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This Week's Ask Us Anything is in Partnership with Peer Health Exchange
Guest Responder: Julia Keegan!

Julia is a senior at George Washington University, and a health educator with Peer Health Exchange (PHE). This is her fourth year volunteering with PHE. Over the years, she's taught nutrition, decision-making, communication skills, and reflection focused workshops. Julia studied abroad in Chile last fall,and worked for a community health organization planning and teaching nutrition workshops to residents of Santiago. She's also a Wrap M.C. (meaning she's certified to distribute condoms to young people in D.C.), and after Julia graduates she wants to work in a community health organization or clinic that focuses on teen health and wellness, with specific focus on reproductive/sexual health.

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Ask Us Anything

The Real Deal About STDs

You know you can't tell if a person has one just by looking…but what ELSE do you need to know about STDs? Sexually transmitted diseases are a big deal and we're here to help. Ask Us Anything about STDs!

Are condoms the only form of protection against STDs?

Barrier methods, like condoms (both male and female) are the only effective way to protect against STDs if you are having sex. They’re called barrier methods because they provide a physical barrier between you and your partner.  

Of course, the most effective way to prevent against STDs is by not having sex at all, but if you are sexually active there are a few other options available to you: if you’re having sex monogamously with one, a tested partner can reduce your risk of getting an STD. There are also several vaccines available that help prevent some STDs, such as HPV, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B—you can talk to your doctor about whether any of these vaccines are right for you.

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How do I ask my boyfriend, without being awkward, if he has/thinks he has a STD?

Talking about STDs with a partner isn’t easy, so it’s okay to be a little nervous—he might be nervous to ask you too! But having an open conversation about STDs with your boyfriend is one of the most effective ways to keep you both healthy.  You can start by bringing up the topic in private when it’s just you two, and explain that you’ve been reading up on STDs and it’s possible that either of you could have an STD from a previous relationship and not even know it.  If you’re unsure whether you or your boyfriend might have an STD, suggest going to get tested together. Many health centers offer STD tests for free or low cost. If you need help finding a place to get tested, check out our Clinic Locator to find somewhere near you. And remember, having that conversation before you engage in sexual activity (and getting tested if necessary) is an important way to make sure both you and your boyfriend are STD free!

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Are some STD's treatable?

Yes—there are various treatments available for STDs, and many STDs are even curable. Bacterial STDs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis can be easily cured with antibiotics and leave minimal lasting effects. Treatments are also available for viral STDs like herpes and HIV, which, although controllable with medication, cannot be cured.  It’s important to talk to your doctor if you think you or a partner might have an STD to get an accurate diagnosis and figure out what treatment plan is best for you. If you need help finding a health center to get tested, check out our Clinic Locator.

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Is it safe to assume that if you've never had sex, then you are clear of STDs?

Not necessarily. All types of sex, including vaginal, anal, genital-to-genital, and oral sex, can spread STDs—meaning that depending on how you define sex, you can still be at risk for an STD.  If you think it’s possible you might have an STD, it’s important to get tested before you have any sexual contact with a partner to keep both you and your partner safe.

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Even if you haven't had sex before, should you get tested for STD's?

STDs can be spread from vaginal, anal, oral, and genital-to-genital sex, so if you’ve engaged in any of those sexual behaviors it’s a good idea to get tested.  Getting tested is the best way to know whether or not you have an STD—and the most important thing is to get tested before you engage in sexual activity, especially if you think you or a partner might have or have been exposed to an STD. If you need help finding a health center to get tested, check out our Clinic Locator.

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How can you tell if someone has an STD if you're too afraid to ask?? Is there even a way?

Many STDs show no symptoms at all, so it would be almost impossible to tell if someone has an STD just by looking at them.  In fact, most teens and young adults with STDs don’t even know they have one. Asking a partner about their sexual history can be nerve-wracking, but open and honest communication about STDs can keep both you and your partner safe. And who knows, maybe your partner is afraid to ask you too, so don’t wait for him or her to bring it up—it’ll be a relief for you both to talk about it.  The only way to be certain about whether someone has an STD is to ask, and if in doubt get tested! If you need help finding a health center to get tested, check out our Clinic Locator.

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What are some signs that scream STD?

