It’s reasonable to assume that all sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – a.k.a. sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) – are transmitted through sexual contact. While that may be true, it’s only part of the story. Sure, you cannot get herpes from a toilet seat and you will not get HIV from a mosquito bite. Still, “sexual contact” can mean different things to different people, and not all STIs are the same.
In fact, different types of contact carry different rates and types of infection. We are going to break through some common misunderstandings with this blog post. Spoiler: there are lots of ways to get an STI.
Can I get an STI from…
Yes, you can get an STI from a virgin. First of all, let’s unpack the term virgin. It traditionally means “someone who has not had sex,” but what type of sex are we referring to? Someone who identifies as a virgin may mean that they have not have penis-in-vagina sex, but have had oral or anal sex. That means they could have an STI. Even if they’ve only kissed before, they could have acquired an STI like herpes or rarely syphilis. The only way to be sure that someone doesn’t have an STI is for them to get tested.
Yes, you can get an STI from kissing someone who is infected. Although kissing is a low risk sexual activity, it is still possible to pass herpes, HPV, and rarely syphilis, through kissing. Even gonorrhea can be transmitted through deep kissing, though it’s less common. It’s best to avoid engaging with someone who has a visible oral sore. Also, if someone is at high risk for certain STIs, you may want to ask about their sexual health history before leaning in.
No, you cannot get an STI from grinding – as long as your clothes stay on! That said, if clothing comes off, you can get an STI from grinding that involves genital-to-genital contact. And if there’s an exchange of body fluids like pre-ejaculate (“precum”), ejaculate, or vaginal wetness, the range of potential STIs is even greater.
Yes, you can get an STI from digital stimulation. This involves inserting one or more fingers into an anus or vagina, or manually stimulating a penis. This type of sexual contact, sometimes labeled “mutual stimulation”, is considered low-risk but you can still pass certain STIs such as HPV. Rates of transmission of STIs such as syphilis and herpes are lower through skin-to-skin contact than through kissing. However, these rates increase if there are visible sores present.
Yes, you can get an STI from oral sex with a vagina (cunnilingus), penis (fellatio), or anus (annilingus). When performing oral sex on a vagina/vulva, herpes is the main risk, though HPV and syphilis can also be easliy passed. Fellation involves a broader risk, including gonorrhea and chlamydia, if the penis is infected. While STI transmission via oral sex is quite possible, studies have shown that the risk of getting HIV from oral sex is much lower than the risk associated with vaginal sex. This may not be true for other STIs.
In addition to the STIs, other infections such as hepatitis A virus, Shigella and intestinal parasites (amebiasis) can be spread through giving annilingus. Use barrier methods such as condoms and oral dams the right way every time you have oral sex to lower your chances of transmitting or acquiring an infection.
Yes, you can get an STI from penetrative vaginal or anal sex. STI transmission can happen whether or not there is ejaculation and even if there is only shallow penetration. When using a sex toy for penetration, STIs can be passed if the object is not properly cleaned in between partners. Anal sex poses a higher risk of infection because the lining of the anus is more prone to tears, which makes it more susceptible to infection. Specifically anal-receptive sex, or being a “bottom,” poses the highest risk. Use condoms the right way every time you have penetrative sex to lower your chances of transmitting or acquiring an STI.
The hard truth:
Nearly all forms of sexual contact involve some risk of STI transmission. The good news: risk of transmission can be decreased by proper use of barrier methods, like condoms, every time you have sex. However, because condoms aren’t perfect, and most STIs have no symptoms, it’s important to also get tested regularly. Learn more about STI testing here.