How To Protect Yourself from an STI?


Multiple effective strategies exist to protect yourself from Sexually Transmitted Infections and a combination of these are essential for better protection as a single measure may not be protective against all STIs. Eg: using condoms are very effective to prevent HIV, Hep B, chlamydia, trichomoniasis. Although condoms are also effective in preventing gonorrhea, syphilis, these infections can spread through other modes as discussed earlier. Hence for these, regular testing, treatment for infections, and discussing with partners are additional important ways of prevention. On the other hand, vaccination is an effective strategy for infections like HPV, and Hep B in addition to condoms, and measures like PEP, PrEP, TasP are effective against HIV.  

1. Vaccination

Vaccinations are very effective in protecting us from certain STIs. A small proportion of persons infected with Hepatitis B/ HPV can have serious consequences. This is why vaccination against hepatitis B, HPV is recommended. There is also vaccination against Hepatitis A which is an acute infection that can be transmitted through both feco-oral as well as sexual activity.  

When having sex, you can contract Hepatitis A/B or HPV. However, with these vaccines, you can protect yourself against them. 

We recommend that you get vaccinated: Folks who have sex should get vaccinated against Hepatitis A, B, and HPV. Concerning HPV vaccine, folks younger than 27 years old would especially benefit. Using condoms is still recommended as it would not only increase the effectiveness of overall prevention for these infections but also prevent other infections that do not have vaccines against them. 

Here is a list of places to get yourself vaccinated in each city. 

2. Protection 

Using condoms is an effective measure to prevent HIV, Hepatitis B, syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, HPV. Having said that, it will not prevent transmission of syphilis, HPV, HSV, gonorrhea from other modes like skin-skin contact, kissing etc. Hence, people who have sex cannot protect themselves with 100% effectiveness from these STIs. But one can significantly reduce their risk of acquiring infections and even if infected, early detection and effective treatment/ cure options are available in order to take care of themselves. 

Additionally, PrEP, PEP, and TasP (Treatment as prevention) are effective in protecting against HIV infection. 

We will learn about HIV, PrEP, PEP, and TasP in a separate article.

Hepatitis C is transmitted via blood through shared needles (drug-use), unsterile piercing, tattooing, sharing personal things that have blood contact like razors, nail cutters, childbirth, blood transfusion (infected). Transmission through sex is rare and risk increases in the case of rougher sexual practices if a person is infected (such as BDSM or fisting).

Protecting yourself against HIV: safer sex

Protecting yourself against hepatitis C: safer use of needles

What is Testing? How does it matter?

Often, STIs don’t show symptoms and so regular testing is an effective way to know whether you have an STI or not especially for HIV, Hep B, Hep C, Syphilis. Getting yourself tested can help you access treatment at the earliest to prevent any serious consequences and also to prevent transmission to your sexual partner(s). Testing consists of a blood sample for HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B, HCV,  or swabs of discharge taken from different sites (like oral, genital, and anal swabs) for chlamydia and gonorrhea. These swab testing facilities for gonorrhea/chlamydia may not be accessible/affordable in all places. Moreover, there are chances of having multiple STIs. Hence providers may sometimes, use their judgment and treat for multiple possible infections (known as syndromic management) together when you present with a symptom of STI without testing for every infection. Many laboratories provide “STD panels” which have a number of tests. But most of these tests are not straightforward in telling you whether you have an infection or not. Some of the tests like for syphilis/ HSV need multiple types of testing to confirm the presence of infection while there are no reliable tests to detect HPV infection. Hence discussing with a trusted provider becomes crucial in order to understand what test is needed, how to make sense of your results and the symptoms you are facing instead of relying on these panels that are marketed.  

Let’s talk in detail about Major STIs like Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Hepatitis A/B, Hepatitis C, Herpes, HPV, Genital Warts, Crabs, Scabies, Fungi.

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Do you want to understand the basics of STIs? Click here.

About the Author: Raju Behara (she/they), a trans-disabled Peer Support Provider with a decade of healthcare experience, holds a Masters in Pharmacology and a PG Diploma in Health Economics, Health Policy at the Indian Institute of Public Health. Aligned with the Safe Access Community Wellbeing Project, Raju has contributed to LGBTQIA+ safety in Indian workplaces, drafting gender-neutral dress codes and working on sensitization. A published author and poet in various anthologies, Raju, through EQUAL fellowship, chronicled social histories of housing, healthcare and workplace discrimination for queer-trans individuals in India. They initiated ‘Queer & Quarantine’, a crisis intervention program for trans folks facing housing challenges.

Article Vetted by: Dr. Swathi SB


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