Some symptoms that might indicate you have an STD include any unusual discharge or odor, itching or irritation, or pain during sex or urination. But a lot of STDs may not have such obvious symptoms—or any at all! Which means many people who are infected might not even know it, so it’s important to get tested even if you don’t see any signs of an STD. Getting tested is the only way to know for sure whether or not you have an STD. If you need help finding a health center to get tested, check out our Clinic Locator.

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If neither me nor my partner have an STD, can one of us still contract an STD from sex or oral sex?

Nope—it’s not possible to catch an STD from a partner that’s uninfected! If both you and your partner have been tested and are only having sex with each other, there’s no way for an STD to enter into the picture. But even if you have only one sexual partner, don't just assume your partner is monogamous--ask if you're unsure and get tested if there's a chance you may be at risk for getting an STD. And even if you think you and your partner are STD free, it’s important to get tested to know for sure and to get re-tested if you have sex with a new partner. You can use our Clinic Locator to find a health center near you to get tested.

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How can I tell my partner I have an STD ?

Talking to a partner about STDs can be a bit intimidating, but don’t be afraid to talk openly and honestly with your partner about STD testing and prevention—it’s one of the best ways to prevent the spread of STDs. First, talk to your partner as soon as you can and make sure to be open and honest. Your partner might have questions, so you may find it helpful to do some research before you sit down to talk.  It’s also important that your partner get tested, so try discussing testing options and maybe even locate a health center where he/she can get tested and treated if necessary.  Before you engage in any sexual activity, try thinking together about ways to prevent spreading the STD to your partner—whether that’s using barrier methods of STD protection during sex or waiting to engage in sexual activity until you’ve both been tested and/or treated. If you need help finding a health center to get tested, check out our Clinic Locator.

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My girlfriend and i are both virgins at the moment but is it possible that you can be born with a STD?

Depending on how you define the term virgin, it is possible that either you or your girlfriend could have an STD since STDs can be transmitted during different types of sexual contact, not just intercourse. And while some STDs can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth, you are far more likely to contract an STD through sexual contact.  It’s a good idea to discuss your sexual history with your girlfriend and get tested if there’s any chance either of you might have been exposed to an STD. Take a look at our Clinic Locator to find a clinic near you!

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Can you have more than one STD at the same time?

Yes! You can have more than one STD at the same time, and you can even get the same STD again if you’re sexually active.  It’s also possible that only one STD will present symptoms, so if you do test positive for one it’s a good idea to get tested for other potential STDs.  Because each STD has its own test, it’s important to talk to your doctor about which ones you should be tested for. If you need help finding a health center to get tested, check out our Clinic Locator.

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How many individuals that live in our country in the past year (2014) have had a case of STD's?

1 in 2 sexually active young people have an STDs, and many of them don’t even know it!

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How do you ask your significant other if they have STD's in a non-accusatory way?

Talking to a significant other or sexual partner about STDs can be a bit uncomfortable, but it’s important to be open and honest for both your health and the health of your partner! Try starting a conversation in private, focusing on your concern for your significant other’s sexual health as well as your own.  You can tell your significant other that you did some research and found that STDs are way more common than you had realized, so it’s possible that one of you could have an STD and not even know it.  Suggest getting tested together to put less focus on your partner and more on the health of your relationship. You also may find it helpful to read up on STDs to feel calm and confident going into your conversation, and to help you answer any questions your significant other might have. To find a place where you, your significant other, or both of you together can get tested, check out our Clinic Locator.

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When would be a good time to begin getting tested for STD's?

If you have had any type of sex, you should get tested. It’s also a good idea to get tested once a year, whenever you have a new sexual partner, have unprotected sex with an untested partner, or if you think your partner might have an STD. Otherwise, if you have any doubt or show any symptoms of an STD, it’s important to get tested, both for your own sexual health and the health of your partner(s). Check out our Clinic Locator to find a health center to get tested.

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If you've had an STD before are you more prone to getting one again?

While just having an STD in the past won’t necessarily increase your chances of getting one in the future, engaging in behaviors that put you or your partner at risk for getting an STD will make it more likely to contract one again.  Even if you’ve been treated for a bacterial STD, it is possible to be re-infected by a new partner, especially if you are engaging in unprotected sexual contact of any kind.  Additionally, having STDs that result in open sores (such as syphilis, herpes or genital warts) greatly increases your chances of contracting HIV. So if you think you may have been exposed to an STD or notice any symptoms, it’s important to get tested and treated as soon as possible. You can use our Clinic Locator to find a health center near you.

