Protect Your Sexual Health

Prevent the spread of STIs/STDs by following safe sex practices.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also commonly known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are bacteria, viruses or parasites that are typically spread between individuals during sexual intercourse or other intimate contact. Many STIs/STDs are asymptomatic but can still have long-term adverse effects on an individual's health, which is why education and awareness are crucial to prevention and protection.

While the safest way to protect yourself from STIs is abstinence — which means not having sex, it is essential to know how to protect yourself if you do have sex, whether it's oral, vaginal or anal. This is where safe sex comes in!

Practicing safe sex means using methods that reduce the risk of spreading STIs during sexual activities.1 Suitable forms of STI protection require complete barriers like condoms or dental dams, which can prevent partners from sharing bodily fluids.2 


One of the most recommended types of protection from both pregnancy and STIs is the condom. Male (external) condoms go on the tip of the penis and roll securely down the length to provide a single-use barrier. Condoms are primarily available in latex but come in non-latex materials for those with latex allergies or sensitivities.3

  • Latex: The main material used for condoms as this soft white substance found in rubber trees is both stretchy and secure.4
  • Lambskin: These condoms are made of sheep intestines and are ineffective against STIs due to porous holes in the material.  
  • Polyurethane: This type of condom is more effective than lambskin but has a looser fit, resulting in high slippage and breakage rates.5
  • Polyisoprene: As these are made with synthetic rubber, they are likely the best non-latex option for STI prevention; however, latex condoms are still generally recommended over all alternatives.

A less common form of condom is the female condom, or internal condom, which is a condom that goes inside the vagina (or anus during anal sex) to create a barrier from the penis. When used correctly, following similar rules as the external condoms, the internal condom is about 95% effective at protecting against STIs.6

Condoms are only optimally effective when used correctly, so follow all usage and application instructions carefully.78

Dental Dams

Oral sex, which means using the mouth to stimulate the genital or genital area of a partner, requires protection too. This is because STIs, like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, HPV and HIV, can spread through oral sex, infecting the mouth and throat as well as the genitals and rectum.9 In addition to condoms, dental dams are another form of protection usable during oral sex. Dental dams are single-use sheets of latex or polyurethane that act as barriers between the mouth and vaginal or anus.10


The term "safer sex" is often preferred over "safe sex" to clarify that many safe sex practices do not entirely reduce STI transmission risks. Condoms are not 100% guaranteed to prevent STI transmission11 — condoms can slip or break, particularly if mishandled or misused.12

Even if the condom is effective in preventing the spread of bodily fluids, certain STIs can spread through skin-to-skin contact, like human papillomavirus (HPV), genital herpes, genital warts and syphilis.13 That is not to say condoms are useless against these STIs as they still reduce the risk if the infected area is protected, but be aware they are not unfailing.14

Though kissing is considered lower risk than sex, it is possible to spread certain STIs this way. The STI most often spread through kissing is herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), also known as oral herpes. HSV-1 is a prevalent STI — the World Health Organization estimates that two-thirds of the world population under 50 already have it15— and it can spread through saliva.16 With awareness, however, herpes can be appropriately managed to help reduce the frequency of outbreaks and the risk of spreading it to others.17

When it comes to sexual contact, remember the associated risks and do what you can to mitigate them. As many STIs/STDs are asymptomatic, everyone must stay up-to-date with their status with regular screening tests, whether symptoms are present or not. Use imaware's Complete STI Test to screen for ten STI/STD biomarkers from home and receive complimentary telehealth support should your results require next steps.


  1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Safe sex. Accessed March 27, 2023.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Contraception. Accessed March 16, 2023.
  3. Cleveland Clinic. Have a Latex Allergy? Here Are 4 Safe Non-Latex Condom Options. Accessed March 13, 2023.
  4. Ace Laboratories. The Making of Latex. Accessed March 13, 2023. 
  5. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. Evaluation of efficacy of a nonlatex condom: Results from a randomized, controlled clinical trial. Accessed March 13, 2023.
  6. National Health Service. Female condoms: Your contraception guide. Accessed March 13, 2023.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Male (External) Condom Use. Accessed March 16, 2023.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Female (Internal) Condom Use. Accessed March 27, 2023.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. STD Risk and Oral Sex - CDC Fact Sheet. Accessed March 27, 2023.
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dental Dam Use. Accessed March 13, 2023.
  11. National Health Service. Condoms. Accessed March 21, 2023.
  12. Sexually Transmitted Infections. Men with broken condoms: who and why? Accessed March 21, 2023.
  13. Department of Health and Human Services. Condoms and STDs: Fact Sheet for Public Health Personnel. Accessed March 13, 2023.
  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Condom Fact Sheet In Brief. Accessed March 13, 2023.
  15. World Health Organization. Globally, an estimated two-thirds of the population under 50 are infected with herpes simplex virus type 1. Accessed March 13, 2023.
  16. World Health Organization. Herpes simplex virus. Accessed March 13, 2023.
  17. Cleveland Clinic. Herpes Simplex. Accessed August 11, 2023.