If I Still Have My Virginity, How Can I Have an STD?

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Question: If I still have my virginity, how can I have an STD?

In the early winter of 2010, I exchanged a series of e-mails with a young woman who was dumbfounded to learn that she had an STD even though she was still a virgin. I had to tell her that  people often define virginity as the state of not having had vaginal intercourse. However, it is still possible for a virgin to be exposed to any number of STDs through other sexual activities -- including outercourse, oral, and anal sex.

Answer: There are several ways. 

Teenagers may experiment with oral sex and as ways to be sexual with their partners that preserve their virginity. They may try these types of sex to avoid exposure to the risk of pregnancy. They may also simply enjoy these activities as relatively low-risk ways to explore their sexuality. That can be true even in an established sexual relationship. Thus, it is important for teens (and adults!) to understand that although these types of sex are relatively safe, they are not completely without risk.

Dry humping and other forms of body rubbing can pass on diseases that spread by skin-to-skin contact. For example herpes and genital warts can both be spread in this way. Oral sex can also pass on these diseases, as well as those that spread via bodily fluids.

Becoming aware of the risks of various forms of sexual expression, even the minor ones, can help people make informed decisions about their sexual lives.

Before having sex, or even fooling around with someone, it's always a good idea to talk about previous sexual experiences and exposures. Testing may also be a good choice. People can also practice safe oral sex to reduce its risks. They can use barriers to make dry humping safer.

Maintaining your virginity, if you define that as avoiding vaginal intercourse, is a relatively effective method of avoiding pregnancy.

It could also help you in evading parental or religious censure. However, if you engage in other sexual activities, you can still be exposed to other sexual risks. That's true whether or not you are still, technically, a virgin.

Note: The widespread lack of understanding of these topics may be, in part, attributable to the many sex education programs that focus on virginity instead of comprehensive sex education. These programs can leave young people uninformed about the risks and pleasures of sexual activities other than vaginal intercourse. They also leave youth without the tools they need to make good decisions about sex and otherwise keep themselves safe.

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