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I been masturbating a lot lately, is it normal to masturbate a lot? And could I catch STDs if I masturbate?

Masturbation is totally okay, and not to mention a lot of fun. As long as it’s not interfering with your normal activities, then keep on keeping on. 

 

And don’t worry you can’t get an STI by masturbating without a partner present. 

 

Enjoy! 

 

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Can you get a disease by fingering a girl?

Yes, you can contract an STI even if there is no ejaculation. While many STIs are transmitted through semen, you also can contract them through vaginal fluid, pre-cum, open cuts and sores, and skin-to-skin contact.

To learn more about STIs and how to prevent them, visit the Know The Facts First website.

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Can you get diseases?

There are a lot of different STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and their treatment, symptoms, and severity depend the disease itself. Some of them are curable with a little medicine. Some, like herpes, have no cure and will stick with you for the rest of your life. One thing they all have in common, though? You don’t want to get any of them. So, if you’re sexually active, you have to be sure to use a condom—male or female—in addition to any other birth control method you use every single time you have sex. Condoms are the only birth control that prevents pregnancy and STIs, so don’t think that you can skip it “just this once.”

If you think that you have STI go to the doctor for a diagnosis and treatment plan. Need help finding a health center? We’ve got you covered—just enter your ZIP code in our Clinic Locator.

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Can you catch a STI if you've already had it?

You can, yes. You can catch some STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis as many times as you're exposed to them. And if you and your partner(s) don't wait until after treatment has fully cleared all of the bacteria or parasites from your body, you could pass the disease back and forth. Some STIs you can only get once, but that's because they have no cure. If you get HIV or herpes it's usually yours for life. 

This is why using condoms (the only form of birth control that protects against STIs) is so important! 

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I have HSV1 and I was wondering what risk I run for my partner if we have unprotected sex. I was diagnosed in August and haven't had an outbreak since.

HSV1 is a highly contagious form of herpes. It's mostly spread from oral to oral contact when you are having an outbreak, but it can also be spread through oral to genital contact. Most of the time when you don't have symptoms you are not infectious, but don't take that risk with a partner without talking to them about it first. Even if you're not having an outbreak, they deserve the opportunity to consent to the risk that having unprotected sex might spread the infection. 

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What STIs are there?

There are a load of different kinds of STIs, but they can be divided into three main categories; bacterial, viral, and parasitic. The five most common STIs are HPV, genital herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV/AIDs. The only form of birth control that protects against STIs are condoms, so make sure you practice safe sex by using them! 

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What are symptoms of an STD?

Different Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) have different groups of symptoms. Some STDS cause obvious symptoms in obvious places, like the genitals. But here’s the important thing—most STDs cause no symptoms at all! The scary part is that STDs can cause problems later—like pain in your pelvic area and not being able to get pregnant—even if there aren’t symptoms at first.

Also, if there are symptoms from an STD, they can be so mild or temporary that they are easy to ignore or mistake for something else. Symptoms may appear right away or they might not show up for weeks. The only way to know for sure if you have an STD is to get tested. Getting tested for STDs applies to you and your partner(s) so the best idea is for you and your partner to be tested before you start any sexual activity together.

To find out the specific symptoms for each STD, go to the “Facts about STDs” section hereTo find a testing center near you, enter your zip code in the “Get Tested” sidebar of the Know The Facts First website You can also talk to your doctor or nurse about getting tested and treated for STDs.

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Can lesbians get STDs too? Is it less likely?

Yes, lesbians can get STDs. Lesbians can give STDs to each other through skin-to-skin contact—especially genital skin. So this includes oral sex, of course, but also applies to any contact with fluids from the vagina, including menstrual blood.

We aren’t sure if lesbians get STDs more or less often than other women. But some STDs are more common among lesbians (such as HPV) and others are much less likely to be passed through sex between women (such as HIV).  Go here to get the details on the more common and less common STDs that may affect lesbian women.

No matter what type of sexual activity you have, it is important that you protect yourself and your partner, AND get tested. When and how often you get tested for STDs depends on many factors, so talk to your doctor.

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Do my partner and I need to get tested for STDs if we lost our virginities to each other?

