Can You Get an STD From Trying on Bathing Suits?

Can you get an STD from trying on bathing suits? It’s a common question, and for good reason. It’s tempting to try on an article of clothing that’s new, in the store, with the tags on, and not remind yourself just how many other people have tried on that same sweater or pair of shorts. And, in most cases, you don’t have to think about it. However, when it comes to trying on more intimate apparel, including bathing suits, you’d be wise to take precaution and consider who else has worn the suit.

Studies have shown that clothing (in stores ranging from bargain to high end) can carry germs and organisms from one person to the next. The bacteria can come from other people trying on the clothing, employees handling the clothing or even the manufacturers of the clothing itself. In these studies, the articles of clothing with the highest bacterial and viral counts were, unsurprisingly, swimsuits and underwear, and the skimpier the swimsuit or underwear, the higher the counts. Researchers suspect this is likely due to the fact that people are more tempted to remove their underwear before trying on the bathing suit or underwear in order to get a more accurate picture of the clothing on their body.

The bacteria and viruses found in these studies can cause yeast infections, colds, stomach viruses, the flu and even MRSA. That being said, certain viruses can only live outside the body for a short period of time. However, there are several infections that are highly communicable, such as pubic lice, that can survive without a human host for a few days, and certain viruses can live for weeks outside of the body.

So, we know that clothing can be contaminated with organisms that can make us ill, but the question remains: Can you get an STD from trying on bathing suits? While most sexually transmitted infections and diseases do require direct contact in order for transmission, there are several infections (sexually transmitted and otherwise) that you can contract from trying on a bathing suit, underwear, or other intimate articles of clothing. Here are a few STDs that are the most likely to be communicated via clothing.

Trichomoniasis, or “trich,” is a parasitic infection caused by a single-celled protozoan organism. This parasite is one of the most common STDs in the United States, with millions of people infected at any given time. Most don’t even know they’re positive because so few will exhibit Trichomoniasis symptoms. Trich is carried in sexual fluids, including pre-cum and vaginal fluids, so articles of clothing that come into contact with these fluids have the potential to pass the infection to others. However, trich can only live outside the body for a few hours, so you would have to come in contact with the infected article of clothing within that window in order to possibly contract the infection.

Pubic Lice
Pubic lice, also known as crabs, are small parasites that attach themselves to skin and coarse hair around your genitals, but can also live in other coarse hair, such as chest hair, armpit hair, beards and eyebrows. Pubic lice can live for up to two days without a host, leaving a large window for possible transmission from clothing.

Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is transmitted through bodily secretions including blood, semen and vaginal fluids, and can live outside of the body for up to a week. Coming into close, direct contact with a bathing suit that has traces of an infected secretion could cause transmission of the virus.

While it is possible to contract one of the above STDs from trying on a bathing suit or other article of clothing that covers your genital area, the risk of contracting anything is low, and there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of infection, including:

Wear Underwear
The risk of coming into direct contact with one of the above infections is significantly reduced by keeping full-coverage underwear on while trying on bathing suits or other intimate apparel. Don’t rely on the sanitary paper or plastic liners many manufacturers place inside swimsuits; studies have shown these are not very effective at preventing contact with bacteria and viruses.

Wash Your Clothing
You should always wash new articles of clothing, especially bathing suits and underwear, before wearing them, and it’s good practice to do the same with other articles of clothing. Regardless of whether you purchased anything, if you tried anything on, you should wash the clothes you’re wearing (especially your underwear) as soon as possible.

Wash Your Hands
Many infections, including STDs, can be transmitted by ingesting something tainted by viruses, so be sure to wash your hands after trying on clothing, especially if you’re planning to hit the food court afterward.

While the chances of getting an STD from trying on bathing suits are low, as with any activity that poses a risk of STD transmission, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Implement these protective measures to reduce your risk of contraction, and, as always, get tested regularly, so you can know what you’re passing on to others.