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Proven Ways to Avoid Getting an STD Every Time

Four ways to help prevent a sexually transmitted disease. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 people in the United States has a sexually transmitted disease. "The burden of STIs is staggering," said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. "At a time when STIs are at an all-time high, they have fallen out of the national conversation. Yet, STIs are a preventable and treatable national health threat with substantial personal and economic impact. There is an urgent need to reverse the trend of increasing STIs, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected many STI prevention services." Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies who explained why STDs are a serious health concern and how to avoid getting one. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What to Know About STDs

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Dr. Mitchell says, "Sexually transmitted diseases (STD), also known as sexually transmitted infections (STI), are a topic that is important despite their sensitive nature. There are an estimated 20 million new cases of STDs in the United States each year. Of these, half are among 15-24-year-olds. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections passed from one person to another through sexual contact. The organisms that cause STDs can enter the body through cuts or sores on the skin or mucous membranes, such as the mouth, rectum, or vagina. STDs are a leading cause of death and disability among women of childbearing age worldwide. In the United States, STDs are a significant public health problem. They disproportionately affect certain groups of people, including adolescents and young adults, minorities, and gay and bisexual men. Despite their prevalence, STDs are often undiagnosed and untreated. This can lead to serious health consequences, including infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, cancer, and death. In addition, STDs can have a profound impact on the lives of those who contract them, causing physical pain, emotional distress, and financial problems. For these reasons, it is essential that we continue to learn more about STDs and how to prevent them."


Why STDs Are Serious Health Issues

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According to Dr. Mitchell, "STDs are a serious health issue because they can cause long-term problems, including infertility, organ damage, and death. In addition, STDs can be passed from one person to another, leading to an outbreak of the disease. For example, in 2016, there was a significant Zika virus outbreak in Brazil. The virus is primarily spread through sexual contact, and it can cause severe congenital disabilities. As a result, many countries issued travel warnings for pregnant women and advised couples planning to conceive to delay their travel plans. While Zika is no longer a significant concern, other STDs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, are rising. These diseases can often be cured with antibiotics, but if they are left untreated, they can lead to serious health complications. For example, chlamydia can cause infertility in women, while gonorrhea can cause blindness. As a result, it is essential to get tested for STDs and practice safe sex to reduce the risk of contracting an STD.

When most people think of syphilis, they likely think of it as a disease that antibiotics can cure. However, syphilis is much more than that. Syphilis is a severe and life-threatening infection that can cause lasting damage to the brain, heart, and other organs. It can also lead to death. The bacterium Treponema pallidum causes syphilis, and it is most often spread through sexual contact.  If left untreated, syphilis can lead to serious health problems like blindness, dementia, and cardiovascular disease. It can also lead to death.

HIV is a severe infection because it attacks the body's immune system. This means that the body can't fight off other infections and diseases, making people very ill. HIV is also a lifelong infection, so people who have it need to take medication for the rest of their lives. There is no cure for HIV, but most people with the infection can lead long and healthy lives with treatment. However, if HIV isn't treated, it can lead to AIDS, which is a condition that weakens the immune system even further and can be fatal. That's why it's so crucial for people who think they might have been exposed to HIV to get tested as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for protecting people's health."


People Who Are Most Vulnerable for STDs

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"There are 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the United States every year," says Dr. Mitchell. While anyone sexually active is at risk of contracting an STD, there are certain groups of more vulnerable people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), young people between the ages of 15 and 24 make up just over one-quarter of the population, but they account for almost half of all new STD cases. This is likely due to factors, including a lack of knowledge about how STDs are transmitted and a greater likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behaviors.

Another group that is particularly vulnerable to STDs is gay and bisexual men. Men who have sex with men (MSM) account for more than two-thirds of all new syphilis cases. This is thought to be due to factors, including a higher rate of unprotected sex and a higher number of sexual partners.

Certain groups are more likely to be affected by STDs due to various factors, including economic inequality, lack of access to healthcare, and high-risk behaviors. For example, African Americans have the highest rates of STD infection, followed by Native Americans/Alaska Natives and Hispanics. This is likely due partly to the fact that these groups are more likely to live in poverty and lack healthcare resources.Regardless of age or sexual orientation, it's essential to practice safe sex to reduce the risk of contracting an STD."

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Practice Safe Sex

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"STDs are serious business," Dr. Mitchell emphasizes. "And while most people think that they're only something that happens to other people, the truth is that anyone can get an STD. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 20 million new STD infections in the United States every year. So how can you protect yourself from becoming one of those statistics? The best way to avoid getting an STD is to practice safe sex. That means using condoms every time you have sex and being smart about the sexual partners you choose. If you're not in a monogamous relationship, it's essential to get tested for STDs regularly. And if you think you might have an STD, it's essential to see a doctor right away. Getting tested and treated for STDs is not only good for your health, but it's also good for the health of your partner or partners. So by taking these simple steps, you can help protect yourself from getting an STD."

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Reduce Your Number of Sexual Partners

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Dr. Mitchell states, "When it comes to sexual health, one of the best things you can do is reduce your number of sexual partners. This may seem like counterintuitive advice, but hear us out. Having fewer sexual partners lowers your risk of exposure to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). And, the fewer partners you have, the less likely you are to contract an STI in the first place. Each new person you have sex with exposes you to a new set of STI risks. So, the more partners you have, the greater your chances of coming into contact with an infection. In addition, people who have multiple sexual partners are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as not using protection, which further increases their STI risk. So, if you're looking to reduce your chances of getting an STI, focus on quality over quantity when it comes to your sexual partners."


Get Tested for STIs Before a New Sexual Relationship

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Dr. Mitchell reminds us, "It's essential, to be frank about sexual health before getting intimate with a new partner. Many STDs are asymptomatic, so it's possible to spread them without realizing it. Getting tested is the only way to know what STDs you may be carrying. It's also essential to have that conversation with your partner before getting physical to be both on the same page about what risks you're comfortable taking. By being honest about your sexual health, you can help prevent the spread of STDs and keep yourself and your partner healthy."



woman sleeping peacefully in bed with her dog

Dr. Mitchell says, "It might seem obvious, but abstinence is the only proven way not to get an STD. Though it's not an easy or realistic method, if one uses all the proven ways above and stays in a monogamous, committed, long-term relationship, the chances of getting an STD are significantly lowered. As a medical professional, I've seen too many people fall victim to STDs because they didn't take the proper precautions. While it's not always possible to prevent STDs through abstinence, it's still important to be aware of the risks and take steps to protect yourself as much as possible. If you choose to have sex, be sure to use condoms consistently and correctly, get tested regularly, and talk openly with your partner about your sexual history and any potential risks. Taking these precautions can help reduce your risk of contracting an STD."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather