What are the best ways to prevent an STI?
Abstinence is the best way to prevent an STI, followed by condom use. If you have any questions about how to use condoms correctly, the CDC website has a great visual tutorial. It’s important to talk with any potential partners about STIs, choose your partners wisely, and try to limit your number of partners. There are some studies in the works on how to prevent gonorrhea and syphilis with pills, but these are still in the early stages of development. That said, if you are high-risk or have had multiple episodes of sexually transmitted infections, it might be worth talking with your healthcare provider about these studies.
A big breakthrough in HIV prevention is pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP). PrEP is a combination of two medications that are often used as part of a larger combination of medications to treat HIV.
PrEP combines these two specific medications on their own and is taken as a daily pill. When taken daily, the presence of PrEP in your bloodstream can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading in your body. If you don’t take it every day, there may not be enough medicine in your bloodstream to block the virus.
Those with multiple partners, people at risk for HIV because of their partner’s status, or people having sex with partners with unknown statuses should talk with their provider to see if PrEP is right for them. PrEP is also generally recommended if you've ever had a previous STI and are at risk of contracting HIV. When taken correctly (every day), PrEP can lower the risk of acquiring HIV by as much as 90%, and it can be a great choice for those at risk to help prevent one of the non-curable viral STIs.
There are other regimens that you can also explore for HIV prevention, and speaking with your clinician is a great way to be proactive about prevention, especially with HIV. If cost is a barrier, there are many existing programs to help with the financial burden of medication. So if you’re worried about price or don’t have insurance, talk with your provider about options.
If you think you may have been exposed to HIV after a sexual encounter, there is also a medication that you can take for one month to decrease the risk of developing HIV. The medication is called post-exposure prophylaxis and works best if started as soon as possible and no later than 72 hours after exposure. Reach out to your provider as soon as possible after exposure if you think this medication may be right for you.
Ultimately, the best way to keep on top of your sexual health is to be in clear communication with your doctor, and to have regular STI screenings if you are sexually active, especially since you don’t need to have penetrative sex in order to get an STI. And if you are high-risk, most providers recommend STI screening every three months, or as needed.