because you particularly want to have sex with them. Unfortunately, this is a good way to end up with regrets. One way to avoid this, or to avoid making a bad decision if you end up in a situation where you want to have safer sex, but there are no supplies around, is to know how to please yourself. There’s nothing wrong with masturbation. No sexual partner is safer than yourself.

Remember That Your Brain Is Your Most Important Sex Organ

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Lots of people talk about the brain as the most important sex organ, because it is where the vast majority of arousal happens. The brain, however, is also your most important organ. You can use it to inform yourself, and to be aware of risk factors, transmission methods, symptoms, and methods of prevention. You can use it to help you pick your partners sensibly, and decide what you do and don’t feel comfortable doing with them. The decision to make your sex life safer is the first and most important step in reducing your risk of STDs.

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