How do you get STIs?
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be transmitted in different ways. STIs can be transmitted during unprotected (without a dental dam or condom) sexual contact between two or more people. STIs can be transmitted through contact with skin, mucous membranes, pubic hair, vaginal fluid, pre-cum, semen and blood. This means that STIs are not transmitted through penetration alone. Skin-to-skin contact, oral sex, and sexual activity using the hands can also transmit certain STIs. Knowing how STIs are transmitted can help you stay safe and aware of potential risks.
We outline the different types of sexual contact and the transmission of STIs in this blog.
Oral Sex: oral-penile and oral-vaginal contact
It is possible to transmit STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis during oral sex. These STIs will not cause symptoms or appear on an STI test immediately after exposure, which is why you have to take into account the different window periods per STI before performing a test. You can also contract genital herpes through oral sex if the partner giving oral sex has an oral herpes infection. You may only notice an infection if you begin to experience symptoms, such as bumps or painful blisters.
If body fluids (blood, breast milk, semen, pre-cum, rectal fluids, or vaginal fluids) have entered your mouth, there is a risk of contracting HIV. Any contact between bodily fluids and mucous membranes or breaks in the skin (cuts or wounds) carries a risk of HIV transmission. Men who have sex with men (MSM) have a higher risk of contracting HIV.
Oral sex: oral-anal contact
Oral-anal contact (rimming) can transmit STIs and other bacterial infections, including hepatitis A, syphilis, and other intestinal pathogens. Other STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea can also be transmitted via this route.
Oral-anal contact (and any other oral sex) with a cold sore carries a high risk of herpes transmission and is therefore strongly discouraged. The chance of contracting HIV in this manner is very small, but it can occur through the exchange of body fluids through cracks and wounds in and around the mouth and anus.
Some STIs can be transmitted by rubbing the penis against the vagina or anus without a condom, even if penetration does not occur. HIV can be transmitted when infected bodily fluids (blood, semen, pre-cum, or vaginal and rectal fluids) enter the bloodstream of someone without HIV.
Unprotected penetrative sex
If the penis enters the vagina or anus without a condom, there is a risk of STI transmission.
Certain STIs such as chlamydia, syphilis, and herpes can be transmitted through sex toys if more than one person uses the toy without cleaning it in between. By cleaning the toy well in between uses or using it with separate condoms, you reduce the risk of transmitting STIs.
If you wash your hands well beforehand, masturbation is safe and does not carry a risk of transmitting STIs. However, you could contract or transmit an STI if you have not washed your hands properly and there is still pre-cum, semen, vaginal fluid, or blood from a partner with an STI on your hands. Certain STIs can be transmitted when the hands or fingers have been in contact with a partner’s throat, vagina, penis, or anus. As such, you therefore always wash your hands after sexual contact to prevent STI transmission between partners or transferring an infections to other parts of the body.
Needles and syringes
Some STIs are transmitted through blood, such as HIV and hepatitis B and C.
This can happen when using used needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment. STIs can also be transmitted through unsanitary needles for piercing, earrings, or tattoos.