What Are the Odds That I'll Get an STD?

Knowing the Risks and Lowering the Odds

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What are the odds that you'll get an STD if you have sex with a specific type of person in a specific sort of way? How high are the risks? Is it possible to lower those odds? Is there any way to be 100 percent protected from sexually transmitted diseases?

Which Factors Contribute To My Risk of Contracting an STD?

The odds of getting an STD depend on a number of factors. These include:

  • whether you use condoms or other barriers to practice safe sex
  • whether or not you use sexual lubricants, and what kinds of lubricants you use
  • whether your partner already has an STD
  • if they do, what type of STD they have
  • the severity of their infection, as measured by viral load and other factors
  • your overall health and the health of your immune system
  • whether you have breaks in your skin or other STDs that might make you more susceptible to infection

Assuming all of these things are known, it would seem that scientists would simply need to know the odds of transmitting the STD in question, during the particular type of sex you're having, with all of the other variables also taken into account, in order to give you an idea of the actual odds of getting an STD in any particular sexual encounter.

But they don't.

Although there is some research into the odds of transmitting HIV during various types of intercourse, and it's possible to tell that suppressive therapy reduces herpes transmission, it's really difficult to design a study that will tell scientists exactly how likely it is that an STD will be transmitted any particular time a person has sex.

How Can I Reduce My Risk Anyway?

Despite being unable to pinpoint those statistics, we still know a lot about how to lower the odds... no matter what the odds are.

For one, you can be more aware of the risk you're undertaking by regularly getting screened for STDs, and by talking to your partner before you have sex.

Having this information can help you make smarter decisions about your sexual play.

You can also reduce your risk by reliably practicing safe sex. So what does it really mean to have safe sex?

For one thing, you can use a barrier method every time you engage in sex, whether vaginal, anal, or oral. Barrier methods such as condoms or dental dams are not 100 percent effective, but they can dramatically decrease your risk of contracting an STD.

Only having sex within the context of a mutually monogamous relationship can also improve your odds, especially if both you and your partner continue to be regularly screened for STDs, and to have open communication about your test results.

And remember: using a contraceptive may protect you from pregnancy, but it won't protect you from infections. The past year has seen a rise in the use of IUDs, but a decrease in the use of condoms. Don't assume that you're method of contraception is also keeping you safe from STDs.

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