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Safe sex

Safe sex means taking steps before and during sex that can prevent you from getting an infection, or from giving one to your partner.

Information

A sexually transmitted illness (STI) is an infection that can be spread to another person through sexual contact. These infections include:

STIs are also called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

These infections are spread by direct contact with a sore on the genitals or mouth, body fluids, or sometimes the skin around the genital area.

Before having sex:

  • Get to know your partner and discuss your sexual histories
  • Don't feel forced into having sex
  • Don't have sexual contact with anyone but your partner

Your sexual partner should be someone who you know is free from any STI. Before having sex with a new partner, each of you should get screened for STIs and share the test results with each other.

If you have an STI such as HIV or herpes, let any sexual partner know before you have sex. Allow him or her to decide what to do. If you both agree to have sexual contact, use latex or polyurethane condoms. 

Use condoms for all vaginal, anal, and oral intercourse.

  • The condom should be in place from the beginning to the end of the sexual activity. Use it every time you have sex.
  • Keep in mind that STIs can be spread by contact with surrounding skin areas. A condom reduces your risk.

Other tips include:

  • Use lubricants. They may help reduce the chance that a condom will break.
  • Use only water-based lubricants. Oil-based or petroleum-type lubricants can cause latex to weaken and tear.
  • Polyurethane condoms are less prone to breaking than latex condoms, but cost more.
  • Using condoms with nonoxynol-9 (a spermicide) may increase the chance of HIV transmission.

Stay sober. Alcohol and drugs impair your judgment. When you are not sober, you might not choose your partner as carefully. You may also forget to use condoms, or use them incorrectly.

References

Eckert LO, Lentz GM. Infections of the lower genital tract: vulva, vagina, cervix, toxic shock syndrome, endometritis, and salpingitis. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012: chap 23.

Frenkl TL, Potts JM. Sexually transmitted infections. In: Wein AJ, ed. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 13.

Lin JS, Whitlock E, O'Connor E, Bauer V. Behavioral counseling to prevent sexually transmitted infections: A Systematic Review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. 2008;149:497-508.

Updated: 5/31/2012

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; and Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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