There is a lot of misinformation about whether or not you can get STDs from anal sex. First, there are many people who don’t consider anal sex to be a form of sexual intercourse, and they may not think it puts them at risk of contracting or transmitting STDs like vaginal sex does. Second, anal sex has been associated specifically with the transmission of HIV, so some people incorrectly think that HIV is the only STD you can get from anal sex.
However, both of these assumptions are myths. Anal sex is a sexual act and can transmit STDs.
While it’s possible to contract or transmit several STDs through anal sex, HIV is perhaps the most well known. This is likely due to the infection’s original association with gay men. In addition, of the sexual acts in which HIV can be transmitted, anal sex is considered to be the highest risk. The CDC therefore recommends regular HIV testing for people who engage in anal sex.
HIV can also be transmitted by vaginal sex, but transmission is 18 times more likely with anal sex. Oral sex can transmit HIV, too, but this is even less likely.
The risk associated with contracting HIV through anal sex differs depending on which partner is infected with HIV. Insertive partners (the partner inserting their penis) are at a lower risk of contracting HIV through anal sex than receptive partners (the partner receiving the penis). Being a receptive partner and having sex with an insertive partner who is HIV positive is up to 13 times more likely to result in the transmission of the virus when compared to sex involving an HIV positive receptive partner and HIV negative insertive partner. The reason the receptive partner’s risk is so much higher is that the lining of the anus is thin and prone to microtears, which can allow the virus to enter the body.
It’s important to note, however, that HIV can be transmitted by any sex act during which bodily fluids such as blood, semen, pre-cum or vaginal secretions from an infected partner come into contact with body fluids of an uninfected partner. Both men and women are at risk.
HIV isn’t the only STD that can be passed through anal sex. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and hepatitis B and C can be transmitted with anal sex with someone who is infected.
Any STD or STI that can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, such as herpes or HPV, can also be transmitted to the inside or outside of the anus and rectum, spreading as far as the buttocks in some cases. An infected person does not need to have sores to be able to spread the infections to their partners.
Symptoms associated with an infection in this region include rectal pain, bleeding, burning or unusual discharge. You might also develop symptoms elsewhere, such as blisters or discomfort in the groin.
Reducing the risk of contracting STDs from anal sex
Like with other sexual acts, the use of condoms will reduce the chance of spreading an STD from one partner to another.
Antiviral medications referred to as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) can reduce the chance of someone contracting HIV. PrEP is for people who are HIV negative and who are at high risk of contracting HIV. Taken regularly, it helps prevent new HIV infection. PEP is for people who are HIV negative but who were exposed to HIV. PEP needs to be taken as soon as possible after the exposure to reduce the chance of the uninfected person getting infected.