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STI Prevention

Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections

There are a number of ways and methods that can help you prevent contracting sexually transmitted infections. These methods include: vaccinations, frequent testing, pre-exposure prescription drugs, mutual monogamy, and various barrier methods.


The only vaccination you can receive to prevent a STI is the HPV/Hepatitis B vaccine. There are a number of benefits that come from receiving the HPV vaccine. First of all, the vaccine dramatically reduces the risk of developing cancer from HPV. The vaccine protects you against the most dangerous variations of HPV. In general, people get the HPV vaccination around 11-12 years old. Between ages 9-14, the vaccine is given in two doses. After the age of 14, the vaccine is given in three doses.

Who should get the vaccine?

Everyone. Unless your doctor says otherwise (in circumstances of immunocompromisation or pre-existing conditions etc.), it is a great idea to get this vaccine.

What does the vaccine protect you from?

In general, the vaccine protects against HPV. Specifically, it protects against: HPV types 16 and 18, the two types that cause 80% of cervical cancer cases; HPV types 6 and 11, which cause 90% of genital warts cases; and the HPV types that frequently lead to cancer in the cervix, anus, vulva, vagina, penis or throat.

How to get the HPV vaccine?

There are a couple of ways that you can get vaccinated. First, look into whether or not your school offers the vaccine. If it does, sign up for it through the school. However, if your school does not provide the vaccine, talk to your doctor about getting the vaccine. If that is not an option for you, go to your local Planned Parenthood to discuss either getting vaccinated or other options for where you can get vaccinated.

How much does it cost?

The vaccine is generally $250 and is covered by most types of health insurance. If you are unable to afford the vaccine or don’t have health insurance, don’t stress! There are other options for making the vaccine more affordable. Go to your local Planned Parenthood health center and discuss options for increasing affordability. You can find your local planned parenthood health center here.

Do you still need to get a Pap Smear if you have the vaccine?

Yes! Although the HPV vaccine prevents HPV and the development of cervical cancer from HPV, it cannot prevent all types of cervical cancer. Therefore, you should 100% still get regular pap smears.

STI Testing

Another great option for preventing STIs is frequent testing. A lot of people get nervous about testing due to the unfortunate stigma surrounding STIs. If you are nervous about testing, know that getting tested is the most responsible and mature way to take care of your sexual health. Frequent testing also helps you catch the infection earlier, meaning that you can avoid other health complications (i.e. infertility) that could arise if you otherwise hadn’t been tested.

How often should you get tested?

While the CDC recommends that sexually active adults be tested every 6 months, there is no harm in getting tested more frequently. If you are not using a barrier method (such as a condom or dental dam) in a sexual activity, then you should consider getting tested more frequently. If you are engaging in casual sexual activities, you should get tested in between partners.

Should you get tested if you are in a monogamous relationship?

Yes! Even if you trust your partner entirely, it is always a good idea to get tested to protect both yourself and your partner. This is because you can contract STIs from other things such as contaminated needles. If you are about to enter a serious relationship, go get tested with your partner just to be sure that both of you are clean! If you attend a school that offers free STI testing (lucky you!), go whenever they offer it just because it generates a good habit of getting tested frequently - regardless of your relationship status.

How much does testing cost?

There are a couple of different options for STI testing. Most of the time, your insurance will cover STI testing. If that’s the case, you might have to pay a small co-pay, but it is drastically cheaper than without insurance. If you don’t have insurance, look into free testing centers near you. You can also get tested at Planned Parenthood, which might provide a more affordable alternative. Another way to reduce the cost of an STD test is to get tested for a specific STI/STD instead of getting a full panel (an instance of when this would be applicable is if you were notified that a recent sexual partner tested positive for ___, then you may only need to get tested for __ yourself).

What is the testing process?

There are a few different types of tests. For a number of STIs, you will just need to provide a urine sample. Another type of testing is a vaginal swab, which tests for Trichomonas. Finally, for HIV/AIDs, you need to do a blood test. All of these tests are generally painless and quick.

Where can you get tested?

There are a number of different options for where you can get tested. If you see a doctor for an annual check-up, and they know that you are sexually active, they will almost always test you for STIs. If you want to get tested more frequently, there are some other convenient options. For example, all Planned Parenthood health centers offer testing. Also, walk-in clinics can usually test for STIs as well. In addition to doctors and walk-in clinics, some college campuses offer free testing.

Should you get tested even if you have no symptoms?

Absolutely. In fact, the majority of STIs present themselves asymptomatic. If you wait to experience symptoms, you might risk making the infection worse.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)

PrEP is a medication for those that have not contracted HIV, but are in a high risk category for contracting HIV. This pill is to be taken every day and can prevent those that take it from contracting HIV. When taken daily, PrEP reduces your risk of contracting HIV from sex by 99%. In other words, it is highly effective at preventing HIV.

Who qualifies to take PrEP?

If you are a gay/bisexual man, then you might qualify to take PrEP if you have an HIV positive partner, have multiple partners, have anal sex without a condom or recently had an STI. If you are heterosexual, you will qualify to take PrEP if your partner is HIV positive. If you inject drugs via a needle, you might also qualify to take PrEP. In general, it doesn’t hurt to ask your doctor about PrEP and whether or not it would be right for you

How can you start PrEP?

First, talk to your doctor about whether or not PrEP is right for you. If they think it is right for you, then they will give you a prescription and you will follow-up with your doctor every 3 months to get refills and check in. If you don’t have a doctor that you see regularly, use the HIV services locator to find HIV service near you. The locator is linked here.

Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)

PEP is a medication for those that might have been exposed to HIV but have not tested positive yet. The drug works to prevent you from contracting HIV after possible exposure. PEP is an effective drug to prevent HIV if taken regularly for 28 days.

Who qualifies to take PEP?

You might qualify to take PEP if:

Should you take PEP every time you have unprotected sex?

Absolutely not. PEP is a heavy duty drug so should only be used in emergency situations. Talk to your health care provider about whether or not you should take it.

How do you get PEP?

PEP needs to be taken within 72 hours of exposure (and the sooner, the better). If you think you might have been exposed to HIV, go to a walk in clinic, Planned Parenthood health center or your doctor immediately.

Barrier Methods

While barrier methods can be effective in preventing pregnancy, they are also incredibly effective in preventing STI transmission. One of the best ways to prevent STIs is to practice safe sex practices whenver you engage in a sexual activity. This means that you use some kind of barrier method for oral, anal or vaginal sex.

What kinds of barrier methods are there?

There are a plethora of options when it comes to barrier methods. Some popular ones include the following:

Testing Positive for an STI

Testing positive for an STI is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of! Today, STIs are common and also very treatable. If you do test positive for an STI, talk to your doctor about treatment options. If you do test positive, you must notify all of your recent sexual partners. You should tell anyone with the last few months that you have had sexual contact with - your doctor/nurse will advise you on a more specific time frame if you receive a positive test result. There is also a way for you to anonymously notify your recent sexual partner(s) if you test positive. If you choose to keep it anonymous, you can fill out this source which will notify your partner of your recent positive result: TellYourPartner.org

Sources: CDC, Planned Parenthood