First, the only sure way to know if you or your partner has an STD is to get tested. Second, it depends on how you define “virgin.” Maybe your partner had oral or anal sex before but didn’t consider that real sex. In either case, your partner is at risk for an STD, and therefore, so are you.

Also, Herpes and HPV can be passed through skin-to-skin contact even if there was no sexual intercourse, like with oral-to-genital or genital-to-genital contact. Again, the only sure way to know if you or your partner has an STD is to get tested.

Remember, to prevent STDs AND pregnancy, it is important to use double protection. Double protection is using a condom AND another form of birth control–like the pill, patch, or a long-acting birth control method like an implant or IUD—when you decide it’s the right time to have sex.  Even though these other birth control methods will help prevent pregnancy, they will NOT prevent STDs. That is why using a condom is so important, even if you are using another form of birth control.

If you think you need an STD test because of your sexual activity, then you need to have a conversation with your partner(s) and encourage them to get tested as well. 

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Are all STDs bacterial infections?

No, not all STDs are bacterial infections. STDs are caused by three kinds of “bugs”: Viruses, Bacteria, and Parasites. All of these can be spread through sexual activity, but have different symptoms and effects on your health when you are older. Yes, health problems when you are older! STDs can cause problems later—like pain or not being able to have children—even if there aren’t symptoms at first.

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How can you get treatment for a STD?

If you have an STD, it’s very important to get treated. Do not wait to get treatment. Seriously.  STDs won’t disappear on their own even if your symptoms go away.  You have to get medical treatment.  Waiting to get treatment for an STD or thinking that the infection will disappear on its own can put you at risk for serious health problems later in life, like painful infections or not being able to get pregnant. And of course, you could also pass the STD on to a partner.

If you do not want to go to your own health care provider for STD testing and treatment, there are places where you can get confidential testing and services, often at a low cost. To find a testing center near you that can link you to care or treat your STD, enter your zip code in the “Get Tested” sidebar of the Know The Facts First website.

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Where can I get condoms anonymously?

Condoms are sold in many places and the good news is that you don’t need a prescription or I.D. to buy them. You can buy a male or female condom at drugstores, convenience stores, gas stations, community health centers, doctor’s offices, family planning clinics, grocery stores, pharmacies, health departments, student health clinics and even from vending machines and online. Health departments and clinics may also offer condoms at low cost or even for free.

By getting a condom, you are taking care of your health, being responsible and protecting yourself and your partner against STDs. Go you!

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Can I get an STD if there's no ejaculation involved?

Yes, you can contract an STD even if there is no ejaculation. While many STDs are transmitted through semen, you also can contract them through vaginal fluid, pre-cum, open cuts and sores, and skin-to-skin contact.

To learn more about STDs and how to prevent them, visit the Know The Facts First website.

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My boyfriend and I have been talking about sex. We both are going to get tested, I'm going to get on birth control, and he is always going to use a condom. If neither of us have STDs, can we have unprotected sex w/o getting an STD?

Do you hear the applause? We applaud you and your boyfriend for talking about sex and taking the necessary actions for safer sex. Communicating with your partner is an important part of the process in figuring out if and when you are ready to have sex. And if you both decide you are ready, it’s essential to also talk about how you will prevent STDs AND pregnancy with both your boyfriend and your doctor or nurse.

That said, if you both decide you are ready, using a condom correctly and every time you have sex, even if you both don’t have STDs will help reduce your risk of getting STDs and protect your health regardless of your partner’s sexual history or activities.

And we’re still applauding you because you are getting on birth control and he is always going to use a condom! That’s dual protection! It’s best for you and your boyfriend to continue to use dual protection to prevent STDs and pregnancy. Dual protection is using a condom with another form of birth control–like the pill, patch, or a long-acting birth control method like an implant or IUD.

Remember, you can get an STD from any type of sex. While many STDs are transmitted through semen, you also can contract them through vaginal fluid, pre-cum, open cuts and sores, and skin-to-skin contact. Learn more about how to protect yourself and your partner by visiting the Know The Facts First website.

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Is it possible for STD medication (like antibiotics) to not work?

Yes, it is possible. Some STDs might be resistant to a specific medication, such as an antibiotic. That is, the medication might not work against that particular STD as expected. So, if you take the medication the way you are supposed to, but you continue to have any symptoms, you should go see your doctor or nurse again to tell them.

