Calculating Your STD Risk Profile

How Worried Should You Be?

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Everyone who is sexually active is at risk of getting a sexually transmitted disease. How high is your risk of STDs? Well, it depends both on who you are and who you're sleeping with. I've always believed that everyone should practice safer sex in every sexual encounter with every sexual partner. However, I realize that that may not be realistic. So I've developed this list of questions that people can ask themselves in order to start thinking about risk.

People can still contract an STD even if they fall in the lowest risk category. However, some people are in more danger than others.

Individual Factors That Affect STD Risk

These are things about you and your choices that make you safer (+) or  put you more at risk(-) of acquiring an STD.

+ Choosing to be sexually active only in a long-term monogamous relationship.
+ Being comprehensively screened for sexually transmitted diseases before having sex with a new partner.
+ Always asking a new partner to undergo STD testing before starting to have sex.
+ Always using male condoms, female condoms, dental dams, and other safer sex practices when having sex. This means using barriers even in long-term monogamous relationships.
+ Always carrying a condom, and carrying it properly, if sex may occur.
- Using drugs or alcohol before sex
- Practicing serial monogamy
- Inconsistent condom use or no condom use
- Not using safer-sex techniques for oral sex
- Not being screened or tested regularly for STDs
- Being younger (women only)
-/? Not being circumcised (men only)
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Having an STD already
- IV drug use
- Crystal Meth use
- Hooking up with anonymous partners you "met" online or in bars

Partner Factors that Affect STD Risk

These are things about your partner and his or her choices make you safer (+) or put you more at risk(-)  of acquiring an STD.

+ Having no other concurrent partners
+ Having had very few, or no, other partners in the past
+ Always practicing safer sex -- even in long-term monogamous relationships
+ Being regularly screened for STDs
+ Being willing to discuss safer sex and STD testing before you have sex
- Believing, and/or trying to convince you of one or more myths about who needs to practice safe sex
- Trying to convince you that condoms aren't necessary
- Using drugs or alcohol before sex
- Having other sexual partners, particularly those who use drugs or alcohol.
- Telling you that because he/she has no symptoms he/she can't have an STD.
- Only practicing safe sex for vaginal, and/or anal sex but not for oral sex.

Community Factors that Affect STD Risk

These are things about your community that make you safer (+) or put you more at risk(-)  of acquiring an STD. These are often not things that you can control, which can feel pretty unfair.

+ Being part of a community where most people are highly educated. (Education is associated with better health knowledge and access.)
+ Living in a place where most people have health insurance. (Insurance makes it easier to get screened and treated)
+ Living in an area with easily available medical care
- Living someplace where many people have STDs
- Having one or more family members with an STD, like herpes, that can be transmitted through casual contact
- Dating within a group where there is a high STD prevalence

A Word from Verywell

People often think that certain groups are at high risk of STDs because they have risky behavior. Sometimes that's true. Other times, it's completely incorrect. For an example, a very well-respected study looked at HIV risk in Black men who had sex with  men.

in the US, Canada, and the UK. They compared their risk to HIV risk among Caucasian men who had sex with men. What did they find? The Back men had much higher HIV risk... but they engaged in many fewer risky behaviors. Why was their risk so high? Mostly, it was because of two things. The first was that Black men had less access to high quality healthcare. That put them at greater risk of both becoming infected and passing on an infection.The second was that they were more likely to date other Black men... and thus more likely to be exposed than their White counterparts. 

Source:

Millett GA, Peterson JL, Flores SA, Hart TA, Jeffries WL 4th, Wilson PA, Rourke SB, Heilig CM, Elford J, Fenton KA, Remis RS. Comparisons of disparities and risks of HIV infection in black and other men who have sex with men in Canada, UK, and USA: a meta-analysis. Lancet. 2012 Jul 28;380(9839):341-8. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60899-X. 

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