A cartoon image, highlighting various objects floating around a question mark, illustrating the 10 common myths about STDs

10 Common Myths About STDs

With the hesitancy to talk openly about STDs and safer sex practices also comes pervasive misinformation and myths about STDs. In this blog, we’ll tackle 10 common myths about STDs and why they’re not true.

1. If someone has an STD, you’ll be able to tell.

STDs and STIs are often asymptomatic, meaning they don’t present with any symptoms in the person who has been infected. This means that, most of the time, the person infected with the STD might not even be able to tell that they have an STD. And if they can’t tell themselves, someone else is even less likely to be able to tell. Even with STDs that do present with symptoms, such as warts or sores, they could be in places that neither you nor your partner can spot. In short, there’s no way to tell if someone has an STD just by looking at them.

2. You can’t catch an STD the first time you have sex.

Any time you have sex or otherwise engage in at-risk activities with a partner who has an STD, you’re at risk of contracting the infection. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had sex before or not. It’s also possible to contract an STD from someone who is or considers themself to be a “virgin.” Some STDs can be passed from parent to child, and, as we’ll discuss later in this blog, it’s possible to contract an STD through activity other than penetrative sex. Regardless of your or your partner’s sexual history, you should never assume that either you or they do not have an STD based on your experience. The only way to know your status for sure is to get tested.

An illustration that displays myriad and diverse types of people.

3. Only “dirty” people get STDs.

To dispel this myth, we must first dispel the idea that any person is “dirty”—unless they’re actually covered in dirt. People aren’t “dirty” just because of their sexual activity, practices or preferences. While poor personal hygiene might encourage or increase the severity of infections in some cases, people who are the model of good hygiene can contract an STD just as easily as someone who doesn’t practice good hygiene.

4. You can’t get an STD from oral or anal sex.

Most STDs can easily be transmitted through oral or anal sex. In order for transmission of an STD to occur, the virus needs to enter through the body through cuts, sores or mucous membranes. It can do this through different fluids in the mouth, anal or genital area. Certain STDs can be spread just through skin-to-skin contact without any kind of sex occuring.

An illustration of a condom, surrounded by STD bacteria and viruses.

5. You can’t get an STD as long as you use a condom.

While condoms and other safer sex practices can help reduce the risk of STD transmission for certain STDs, there are still ways to contract some STDs even with condom use. Sometimes, external or internal condoms don’t fully cover infected areas (such as with genital warts or herpes, for example) and STDs can still be transmitted despite condom use.

6. If you’re in a relationship, you don’t have to worry about STDs.

While being in a committed relationship can reduce your risk of contracting an STD, there are still instances in which you or your partner(s) might contract an STD. Obviously, if a partner is unfaithful and contracts an STD from someone outside of your relationship, this can result in the STD being passed to someone in the relationship. There are also instances in which someone in the relationship might not know they had an STD before entering into the relationship, and then they get tested or begin to exhibit symptoms later on. In short, while being in a committed relationship might mean that you don’t have to worry as often about contracting an STD, it’s still a good idea for you and your partner(s) to get tested every once in a while to make sure.

 

An illustration of a toilet.

7. You can catch STDs from toilet seats.

It is highly improbable, if not impossible, to contract an STD from a toilet seat. To contract an STD from a toilet seat, the toilet seat would have to have been used by someone with an STD, and they would have to have left a fluid carrying the virus or bacteria on the seat. Then, because viruses and bacteria cannot survive outside the body for very long, you would have to sit on the seat immediately after them, and the fluids would have to come in contact with one of your mucous membranes or an open sore. It would also have to be enough fluid to carry enough of the virus or bacteria in order to allow it to mature into a full infection. The chances of all of these specific instances occurring are highly unlikely, and there has never been a case in which someone has contracted an STD from a toilet seat.

8. Only gay men and drug users contract HIV.

While the nature of the virus puts people in these populations at higher risk of infection, HIV is like any other STD in that it doesn’t discriminate against who it infects. Anyone who has sex or otherwise participates in a behavior in which transmission of an STD can occur is at risk of contracting that STD, and the same goes for HIV.

A graphic that highlights the antibiotics necessary for clearing up many STD infections.

9. STDs will go away on their own.

Some STDs will clear up on their own, but these STDs are in the minority. Certain strains of HPV and hepatitis can clear up without treatment, but these are the only STDs that will do so. Even if you do contract these or other strains of HPV or hepatitis, these viruses can potentially become reoccurring or lead to more serious issues, so there’s really no instance in which you shouldn’t get tested or seek treatment for any STD you might contract.

10. If your partner pulls out, you can’t get an STD.

While pulling out can help reduce (but not eliminate) the risk of pregnancy, it still involves penetrative sex, which can result in the transmission of STDs.

Hopefully this blog has helped clear up some common myths about STD testing. Remember: It’s important to get tested regularly, know your status and practice safer sex.