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Sexual Health

10 Ways to Protect Yourself from STIs

Here are 10 ways you can protect your sexual health, regardless of your lifestyle choice:

1. Abstinence and no-risk sexual activity

  • Not all sexual behaviours put a person at risk for STIs.
  • Any activity that does not include semen, pre-ejaculate fluid, or blood going from one person to another is considered safer.
  • Look for lesions or sores in the genital area before any skin to skin contact. Contact with a lesion or sore can result in transmitting or acquiring STIs.
  • Alternative activities such as hugging, massaging, body kissing, solo masturbation, and using sex toys without sharing pose little to no risk.

2. Communicating with sex partner(s)

  • Talk to partner(s) about your concerns, fears, and safer sex choices.
  • Decide together what sex choices are comfortable for both / all partners.
  • Discuss STI risks with your partner(s).
  • Advise all partner(s) to get tested before engaging in unprotected anal, oral or vaginal sex.

3. Condom use

  • Using a condom from the time an erection occurs to after ejaculation will increase the effectiveness.
  • The consistent use of condoms or other barriers reduces the risk for transmitting or acquiring STIs.

4. Safer oral sex

  • Giving or receiving oral sex without a barrier can transmit STIs, such as gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis B, herpes simplex virus, HPV and chlamydia.
  • While the risk for transmitting or acquiring HIV during oral sex is low, it is somewhat more risky to give oral sex than to receive it.
  • There is a risk for transmitting STIs to the person giving unprotected oral sex because pre-ejaculatory fluid (pre-cum) or semen can get into the mouth. The risk is increased if there are bleeding gums (common after dental work, brushing or flossing), cuts, sores, lesions, ulcers or burns in the mouth, or if there is a cut or sore on the genitals.
  • Eating sharp foods, like popcorn or chips, may create tiny cuts in the mouth, increasing the risk for transmitting or acquiring STIs through oral sex.
  • You can reduce the risk of transmitting or acquiring STIs by avoiding ejaculation of semen in the mouth and by using a condom or other barrier.

5. Safer anal sex

  • Tissues in the rectum are very delicate, and can tear easily, leaving this area more susceptible to transmitting or acquiring STIs. Condoms are recommended to reduce risk of STI transmission, including HIV.
  • Water-based lubricant should be used to reduce tissue damage.
  • Barriers like a dam should be used for oral-anal contact.

6. Effects of Substance Use

  • Using alcohol or drugs before sexual activity can decrease inhibitions and affect decisions and the ability to negotiate safe sex.
  • Plan ahead if drugs and/or alcohol are to be used, ensuring your partner(s) know your limits for sexual activity.

7. Needle & drug equipment

  • If you or your partner(s) use drugs, it is important to discuss whether everyone practices safer injection or if anyone has shared needles.
  • Safer injection means not sharing needles or any other drug equipment.  This helps to prevent transmitting or acquiring STIs like HIV, hepatitis B Hep B and hepatitis C Hep C
  • Any hands touching needles or equipment should be clean and not contaminated with blood, and the equipment should never be re-used.
  • For more information on health unit Harm Reduction Programs, please click here.

8. Tattoos, Piercings, Manicures and Pedicures

  • If you or your partner(s) have any tattoos or piercings, or have had manicures or pedicures, it is possible to transmit or acquire STIs during sexual activity.
  • Tattooing, piercing, manicures and pedicures can pose a risk of transmitting infections such as HIV, hepatitis B (Hep B) and hepatitis C (Hep C) when needles, ink or other equipment are shared, or when equipment is not properly sterilized.
  • While businesses that provide these services and pass health unit inspections are deemed to be safe, equipment may not always be properly sterilized, placing people at risk.
  • For more information on the health risks of tattoos and piercings, please click here.

9. Risk when sharing razors or toothbrushes

  • Hepatitis B (Hep B) can live on a dried surface for seven days, while hepatitis C (Hep C) lives on surfaces for at least 16 hours and as long as four days.
  • Sharing razors or toothbrushes increases the risk of becoming infected with HIV, Hep B or Hep C.

10. Risk when Sharing sex toys

  • Sex toys (e.g. dildos, vibrators, butt plugs, etc.) should be kept clean and should not be shared. If you choose to share sex toys, ensure they are protected with a barrier, condom, or clean cover.
  • When a sex toy is shared, the toy should have a clean cover each time it is used to reduce the risk for transmitting STIs. Cleaning sex toys regularly before and after each use can also decrease the risk.
  • Using sex toys in the anus poses significant risk to damaging the tissues in the rectum. It is recommended that plenty of lubricant is used to reduce this risk.
  • Sex toys need to be cared for differently based on what they are made of. Refer to sex toy packaging or specific cleaning instructions.
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