STIs and Assessing Risk

Risk is a normal part of life (and STIs are too!). We take risks all the time, including every time we get in a car, cross the street, go on a trip, etc. Because of that, we are used to, consciously or not, assessing, analyzing, and evaluating the risks AND the benefits of the situations we face. That’s certainly true when we are considering having sex with someone; there are social, emotional, and physical benefits as well as risks to consider for any scenario. The risks of being sexually active, like getting an STI, can be managed by having accurate information, which allows us to make informed decisions about the level of risk we are okay with, as well as consider how we might mitigate or lower that risk to a level that feels comfortable (for instance, by using condoms, getting tested before hooking up, getting STI tests routinely, etc.).

Like most things in life, our comfort with different levels of risk depends on context and can change over time. Having the skills, information, and resources to feel confident when we look at both the benefits (e.g. pleasure, fun, intimacy, etc.) and risks is key to making decisions for ourselves.

Although the most likely way STIs can be transmitted can vary, usually the highest odds of getting an STI are when we have unprotected penetrative sex (i.e. penis in vagina sex and anal sex with a penis). Although less common, STIs can also sometimes be transmitted when using sex toys, during oral sex (blowjobs or cunnilingus), oral-anal contact, skin-to-skin contact with genitals (with or without penetration), digital-vaginal or digital-anal touch (fingering), and digital-anal touch.

Overemphasizing risk and making everything sound scary does not teach us how to assess risk; risk is something to be informed about, not something to be afraid of. Having accurate information (which you can find here in our sexual health hub) and learning the skills to assess and then reduce risk is essential to finding pleasure in being alive and enjoying our sexuality and relationship(s) rather than living in fear.

Updated on 2019-04-09
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