Sex Advice

Dear Dr. Locker: Can I protect myself against sexually transmitted diseases if I have casual sex?

Answer from Dr. Locker

The best protection from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is abstinence, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with someone who has tested negative twice in a year for all STIs (and you have tested negative twice in a year for all STIs) and you are sure your partner is uninfected, and never lies or cheats. But if you are going to have casual sex, or be sexually active with multiple partners, or you are not in a committed relationship, or are not sure of your partner’s disease status or level of trustworthiness, then using condoms is a must! When used properly, condoms reduce the risk getting of many STI's, including chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, and HIV (AIDS). However, condoms do not protect against all sexually transmitted infections, including two viruses that last a life time: herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV; genital warts), which can cause cervical cancer. It is important to understand that when herpes or HPV are present in areas that are covered by a condom, then the risk of transmission is low. (In fact, lower rates of cervical cancer have been linked to consistent condom use.) But condoms will not stop the spread of herpes or HPV if present around the genitals as opposed to the area that is covered by the condom. Therefore, use condoms every time, but understand that they won’t protect you 100%. Anytime you have intercourse or genital contact with someone you are putting yourself at some risk.

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