Sexually transmitted infections are mostly spread through unprotected vaginal, anal and oral sex. Most STIs tend to spread quite easily, because of their asymptomatic nature, which means that many people who have them are unaware. This leads to people having unprotected sex when they really should be taking preventative measures. A lack of awareness of how to use barrier contraceptives can mean that STIs spread even when people think they are protected. It is therefore important for sexually active people to go for regular STI tests and to ensure that they always use protection, even if a new partner claims that they don't have an STI.
If you've never been for an STI test and you are sexually active, it's a good idea to go for a full screen STI test. This will ensure that you get treatment if you require it and get in contact with past sexual partners so that they can get tested too. After this initial test, you should also undertake a full screen test every year, even if you use protection every time you have sex. If you do have unprotected sex, it's recommended that you go for a test afterwards as well.
Although most STIs aren't noticeable at first, a small number of people may notice some symptoms during the first couple of weeks after they've been infected. It's important that you go for an STI test if you notice any changes in your general health, but in particular your genital health. Symptoms of STIs may include:
Male and female condoms are barrier contraceptives that are considered to be among the safest and most effective ways to protect against sexually transmitted infections with new partners. They aren't 100% safe however, particularly if they are used incorrectly. If they are used correctly, male condoms are a 98% effective and female condoms are 95% effective. They can also provide a barrier from bodily fluids and rashes that could result in the spread of STIs. It is, however, important to note that infections that can transmit easily simply through genital contact such as genital herpes and genital warts can still be passed on if the infected area is not underneath the condom. Condoms are generally made out of latex, but latex free versions are also available if allergies present a problem, although they can be more expensive.
Although male condoms are still extremely popular, female condoms are also available.
The below are a number of things you should and shouldn't do to ensure that you minimise the risk of imperfect condom use:
Dental dams are rectangular latex sheets that can be used during oral sex with a man or a woman to prevent the transmission of fluids into the mouth. They aren't very popular in the UK, but they are available. They fit into the mouth to form a barrier when performing oral sex on a new partner.