STIs, also known as STDs, are spread through body fluids and, sometimes, by skin-to-skin contact with infected areas. Birth control pills, the "morning after pill," and many other contraceptive devices do not provide any protection against STIs, since they only protect against pregnancy.
If you choose to be sexually active, the best protection against STIs (also known as STDs) is a latex condom. Condoms provide good protection against STIs for vaginal and anal sex. Female condoms are also available. For oral sex, a dental dam (a flat piece of latex used for dental work) can be used in the mouth as a barrier to bacteria and viruses. Condoms work very well, but they are not 100% effective in preventing STIs. They may break or slip off, and they do not cover the entire genital area. Some STIs may cause sores in genital areas not covered by the condom, and you could still be infected.
Condoms work best if used properly. Here are a few tips:
- open the package carefully so that you don't tear the condom
- store condoms in a cool place (not your wallet or your car)
- don't use condoms that are past their expiration date – they are more likely to break
- don't re-use condoms.
- use water-based lubricants (like K-Y Jelly or Astroglide), not oil-based ones (like petroleum jelly); oil-based lubricants may cause the condom to break
- remember to leave some space (about one finger's width) near the tip of the condom, when you use it as instructed on the packaging
Even if someone does not have any visible sores or other symptoms, they may still be infected with an STI that they could pass on to you. Unless you are in a mutually monogamous relationship (neither of you is having sex with anyone else), and you are sure that neither of you has any STIs, be sure to use a condom every time you have sex. No method is 100% effective at preventing infection. That's why it is important to talk to your sexual partners about STIs.
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