Why should I practice ‘safer sex’?Like all infections that people get, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are caused by germs. Some infections are caused by germs passed through the air, food, or water. STIs are passed through sexual contact. Some STIs cause sores or discharge on the genitals, but you usually cannot tell if a person has an STI just by looking. Many men and women can have STIs without knowing it themselves. The germs that cause some STIs (like genital warts or herpes) are on the skin of the genitals and are passed by skin-to-skin contact.
The germs that cause other STIs, (like gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis, syphilis, and HIV) live in the body fluids of an infected person. These are passed when blood, semen, or the wetness of the vagina of an infected person comes in contact with the skin of the vagina, anus, tip of the penis, or mouth of another person. So, to practice safer sex means having as little contact as possible with the skin of your partner’s genitals, and with his or her body fluids unless you are absolutely certain that he or she is not infected with any STI. All of these infections can cause serious health problems. HIV, without ongoing treatment, is fatal.
Having unprotected sex, or sex with many partners, makes a woman more at risk for getting an STI, including HIV infection. HIV infection can lead to death from AIDS. Untreated STIs can cause infertility, pregnancies in the tube, and miscarriage. Having many partners also makes a woman more at risk for developing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and cancer. Women and men can help prevent all these problems by practicing safer sex.