Apart from abstinence, the most reliable way to prevent STDs is monogamy with a monogamous partner. If neither of these applies, you should take the following measures, which will help protect men and their partners.
- Use latex condoms. When used correctly and consistently, latex condoms provide highly effective (though not infallible) protection against infection. Condoms made from polyurethane or other synthetic material offer comparable protection. But condoms made from natural membrane (lambskin) cannot be relied on to block the transmission of HIV and other STDs. Use a new condom for each sex act—genital, oral or anal. Condoms may not offer as much protection against infection with HPV, which causes genital warts, and, in the case of some strains, is a precursor to cervical cancer.
- Consider a female condom if a male condom can’t be used. If used correctly and consistently, a female condom might substantially reduce the risk of some STDs, according to a few clinical studies.
- Vaginal spermicides containing nonoxynol-9 (N-9) are not recommended for STD prevention. Whether used with or without a diaphragm, vaginal spermicides containing N-9 are not effective in preventing certain STDs. Condoms lubricated with spermicides are no more effective at STD prevention than other lubricated condoms. Spermicide-coated condoms also can cost more, have a shorter shelf life and have been associated with an increased risk of urinary tract infections in young women. Moreover, frequent use of N-9 spermicides has been linked with inflammation of vaginal and anal tissue, which might increase the risk of HIV transmission.
- Do not rely on other forms of birth control. Nonbarrier methods of birth control, such as birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs), offer no protection against STDs. In addition, remember that, even if a woman can’t become pregnant and so has no reason to use birth control, she is still at risk for STDs.
- Know who your partner is. It’s risky to have sexual intercourse with someone you’ve just met.
- Be observant. Don’t have sexual contact with anyone who has genital or anal sores, a visible rash, a discharge or any other sign of an STD. But being observant is not a substitute for knowing your partner. You may also wish to ask your partner to get tested for infections such as HIV.
- Be informed. Recognize the symptoms of STDs and seek medical treatment at once if you notice them in yourself. A lesion, blister, sore, discharge or rash in the genital or anal area should be a signal to seek medical help. If you’re at risk for STDs, persistent unexplained flu-like symptoms and abdominal pain are other signals to see your doctor.
- If you have multiple sexual partners, consider getting screened for chlamydia.
- Syphilis and hepatitis B and C, like HIV, can also be transmitted by contaminated needles. Make sure that instruments used in tattooing, acupuncture and even ear piercing are sterile (or, better yet, disposable). Of course, injectable drug users should never share needles.
- Get vaccinated against HPV and hepatitis B if you are at risk. This doesn't apply to everyone, but if you are at risk, vaccination will protect you from these STDs.
Published January 01, 2014