There are about 20 million new sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) diagnosed every year in the United States and countless more that are not diagnosed, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). STDs are extremely common, but is your knowledge on them based on myth or fact?
Are you at risk if you’re bitten by a mosquito? Can you get genital warts by using the same bathroom as an infected person? If you only have one sexual partner, are you still at risk?
If you don’t know the answers, don’t worry. There are many misconceptions about STDs and how they’re spread. Below are five common myths about STDs and the truth behind each one.
1. How Are STDs Transmitted?
Sitting on a toilet seat will not give you herpes and sharing a straw with someone cannot give you oral HPV (human papillomavirus), even if the previous user was infected. Even a mosquito, which are known for carrying diseases like malaria and the Zika virus, cannot give you an STD if you’re bitten.
There are many misconceptions about how you can get an STD. The easiest way to remember it is by breaking down the acronym - sexually transmitted disease. All STDs are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact from sexual activity, including anal and oral. The diseases are most commonly spread through contact with blood, vaginal fluids or semen. Some can also be transmitted through contact with the infected skin and mucous membranes, such as sores around the mouth or genitals.
Some STDs, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV and syphilis can be transferred from a mother to her infant.
Sharing a needle or syringe for drug use, tattooing, ear piercing or other uses that involve piercing the skin can also put you at risk due to bloodborne pathogens.
The typical exceptions to the “sexually transmitted” rule are pubic lice and scabies, which can spread through contact with an infected person or with infected clothing, towels or sheets.
2. You Would Know If Someone Had An STD
Chances are, you would never know if your friend or partner had an STD by looking at them. Most STDs are asymptomatic, meaning many people don’t get symptoms at all.
Very few infections leave visual physical traces and those that do are not guaranteed to. Some, like HPV and genital herpes, can leave genital warts or sores, but many people with HPV do not experience any visual symptoms.
Most symptoms will only be noticed by a trained medical professional or the infected person. For instance, Chlamydia can cause painful urination, bleeding between periods, unusual vaginal discharge and pain during sex - none of which can be visually detected by onlookers.
The only way to know if you or someone you know has an STD is to get tested. SelfCollect offers discrete at-home tests for every STD. The kit is mailed to your door and then sent to SelfCollect’s laboratory. The results are sent to your phone or email via a code.
3. I Can’t Get An STD From Oral or Anal Sex
All forms of sexual activity can lead to STDs. Although unprotected oral and anal sex ensures you or your partner won’t get pregnant, you’re still at risk for getting an STD.
Chlamydia is comomonly spread through oral sex on your male or female partner. Once contracted, it typically starts in the throat and spreads to your genitals or rectum. Chlamydia in the throat often has no symptoms, according to the CDC.
The CDC reported that there is little to no risk of getting HIV solely through oral sex.
Passing STDs Through Anal Sex
Anal sex puts you at the most risk to contract HIV. This is because, in part, anal sex often leads to bleeding.
The receptive person in anal sex, is more at risk due to the high probability of breaking the skin in the rectum. An open sore is a direct way for the infection to get into your body.
A CDC study that monitored the risk factor of HIV transmissions found that blood transfusions put you at the highest risk (9,250 out of 10,000), followed next by anal sex (149 out of 10,000). IV drug use is another cause of transmission of HIV.
Chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis A, B, and C, parasites such as giardia and intestinal amoebas, and bacteria, such as E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter can be transmitted as well through anal sex and contact with feces.
4. Condoms Are Not 100% Effective
Condoms are the popular go-to for having safe and protected sex. However, they are not 100% effective at preventing STDs or pregnancy.
A condom is about 98% effective at reducing the risk of pregnancy and transmitting an STD if used perfectly. In reality, they’re only about 85% effective, which means 15 out of 100 people every year who only use a condom as their birth control method will get pregnant.
The best way to guarantee you’re getting the most protection out of a condom is to use them correctly. Wear it the whole time, from start to finish, make sure it is rolled on the right way and dispose of it right away to avoid contact with the semen inside of it.
Do not double up either. Two condoms are less effective than one, including an internal one (dental dams) and an external one.
5. I have one partner, so I can’t get an STD
It doesn’t matter if you have one partner in your lifetime or 100. Having sex always puts you at risk, especially if you and your partner have not been tested or are not protecting yourselves.
If you both have been tested and are clean, it is not possible for either of you to get an STD from being intimate with each other. However, that doesn’t mean you’re immune. Remember, even though most STDS are passed on through sex, not all are. Infected needles, blood or contact with genital fluids of an infected person can put you at risk.
While having one sexual partner certiantly lowers the risk of infection, it does not negate it entirely. Most STDs are manageable and many of them are treatable and curable. If your partner has an STD, talk with your doctor about reducing your risk of contracting the disease. In some cases, such as mycoplasma infections, you may be asked to not have any sexual contact until the disease has cleared up entirely.
Knowing how to get an STD is as simple as using the full name: sexually transmitted disease. Though there are some exceptions, having safe sex is the best way to protect yourself from getting an infection.
You are not without risk of exposure if you perform or receive unprotected oral and anal sex either. Even if you are using a condom, the chance of getting an STD is not negated.
Remember, chances are you won’t know if someone has an STD by looking at them. The only way you can be sure is by getting you and your partner tested before engaging sex. SelfCollect can help by taking a doctor’s visit and embarrassment out of the equation. Check out their full range of STDs tests to see if an at-home diagnosis is right for you.