Boulder Teen Clinic

Can you still get an STI even if you haven’t had sex?

In general, sexually transmitted infections are just that—sexually transmitted! If you are not engaging in sexual activity, you are not at risk for STIs.

However, there are a few infections considered STIs that can spread non-sexually.  For instance, pubic lice (also known as Crabs) can be spread through wet towels, loofahs, bedsheets, and wet clothing. Pubic lice can live outside the body for up to 24 hours in locations that are warm, dark, and moist, which makes it easier for them to spread without sexual activity.  Additionally, according to the Center for Disease Control, 4% of all cases of Trichomononiasis are transmitted through hot tubs and wet towels.

Bloodborne STIs—like HIV, Syphilis, and Hepatitis B & C—can also be spread non-sexually. This most often occurs during IV drug use, medical needle sticks, or blood transfusions that did not receive proper screening.  Again, it’s important to realize these infections would not be considered STIs in this scenario, since they were not spread sexually. (However, if you received them non-sexually, you could still transmit them to others through sexual activity.)

Last, it’s important to be specific about what we mean by “sex.”  If you are engaging in genital to genital contact—even if you are not engaging in penetrative oral, anal, or vaginal sex—you are at risk for some STIs. In particular, HPV, Herpes, Syphilis (when a sore is present), and pubic lice can all spread through skin to skin contact.

If you are experiencing symptoms of an STI but haven’t been sexually active, you may want to read a bit about yeast infections and bacterial vaginitis. These are organic infections—they can occur without being transmitted from anyone—but they can be just as uncomfortable as some STIs. If you are experiencing pain, bleeding, itching, or discharge, make an appointment to see a medical provider soon.

Thanks for asking this (slightly complicated) question!

If my boyfriend and I have only had sex with each other, is it possible for either of us to have STIs?

It’s highly unlikely.  In order to get an infection, a person has to have sexual contact with someone who is already infected.  If you haven’t come into contact with someone who has a sexually transmitted infection, you probably don’t have one!

There are a few exceptions to this rule. Some infections that we consider STIs can be spread non-sexually. Bloodborne diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B & C, and Syphilis are often transmitted through IV drug use. If someone has used needle drugs, it’s possible they have an STI, even if they haven’t been sexually active.

Pubic lice, also known as crabs, can also be transmitted non-sexually. Pubic lice can live for up to twenty-four hours outside the body in warm, dark, moist places like bathtowels, bed sheets, loofahs, or wet bathing suits. If a person shares these items with someone else, lice transmission is possible.

Does that mean it’s a good idea to have sex without a condom? No way. The only 100% effective method of preventing pregnancy is abstinence. Although hormonal methods can be more than 99% effective when used perfectly, it’s still a good idea to use a condom as a backup.  Besides—although we always want to trust our partners, occasionally people do not share the truth about their sexual health history. Staying in the habit of using a condom is a great way to keep yourself safe every time.

Can drugs (like x, coke, etc.) affect the effectiveness of the birth control pill?

What a great question! On a chemical level, no: ecstasy, cocaine, and similar drugs have not been found to decrease the effectiveness of hormonal birth control. (Some prescription drugs and herbs do, though, so be sure your healthcare providers know what you’re taking.)  If you’re taking your pills correctly and all the time, they’re more than 99% likely to prevent an unplanned pregnancy, even if you have recreational drugs in your system.

However, drug use can affect your sexual health choices in other ways.  It’s well-documented that those under the influence are more likely to engage in unprotected sex, increasing the risk of STI transmission. Being drunk or high can also negatively affect a person’s communication, decreasing their ability to set boundaries, read a partner’s reactions, and give or withdraw their consent. They may not be able to look out for their friends or themselves. And depending upon when the drug use occurs, it’s possible they’ll forget to take their birth control pill on time after all.

Keep in mind, too, that IV drug users face higher rates of bloodborne STI transmission than the general population. HIV, Syphilis, and Hepatitis B & C are easy to transmit when people share needles.  If you are currently an IV drug user, Teen Clinic recommends getting tested for bloodborne infections regularly.

So will using recreational drugs affect your birth control pill’s effectiveness? Not directly. But it’s important to recognize that drug use can negatively affect your sexual health. Want to learn more?  Make an appointment to talk to a practitioner at Teen Clinic.

Which STIs are treatable?

Only some STIs are completely curable. STIs that cannot be cured, however, can be treated. When we say that STIs are treatable we mean that symptoms can be soothed and managed, but the infection cannot be cured. STIs that are curable can go away completely with the right medication. Curable STIs are the bacterias: Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis; and the parasites: Trichomoniasis, Pubic Lice & Scabies. Bacterial infections are cured with antibiotics. Parasitic infections are curable with various shampoos, creams, and medications.

The viral STIs cannot be completely cured, but their symptoms and effects can be managed and treated. Herpes, HPV, HIV, Hepatitis A, B, C can be managable infections. If you or someone you know is concerned about any STIs, make an appointment at one of our Teen Clinics for free and confidential testing and treatment. Remember, the best treatment is prevention and partner communication.

What STDs can you get from oral sex?

All STIs infect the genital area. Most of them can also infect the mouth and throat if they are transmitted through unprotected oral sex. Chlamydia and gonorrhea can infect the throat, causing soreness. Syphilis sores can appear on the inside of the mouth. High risk strains of HPV have been linked to mouth and throat cancer. Herpes can cross transmit between the genitals and the mouth, so it’s possible to get Herpes Type II on the mouth or Type I on the genitalia. Hepatitis A is only transmitted through oral-fecal contact that can occur through anal stimulation by mouth.

Using a male condom or dental dam can help reduce the risk of STI transmission during oral sex if one partner is infected. It’s also important to talk with a partner before any sexual contact about STI testing, protection, and past sexual histories. We know this can be difficult sometimes, but we hope you’ll find it that taking away the risk of STIs makes for a positive sexual experience.