Top 10 Risk Factors for Acquiring an STD

Are you more or less at risk?

Not everyone is at equal risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Someone who was abstinent until marriage has a different level of disease risk than a person who has had five sexual partners before graduating from high school. This article contains an overview of some of the major risk factors for acquiring an STD.


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Although using a condom or other barrier isn't a guarantee that you won't get an STD, condoms are your best way to avoid getting infected while still having sex. Even STDs such as HPV that condoms don't prevent entirely have reduced transmission rates when condoms are used. Other than abstinence, consistent condom use, which means using a condom every time you have sex, is the best way to prevent STDs.


Multiple Partners

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It's pretty straightforward math: the more partners you have, the more likely it is that you will be exposed to an STD. Furthermore, people with multiple partners tend to choose partners with multiple partners, so each individual you are having sex with is probably more likely to have an infection than someone with whom you would choose to be monogamous.


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Young people are far more likely to be infected with STDs than older people. This is for several reasons. First, young women are more biologically susceptible to STDs than older women. Their bodies are smaller, and they are more likely to experience tearing during intercourse.

Their cervixes also aren't fully developed, and are more susceptible to infection by chlamydia, gonorrhea, and other STDs.

Finally, young people are also more likely to engage in sexual risk taking, particularly under the influence of alcohol, and more likely to have multiple partners.


Alcohol Use

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Alcohol use can be bad for your sexual health in many different ways. First of all, people who use alcohol on a regular basis, particularly in social situations, may be less discriminating about whom they choose to have sex with. Alcohol lowers inhibitions. It may also make it more difficult to negotiate condom use or to use condoms correctly with your partner.

Illicit Drug Use

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Illicit drug use can make decision making difficult. People who have sex under the influence are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors: e.g. sex without a condom or other form of protection.

Illicit drug use may also make it easier for someone to pressure you into engaging in sexual behaviors.

Furthermore, injection drug use in particular is associated with increased risk of blood-borne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis.


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People who trade sex for money or drugs may not be sufficiently empowered to negotiate that sex be safer sex. Furthermore, partners acquired in this manner are far more likely to be infected with STDs than people in the general population.

Note: Some sex workers, particularly those who have made an informed choice to enter their professions, are highly conscientious about safe sex and prevention. Risk varies according to individual behaviors, just as it does for people who don't engage in commercial sex.


Living in a Community with a High Prevalence of STDs

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If you live in a community with a high prevalence of STDs, you are more likely to be exposed to an STD any time you have sex.


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Some people only date one person at a time but still date a large number of people each year. This is referred to as serial monogamy.

The danger for people who practice serial monogamy is that each time they are involved in an "exclusive" sexual relationship, they are likely to be tempted to stop using safer sex precautions. But monogamy is only an effective way to prevent STDs in long-term relationships where both of you have been tested.

Since some tests aren't reliable until you've been infected for some time, many serially monogamous relationships don't last long enough for that to even be a viable option.



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Having one STD frequently makes you more susceptible to infection by other STDs. Skin that is irritated, inflamed, or blistered is easier for another pathogen to infect. Having an STD is also an indirect reflection of your risk of new infection. Since you were exposed once already, it suggests that other factors in your lifestyle may be putting you at risk.



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For many people, the biggest worry about having sex isn't STDs... it's pregnancy. Many heterosexual couples choose birth control pills as their primary form of contraception. However, once protected from pregnancy, some people are reluctant to use condoms as part of their sexual routine. This can be because they are afraid of implying their partner has a disease. Or they may just not like using condoms. Dual protection—using both birth control pills and condoms—is the best option.