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The ABCs of STDs
The ABCs of STDs
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The ABCs of STDs

You may have heard of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also called sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They are more common than most people think and are spread through sexual behaviors with someone who already has an STD. Getting tested regularly is super important if a person is having oral, anal or vaginal sex or engaging in genital-to-genital rubbing with a partner.

STDs are also easy to prevent. If you don’t engage in sexual behaviors, you don’t have to worry about STDs. But when a person does decide to engage in sexual behaviors, condoms and dental dams are highly effective at reducing the risk of getting an STD.


Can I get a sexually transmitted disease from kissing?

Herpes is the only STD that can be passed through kissing. This usually happens when one person has a sore on or around the mouth and then kisses another person. It can also happen during a select number of days throughout the year when the virus is more active in a person’s body and when they may have no symptoms at all.

How can you avoid getting a sexually transmitted disease?

The only 100-percent effective way to avoid getting an STD is to abstain from sexual touching below the waist, such as rubbing bodies without clothes, vaginal-penile sex, oral sex and anal sex. Your next best bet is to practice safer sex, such as using either a male or female (internal) condom and/or dental dam every time you have any type of sex. Once you start having sex, it’s also important to get tested regularly for STDs and to ask your partners to do the same.

What’s a condom?

A condom is a thin piece of latex, polyisoprene or polyurethane that is worn over the penis during oral, anal or vaginal intercourse to prevent pre-ejaculatory (pre-cum) fluid or semen from entering a partner’s mouth, anus or vagina. Condoms can be made of latex, polyisoprene, polyurethane and natural skin, but only latex, polyisoprene and polyurethane condoms prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.

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STDs are diseases, infections or illnesses that can be spread from one infected person to another through sexual contact—from sexual touching (genital-to-genital contact) to any kind of sexual intercourse (oral, anal or penile-vaginal sex).

There are many different STDs. Some are not very serious. Others can be very serious. Many people also believe that they will know when they have an STD, when in reality most people who have an STD do not experience any symptoms.

It is common for young people to hear many myths about STDs, so having a trusted adult in their lives that they can talk to about this topic is important. There is also a lot of stigma around having an STD, even though it is quite common to have one at some point in your life.

Even though most people don’t like to talk about STDs, it is important for caring adults to talk with young people about STD transmission and prevention, hopefully before young people begin engaging in sexual behaviors with a partner. While it is good to normalize STDs, it is also important to be clear with young people about how STDs can affect them and why it is important to practice safer sex.

Before young people begin engaging in sexual behaviors, they should know how they can reduce the risk of contracting an STD by decreasing their number of sexual partners, getting tested before sexual activity, and properly and consistently using latex barriers, like condoms, female (internal) condoms and dental dams. Research shows that young people whose parents talked to them about condoms before the young person began having sex are more likely to use condoms at first intercourse and thereafter.

It’s also very helpful for young people to know how to get tested once they begin having sex. STD testing and treatment is offered through your family doctor or at most family planning clinics and community health centers. STD testing often involves either a urine test, a simple blood test or a mouth swab. Young people should understand that many STDs can be treated with medicines provided by a doctor, but there are some STDs that cannot be cured.

Talking about STDs with the young people in your life lets them know that they are not alone and that they can come to their parents or guardians when they have questions or need support.


If you start essential conversations about topics like STDs with your children, then they will know they can come to you with questions. The easiest way to start these conversations is to talk about issues as they arise in everyday life while you are doing things like watching TV together. Symptoms, testing and condoms may not just come up in conversation, but it is important to talk about these issues. Below are some ways to start these conversations:

Try broaching these topics while doing something related to them

For example, while at the doctor’s office for your child’s checkup, you can talk to your child about the Gardasil vaccine, which protects people from certain types of HPV—a sexually transmitted disease.

Talk to your child when a sex scene comes up on TV

If a sex scene comes up on TV, there is an opportunity to talk about whether the partners talked about safer sex or used a latex barrier, like a condom or dental dam. While you may be nervous about having these conversations, a simple, “Wow, do you think they’re worried about STDs?” is one way to start the conversation.

While at the drugstore, you can ask your child if they know what condoms are

If you are shopping in the market or a drugstore together, walk up the aisle where the condoms are hanging and ask your child if they know what condoms are and how they are used. Purchase a pack to take home and open so your child can see what they look like and how they are used.