Always practice safer sex, and use barrier methods like condoms. Also, make sure to get regular STI tests (including HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhoea) as part of your health care routine.
Getting an STD can be extremely contagious, especially in the case of HIV and herpes. It can also take months to see any symptoms with syphilis.
1. Don’t have unprotected sex if you’re pregnant
Having unprotected sex while pregnant can put you at risk for a lot of things, including STIs and an unwanted pregnancy. STIs like herpes, genital warts and HIV can be passed to the baby you’re carrying and cause serious health problems for both of you. Having sex while you’re pregnant also increases your risk for infection with STDs that aren’t transmitted through vaginal or anal fluids, such as syphilis and gonorrhoea.
Luckily, if you’re careful and use a condom during sex, it is okay to continue to have sex while pregnant. However, experts recommend that you talk to your doctor before trying it. They may suggest that you wait until you’ve missed your period. This will give your body a chance to build up the hCG hormone that most pregnancy tests look for.
It’s also a good idea to find a method of birth control that you can use for the rest of your pregnancy, even after you’ve had unprotected sex. Emergency contraception is available at pharmacies and clinics, and there are also at-home kits you can buy. For long-term birth control, consider methods such as the birth control pill, shot, patch, ring or IUD. Talk to your doctor about what is safest for you and your baby. In addition, it’s important to regularly get tested for STIs. Many STIs won’t be detectable immediately after sex, but most of them will show up in tests 14 days after you have sex.
2. Don’t have unprotected sex if you’re having a herpes outbreak
The risk of passing genital herpes to others is highest during outbreaks. Blisters and open sores are the most contagious, but even if you don’t have any visible herpes sores or symptoms, you can still pass the virus to your sexual partners if you touch them or their genitals or have foreplay before having sex. Avoid touching any sores or genitals during sex, and always use condoms for vaginal, anal and oral sex. If you have herpes, it’s also a good idea to take preventive antiviral medication every day to reduce your risk of getting herpes infections and transmission.
Disclosing your herpes status to your partner can feel like a difficult conversation, but it can dramatically reduce the risk of infection. In one study of discordant couples (where one partner has herpes and the other doesn’t), people who disclosed their herpes had much less transmission than those who didn’t disclose.
Talk to your partner about how to best use condoms, and make sure they understand the importance of using them. Be patient and respectful when discussing the topic, and try to choose a natural moment in the relationship to do so. It’s also helpful to share facts about herpes, including how common and manageable it is for most people. Having herpes might limit your romantic and sexual options, but it doesn’t have to stop you from living a fulfilling life.
3. Don’t have unprotected sex if you’re trying to get pregnant
If you want to get pregnant, it’s important not to have unprotected sex on a regular basis. Around eight out of 10 couples who have regular unprotected sex will get pregnant within a year (age can make a big difference). You should also use an effective method of contraception when you’re trying to conceive.
There are many different forms of contraception, including condoms, dental dams, and spermicides. Using a condom is the most effective way to protect against pregnancy and STDs. If you want to try a more natural approach, a little water-based lubricant on the tip of a condom can help increase sexual pleasure.
It’s also a good idea to get regular STD testing. Many STIs, such as herpes and chlamydia, can be detected in the first two weeks of exposure. And some STIs, such as HIV and genital warts, may take longer to show up on tests.
It’s also important to time your sex around ovulation. This can be done with an ovulation predictor kit, which looks similar to a pregnancy test and searches for a surge of luteinizing hormone, the chemical that causes ovulation. You can buy ovulation kits from pharmacies or supermarkets. If you’re not sure when you ovulate, you can ask your doctor or midwife for advice. They can also give you a prescription for emergency contraception, which is 99% effective up to 72 hours after you’ve had unprotected sex.
4. Don’t have unprotected sex if you’re having a HPV outbreak
HPV stands for human papillomavirus, and it’s the most common STI (sexually transmitted infection). Many people get it at some point, and most don’t know it. It’s spread through sexual skin-to-skin contact — including during oral sex, when your lips touch someone else’s genitals or mouth and throat.
Some types of HPV cause warts on or around the genitals and anus in both men and women, including the vulva and cervix. These types of HPV are sometimes called “low-risk.” Other types of HPV — also called “high-risk” — can lead to cancers of the anus and vulva in both men and women. These cancers can be detected with a Pap test during routine exams by your doctor, dental hygienist or dentist, or you can self-exam.
There are vaccines to protect against infection with high-risk HPV, which can be helpful for lowering your risk of these cancers. Talk to your doctor or nurse about getting a shot. You should also use condoms and a dental dam for oral sex every time you have sex, and always ask your partner how many other partners they’ve had in the past 3 months. This can help reduce your risk of STIs, including HIV and herpes. It’s not healthy for you or your partner to have multiple partners, and it can increase your risk of infections, even with a sex protector.