PreventionBy Mayo Clinic staff
There are several ways to avoid or reduce your risk of sexually transmitted infections.
- Abstain. The most effective way to avoid STIs is to abstain from sex.
- Stay with 1 uninfected partner. Another reliable way of avoiding STIs is to stay in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who isn't infected.
- Get vaccinated. Getting vaccinated early, before sexual exposure, is also effective in preventing certain types of STIs. Vaccines are available to prevent two viral STIs that can cause cancer — human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis A and hepatitis B. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the HPV vaccine for girls and boys ages 11 and 12. If not fully vaccinated at ages 11 and 12, the CDC recommends that girls and women through age 26 and boys and men through age 26 receive the vaccine. The hepatitis B vaccine is usually given to newborns.
- Wait and verify. Avoid vaginal and anal intercourse with new partners until you have both been tested for STIs. Oral sex is less risky, but use a latex condom or dental dam — a thin, square piece of rubber made with latex or silicone — to prevent direct contact between the oral and genital mucous membranes. Keep in mind that human papillomavirus (HPV) screening isn't available for men, and no good screening test exists for genital herpes, so you may not be aware you're infected until you have symptoms. It's also possible to be infected with an STI yet still test negative.
- Use condoms and dental dams consistently and correctly. Use a new latex condom or dental dam for each sex act, whether oral, vaginal or anal. Never use an oil-based lubricant, such as petroleum jelly, with a latex condom or dental dam. Keep in mind that while condoms reduce your risk of exposure to most STIs, they provide a lesser degree of protection for STIs involving exposed genital sores, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) or herpes. Also, nonbarrier forms of contraception, such as oral contraceptives or intrauterine devices, don't protect against STIs.
- Don't drink alcohol excessively or use drugs. If you're under the influence, you're more likely to take sexual risks.
- Avoid anonymous, casual sex. Don't look for sex partners online or in bars or other pickup places. Not knowing your sex partner well increases your risk of possible exposure to an STI.
- Communicate. Before any serious sexual contact, communicate with your partner about practicing safer sex. Reach an explicit agreement about what activities will and won't be OK.
- Teach your child. Becoming sexually active at a young age tends to increase a person's number of overall partners and, as a result, his or her risk of STIs. Biologically, young girls are more susceptible to infection. While you can't control your teen or preteen's actions, you can help your child understand the risks of sexual activity and that it's OK to wait to have sex.
- Consider male circumcision. There's evidence that male circumcision can help reduce a man's risk of acquiring HIV from an infected woman (heterosexual transmission) by 50 to 60 percent. Male circumcision may also help prevent transmission of genital HPV and genital herpes.
Consider the drug Truvada. In July 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the drug Truvada (a fixed dose combination of emtricitabine/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate) to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted HIV infection in those who are at high risk. Truvada is also used as an HIV treatment along with other medications.
When used to help prevent HIV infection, Truvada is only appropriate if your doctor is certain you don't already have an HIV or hepatitis B infection. The drug must also be taken daily, exactly as prescribed. And it should only be used along with other prevention strategies such as condom use every time you have sex.
Truvada isn't for everyone. If you're interested in Truvada, talk with your doctor about the potential risks and benefits and whether it's right for you.
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