Everything you need to know to keep yourself safe

FAQs – Your Health

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

What is the difference between an STD and an STI? Is “STD” an outdated or incorrect term?

STD” and “STI” are often used interchangeably; STD stands for “sexually transmitted disease”, while “STI” stands for “sexually transmitted infection”. Infections develop into diseases when they cause symptoms. It’s common for STIs to be asymptomatic (showing no symptoms)—in other words, it’s possible for you to be infected with an STI but not feel any changes in your health. Therefore, STI testing is important, even when you aren’t experiencing any symptoms!

For more information on STI testing, visit the Getting Tested page.

How common are STIs? What are some common STIs?

STIs are very common. According to the American Sexual Health Association, 1 in 2 sexually active persons will contract an STI by the age of 25. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 20 million new STIs occur every year in this country, half of those among young people aged 15-24 years (Adolescents and Young Adults). At least 80% of sexually active people will have a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection at some point in their lifetime. Although HPV is common, only a small number of people will develop long-term effects (genital warts, cervical/vulvar/anal/penile cancer). Other common STIs are chlamydia and gonorrhea. The CDC has estimated that about 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, and 1 in 7 of them don’t know it (HIV Testing). Visit the Sexually Transmitted Infections/Diseases page to learn more about STIs.

Most STIs are asymptomatic, meaning that you won’t have any signs of the disease and won’t know if you have it. If you’re sexually active, ask your healthcare provider for STI testing. For information on STI testing, visit the Getting Tested page. Before having unprotected sex with a new partner, make sure that they have been tested for STIs and do not have any infections that they could transmit to you.

How can you get an STI?

STIs are caused by a variety of organisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and protozoa. These can thrive in semen, blood, vaginal fluid, and even saliva and are spread through unprotected vaginal, oral, and anal sex and sometimes even through skin contact (herpes, HPV, pubic lice). They can cause symptoms such as painful urination, ulcers, lesions, abnormal discharge, fever, swelling, and itching. Most STIs are asymptomatic, meaning that people have no symptoms but still have an infection and can infect their partner(s).

If you’re sexually active, ask your healthcare provider for STI testing. For information on STI testing, visit the Getting Tested page. Before having unprotected sex with a new partner, make sure that they have been tested for STIs and do not have any infections that they could transmit to you. Use barrier methods (condoms and dental dams) during sex to prevent STI transmission. Learn more about barrier methods on the Barrier Methods page.

Is it possible to have an STI even if you’re a virgin?

It depends on how you define “virgin”. A common definition of “virgin” is someone who has not had vaginal sex but may have had oral or anal sex.

If you engage in sexual activities such as unprotected oral, anal, or vaginal sex, it’s possible you can get an STI. Genital herpes from one person can be spread to the oral area of somebody else (and back to the first person) and vice versa with oral herpes to the genital area. As for HIV, it can be transmitted through body fluids (e.g., blood, semen, pre-seminal fluids, rectal and vaginal fluids). If you have an open cut and come into contact with the body fluid(s) of a person with HIV or share needles with someone who has HIV, your risk of contracting HIV is very high. So even if you consider yourself a virgin, you may be at risk.

More information can be found on the Sexually Transmitted Infections/Diseases page.

What happens when you have anal sex? Are there consequences?

Similar to unprotected vaginal and oral sex, having unprotected anal sex can increase the risk of STIs. The anus does not produce its own lubrication (unlike the vagina), so it’s important to use condoms and silicone- or water-based lubricants during anal sex to prevent discomfort and small tears or injury during anal sex. Because there are intestinal bacteria in the anus, you should not transition to having vaginal or oral sex immediately after having anal sex because this can transmit harmful bacteria to your partner’s mouth or vagina. Be sure to practice good hygiene and use the proper protection each time you engage in any kind of sexual activity. Learn more about protective methods and STIs on the Barrier Methods and Sexually Transmitted Infections/Diseases pages.

If I’ve already had unprotected sex with a new partner, do I need a condom when I have sex with them again?

Yes. Both you and your partner should get tested for STIs before you have sex again and use condoms every time you have sex. Even if you both have negative test results today, the safest option to avoid pregnancy and STIs is to use a condom and a reliable form of birth control every single time you have sex. If you don’t do so now, it’s never too late to start! Learn more on the Birth Control Methods, Barrier Methods, and Getting Tested pages.

If I’m honest about having an STI in the past, will I be able to date again?

Being honest about your testing history, current STI status, and commitment to practicing safe sex is one of the best ways to show your partner that you care about them. Your STI status does not determine your worth or the amount of respect you deserve from a partner. All STIs are treatable, even if they’re not all curable. If you have an infection, like syphilis or gonorrhea, you can quickly resolve the issue with your healthcare provider. If you have a virus, like genital herpes or HIV, it’s critical that you tell your partner about your status. For more information about STI testing and telling your partner, visit the Getting Tested page.

Can I stop using condoms when I know my partner well enough?

No. Your partner could still have an STI even if they don’t have any visible symptoms. Knowing someone well enough does not tell you about their STI status. The only way to know that you can be safe is to get tested and confirm that you’re both monogamous before you stop using condoms.

The safest method is to use both a condom and a reliable form of birth control. If you choose to stop using condoms, you’re at risk for an STI and unplanned pregnancy, so you and your partner should get tested regularly and use a reliable form of birth control consistently and correctly. More information about birth control methods and STIs can be found on the Birth Control Methods and Sexually Transmitted Infections/Diseases pages.

If I’m not having vaginal sex or I’m LGBTQ+, do I need to have safe sex or get tested?

Yes. STIs can be spread during oral sex and genital touching or rubbing against the infected genitals of another person. Anal sex has an even higher rate of contracting an STI, so it’s extremely important that you use condoms when practicing anal sex. Safe sex and STI screening are still important even for those who don’t need contraception.

LGBTQ+ resources can be found on the Additional Resources page.

What is the best way to protect myself from STIs and unplanned pregnancy?

The best way to protect yourself is to make sure you think carefully about when you want to have sex, communicate with your partner, use contraception, and get tested for STIs. Whether or not you decide to have sex, it’s important to be clear with your partner about your decision and prepare for any sexual activity, such as obtaining a form of birth control and condoms. Because STIs are most commonly asymptomatic, or showing no symptoms, the only way to know for sure if you have an STI is to get tested. Learn more on the Consent, Barrier Methods, Birth Control Methods, and Getting Tested pages.

STI Testing

Doesn’t my healthcare provider test me for STIs every time I see them?

STI testing isn’t always a part of a routine exam at the healthcare provider’s office. If you want to get tested, you must ask for it. Ready to talk to a healthcare provider? Visit the Find a Doctor page.

Can I get tested without my parents knowing about it?

Yes, as long as you’re 14 years or older. Hawai‘i state law protects your confidentiality. For more information on how to get confidential testing, visit the Confidentiality page.

Content reviewed by Shandhini Raidoo, MD, MPH, FACOG

Last Updated: September 25, 2020 by Phyllis Raquinio