Often, a medication does not work because it is NOT being taken exactly the way it is supposed to be taken. If your doctor or nurse gives you medication, such as antibiotics, to treat an STD, it is very important to follow the directions exactly as written and to take the entire prescription, even if the symptoms go away. Remember, you can have an STD even if you don’t show signs or symptoms!

Also remember that to avoid being re-infected, your partner must get treated for the STD as well. And you should not have sex for at least 7 days after both of you are treated to avoid re-infecting each other before the STD is completely gone.

If you are concerned that the medication isn’t working or you are unsure about how you are supposed to take the medication, talk to your doctor or nurse for answers.

To find a testing center near you that can link you to care or treat your STD, enter your zip code in the “Get Tested” sidebar of the Know The Facts First website.

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What is the likelihood of getting an STD from oral sex?

While we don’t know the exact likelihood of getting an STD from oral sex, we do know that both people engaging in oral sex can spread or become infected with an STD. HIV, syphilis, herpes, gonorrhea, and chlamydia can all be transmitted during oral sex.

You can decrease the chances of being infected with an STD if a male or female condom is used during oral sex. To learn more on how to protect yourself and your partner, visit the Know The Facts First website.

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Can I get an STD through a condom?

It is possible to get an STD even if you use a condom.However, using a condom correctly and using one EVERY time you have sex dramatically reduces the chances that you will get an STD from your partner. When used correctly and every time, condoms are very effective in lowering the risk of STDs that are transmitted by genital fluids. However, condoms cannot completely protect you and your partner from some STDs, like herpes, syphilis, or HPV, which can be contracted through skin-to-skin contact.

Also, condoms can break, slip, or leak, especially if they are not put on and taken off properly. Go here and here for more information on condoms and how to use them correctly.

And remember that the only sure way to prevent STDs and pregnancy is NOT to have sex. However, if you decide that you are ready for sex, use dual protection to prevent STDs AND pregnancy. Dual protection is using a condom AND another form of birth control–like the pill, patch, or a long-acting birth control method like an implant or IUD.

One last thing: Please make sure discussing STD testing with your doctor or nurse is part of your regular medical care. You should get tested any time you have a new partner or engage in risky behaviors, such as drug and/or alcohol use, sex without a condom, sex with multiple partners, or have symptoms. To learn which STD shows what symptoms, visit the “Facts about STDs” section of the Know The Facts First website. And to find a testing center near you, enter your zip code in the “Get Tested” sidebar of the Know The Facts First website.

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Can I get STDs from having protected sex with my boyfriend?

It is possible to get an STI even if you use a condom. However, using a condom correctly and using one EVERY time you have sex dramatically reduces the chances that you will get an STI from your partner. When used correctly and every time, condoms are very effective in lowering the risk of STIs that are transmitted by genital fluids. However, condoms cannot completely protect you and your partner from some STIs, like herpes, syphilis, or HPV, which can be contracted through skin-to-skin contact.

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What is lesbian sex like? What protection should be used to prevent STDs during lesbian sex?

The same as any other type of sex, sex between two women is anything that makes both parties feel good and reach an orgasm. 

Any time a person is having sex, protection should be used, so it's great that you're asking this question even if you're not having a type of sex where unplanned pregnancy may occur. If you're a woman having sex with only women, you are less likely to get an STI such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, or HIV. Though you may still contract herpes, HPV, or pubic lice among other STIs. 

If you and your partner choose to use sex toys make sure you clean them between every use, and consider using a dental dam if you have oral sex. 

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Is there a cure for herpes?

There is no cure for herpes. This is why it's so important to use condoms as they're the only form of birth control that prevents STIs. 

Herpes goes from one person to another when you have oral, anal, or vaginal sex and it can spread even when one partner shows no signs or symptoms of it. There are medicines you can take to shorten or prevent outbreaks though so talk to your health care provider about which may be right for you. Need help finding a health center? We’ve got you covered—just enter your ZIP code in our Clinic Locator.

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How do u do have sex with out getting all of those diseases?

STIs are infections that you catch through sexual contact. There are a lot of different STIs and their treatment, symptoms, and severity depend the disease itself…some of them are curable with a little medicine. Some, like herpes, have no cure and will stick with you for the rest of your life. One thing they all have in common, though? You don’t want to get any of them. Two ways to avoid getting STIs while having sex are the male condom and female condom

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