Can I Get an STI If...

Our 1-800 SEX SENSE Line receives lots of questions from people wondering “can I get a sexually transmitted infection if...”  

Here you will find information about how a sexually transmitted infection (STI) can occur.  If you have any other questions, call 1-800 SEX SENSE (1-800-739-7367) or 604-731-7803 in the lower mainland, or send an email to sexsense@optbc.org

Can I get a STI if... 

We use a condom? 

Yes, there is still a risk of contracting STIs.  Although condoms are a great way to prevent STIs, they are not 100% effective because: 

  1. Some STIs are transmitted differently than others. Some STIs are transmitted through vaginal fluid, seminal fluid and/or blood, but others are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.  A condom can act as a barrier for fluids but it does not eliminate all skin-to-skin contact.  As a result, transmission of STIs such as herpes, HPV,  syphilis, pubic lice, or scabies can occur even if a condom is used.
  2. Condoms are not always used correctly.   Condoms that are not used correctly can put someone at risk for infection.  STIs can be transmitted if the condom: breaks, is used after initial sexual contact, is torn, or comes off completely.  

For tips on how to use condoms correctly click here

I have never had penetrative sex? 

Yes.  As mentioned above, some STIs are transmitted just through skin-to-skin contact where penetration is not necessary. 

Also, abstaining from penetrative sex but engaging in other types of sex, such as oral sex, can pose a risk for infections.  

I give or receive oral sex? 

Yes, you can get an STI from oral sex because fluids (seminal and vaginal) are exchanged and direct skin-to-skin contact occurs. 

STIs that can be transmitted through oral sex include herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis and HPV. You can make oral sex safer by using a condom or an oral dam and avoiding oral sex during a herpes or cold sore outbreak. 

What’s an oral dam?  

A dam is a rectangular piece of latex or polyurethane that is used for oral-vaginal or oral-anal sex.  The dam is placed between one partner’s mouth and the other partner’s genitals.

 If you do not have a dental dam you can make one by cutting the ring end off a male/external condom and cutting up the side of the condom to create a flat, rectangle. You can also make an oral dam by cutting up a latex glove.  For more information on risk of infections click here

I have a long term partner? 

Even people who are in long term monogamous relationships can get STIs.  Some STIs, such as herpes or HPV, can lie dormant in a person for months or years before they are diagnosed.  For example, the most common test for herpes is a swab of a suspected lesion; testing for herpes is not standard practice, so it is possible that a person may have herpes for years and not know it until they pass the infection to a partner.  

Sometimes STIs are spread in ‘monogamous’ relationships because one partner is secretly having sex outside the relationship.  Having more than one partner or having a partner that has more than one partner increases the chances of getting an STI.

Regardless of how long you have been in your relationship, regular annual screening for STIs is recommended.  For information on where you can get tested click here. 

My partner and I are virgins? 

If neither of you have ever had oral-genital, hand-genital or genital-genital contact with another person then you are not at risk for STIs.  All of these activities carry varying risks for STI transmission.  

For more information on the level of risk of transmission based on type of sexual activities and types of STI, visit here.

I have tested negative for STIs? 

Testing negative for STIs is a good indicator that you do not have an infection.  Sometimes false negative results can occur when testing is performed too soon after exposure.  For example, testing for HIV needs to be confirmed three to six months after the date of potential exposure as it can take from six weeks to six months for your body to produce enough antibodies to be detected by the test. This is known as a window period. 

Also, make sure to ask which STIs your health practitioner is testing for you.  Some infections like HPV, genital warts, and herpes are not routinely tested.

I use the same toilet, clothes, towels or utensils as someone with an STI? 

The transmission of STIs that are caused by viruses and bacteria is highly unlikely through the shared use of a toilet, clothes, towels, or utensils with someone who has an STI.  

The bacteria and viruses that are responsible for causing STIs require a living host in order to “live” and multiply. Depending on the type of bacteria or virus, direct skin-to-skin contact or the passing of bodily fluids such as blood, vaginal fluid, semen, or breast milk between an infected person and another person is required for the transmission of an STI.

 The only STIs that can be transmitted by sharing personal items like infected clothes and linens are those caused by parasitic insects. These two STIs are called pubic lice (or crabs) and scabies. Both of these STIs are non-life threatening and can be easily treated with the use of simple preparations or lotions such as Kwell and Nix. 

I kiss someone with an STI? 

There is minimal risk of getting an STI through kissing. However, there is a small risk of being exposed to the herpes virus if your partner has an open sore or lesion on his/her mouth. The herpes virus can be transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact; therefore, you can transmit the herpes virus if you place your mouth in direct contact with an open sore or lesion around your partner’s mouth. 

I masturbate? 

Thankfully, No!  Masturbation is the safest form of sex.