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Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Health Topics

STDs

What Are STDs?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are very common. Millions of new infections occur every year in the United States.

STDs pass from one person to another through vaginal, oral, and anal sex. They also can spread through intimate physical contact like heavy petting, though this is not very common.


STD or STI? 

A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is a virus, bacteria, fungus, or parasite people can get through sexual contact. Many STIs have no symptoms, so people can have an infection but not know it. A sexually transmitted disease (STD) develops because of an STI and the term implies that the infection has led to some symptom of disease. People sometimes use the terms in one another’s place. 


 

What can I do to protect myself?

The surest way to protect yourself against STDs is to not have sex. That means not having any vaginal, anal, or oral sex (“abstinence”). There are many things to consider before having sex. It’s okay to say “no” if you don’t want to have sex.

  • If you do decide to have sex, you and your partner should get tested for STDs beforehand.
  • Make sure that you and your partner use a condom from start to finish every time you have oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Know where to get condoms and how to use them correctly. It is not safe to stop using condoms unless you’ve both been tested for STDs, know your results, and are in a mutually monogamous relationship.
  • Be in a mutually monogamous relationship.  Mutual monogamy means that you and your partner both agree to only have sexual contact with each other. This can help protect against STDs, as long as you’ve both been tested and know you’re STD-free.
  • Before you have sex, talk with your partner about how you will prevent STDs and pregnancy. If you think you’re ready to have sex, you need to be ready to protect your body. You should also talk to your partner ahead of time about what you will and will not do sexually. Your partner should always respect your right to say no to anything that doesn’t feel right.
  • Make sure you get the health care you need. Ask a doctor or nurse about STD testing and about vaccines against HPV and hepatitis B.
  • Girls and young women may have extra needs to protect their reproductive health. Talk to your doctor or nurse about regular cervical cancer screening, and chlamydia and gonorrhea testing. You may also want to discuss unintended pregnancy and birth control.
  • Avoid mixing alcohol and/or recreational drugs with sex. If you use alcohol and drugs, you are more likely to take risks, like not using a condom or having sex with someone you normally wouldn’t have sex with.
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