Can I Get an STD From Having Sex With a Virgin?

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Question: Can I get an STD from having sex with a virgin?

Answer: Yes, you can get an STD from having sex with a virgin.

There's a myth that just because someone is a virgin that sex with them is automatically safe. However, it's not true. Even if it is a virgin's first time having vaginal intercourse, it doesn't mean that they have never been exposed to an STD. There are several ways that virgins can become infected with STDs.

First off, virginity is not the same as never having any sexual contact -- at least not for everyone. Many individuals consider themselves to be virgins even if they've had oral sex and anal sex. Both of those types of sex are risk factors for acquiring an STD. That is, in fact, one of the main problems with virginity pledges. They focus on vaginal intercourse, without talking about other types of risk.  It's one of the reasons why they are not a particularly useful tool in a sex educator's arsenal. (They're also not useful because many pledgers deny or forget that they've ever pledged. In addition, pledgers aren't any less likely to have sex, although they are less likely to do so safely.) 

However, even if a person has never had any sexual contact, it is possible that they may have been exposed to an STD. Many individuals acquire oral herpes through casual affection with their family members.

Other people are exposed to their mother's STDs during pregnancy or birth. It is also possible to become infected with diseases, such as HIV, through nonsexual risk behaviors. For example, injection drug use is a risk factor for most blood-borne diseases.

Relative sexual inexperience does make it less likely that a person will have an STD.

Just don't assume that just because someone says they're a virgin that you are not taking a risk. It's still important to practice safe sex, if for no other reason than it's a good life-saving habit. Furthermore, what about putting your partner at risk? Contrary to some popular myths, people can get pregnant the first time they have sex. In addition, sleeping with a virgin won't cure your HIV or other STDs.

When it comes to sex, it's better to be safe than sorry. Assuming you're at risk of STDs or pregnancy is safer than not taking those risks into account. 

What Does It Mean to Be a Virgin?

One of the reasons that sex with a virgin isn't inherently safe is that there is no agreement on what makes a person a virgin. A woman who has never had vaginal intercourse but has had multiple anal sex partners would be considered a virgin by some definitions. However, she would have a much higher STD risk than a woman who has never had anal sex and only had vaginal intercourse with one partner.

The problem is that virginity is a cultural definition. It's not a medical one. Furthermore, definitions of virginity are often based on heteronormative assumptions. If a boy doesn't lose his virginity until he has sex with a girl, and vice versa, than what about people who are gay and lesbian?

Do they remain "virgin" as long as they never have an opposite sex partner? 

Some people might say that people are no longer virgins once they've had sex. However, even the definition of sex can't be agreed on. That's why it makes far more sense to talk about behaviors than it does to talk about labels. It also makes more sense to rely on testing than assumptions. 

Sources:

Byers ES, Henderson J, Hobson KM. University students' definitions of sexual abstinence and having sex. Arch Sex Behav. 2009 Oct;38(5):665-74. doi: 10.1007/s10508-007-9289-6.

Jansen MA, van den Heuvel D, Bouthoorn SH, Jaddoe VW, Hooijkaas H, Raat H, Fraaij PL, van Zelm MC, Moll HA.

Determinants of Ethnic Differences in Cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr Virus, and Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 Seroprevalence in Childhood. J Pediatr. 2016 Mar;170:126-34.e1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2015.11.014.

Rosenbaum JE. Patient teenagers? A comparison of the sexual behavior of virginity pledgers and matched nonpledgers. Pediatrics. 2009 Jan;123(1):e110-20.  doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-0407.

Taylor AW, Nesheim SR, Zhang X, Song R, FitzHarris LF, Lampe MA, Weidle PJ, Sweeney P. Estimated Perinatal HIV Infection Among Infants Born in the United States, 2002-2013. JAMA Pediatr. 2017 Mar 20. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.5053.

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