How can I protect myself against Sexually Transmitted Infections ?
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Prevention is the best form of protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Many people infected with an STI may be unaware of it because they do not present any symptoms and therefore recommendations are to use protection in all types of sexual activity, unless absolutely certain that the other person is healthy (which means they must have recently completed the corresponding tests and the results were negative).
The spread of many STIs can be prevented through the use of barrier methods during penetrative sex and also oral sex.
Barrier methods used to prevent sexually transmitted infections
Male condom. This is the most studied of all methods and is currently considered to offer the highest level of protection.
Condoms do not guarantee complete protection against some common STIs, such as human papillomavirus (the cause of genital warts) or genital herpes (HSV), which are spread by skin–skin contact (because condoms do not cover all areas of skin or mucous membrane). Nevertheless, it has been demonstrated that the use of a barrier method significantly reduces the spread of these infections.
Many couples use lubricants (in the form of water soluble gels or glycerin) during their sexual activities, particularly in the case of anal penetration. Do not use a grease-based lubricant (butter, oil, cosmetic creams, Vaseline®) as they weaken latex and the condom may tear more easily.
Polyurethane or nitrile female condom. The correct and systematic use of female condoms can substantially reduce the risk of contracting an STI.
Latex dental dams. These decrease the risk of infection during oral sex.
It is important to stress that STIs can be transmitted even in the absence of ejaculation.
Barrier methods are also effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies when used in sexual activities involving vaginal penetration. You must know that other contraceptive methods such as the contraceptive pill, spermicides or so-called natural methods (the rhythm method, “pulling out”, etc.) present varying degrees of efficacy in preventing pregnancy but they DO NOT protect against sexually transmitted infections.
Measures to reduce the risk of contracting an Sexually Transmitted Infections
Limit the number of sexual partners.
Avoid having sex with anonymous or unknown partners.
Do not share material that punctures or cuts (syringes, needles, razors, etc.) with other people.
Use disposable or sterilised material to perforate the skin (tattoos or piercings).
Avoid having sex under the effect of certain drugs as they decrease the perception of risk and level of control over the protection being used.
Do not share unsterilised sex toys or cover them with a condom before each use.
Vaccines against some STIs are available: HAV, HBV and HPV. A vaccine is also available for hepatitis A virus which can be transmitted during sex, especially via anal penetration.
Preventive vaccines for STIs
There are currently no preventive vaccines available for most sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Vaccines are only available for three STIs: hepatitis A and B (at the moment there is still no vaccine for hepatitis C) and human papillomavirus (HPV).
Vaccination against hepatitis B was introduced in the vaccination schedule in 1993 for adolescents and 2005 for newborns; therefore people born in Spain, who are under the age of 27 years and have followed the vaccination schedule correctly should be vaccinated. People born in Spain over 28 years ago, or in other countries, and who have not been vaccinated should learn about their level of immunity against hepatitis B from their family doctor and get vaccinated if they are not inoculated. With respect to hepatitis A, vaccination is recommended for individuals who engage in risky practices, particularly men who have sex with men.
A vaccine against HPV was introduced to the nationwide vaccination schedule in 2007. The vaccine was initially only indicated in girls aged 8–12, and although it has currently been extended to boys, the Spanish social security service only pays for girls. The vaccine is also indicated and paid for in women under 26 years, recently indicated (but not paid for) in men who have sex with men and in anyone (male or female) with HIV.
HIV does not discriminate, we are all vulnerable. Protect yourself.