Considering the fact that the ‘S’ in STD stands for sexually, it must be impossible to get STDs without doing the horizontal mambo, right? WRONG. STDs can spread without even having sex. Things like kissing a loved one or family member, conducting oral, sharing contaminated food, borrowing unclean towels, and more can transmit STDs like chlamydia, herpes, and hepatitis.
20 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections spread in the U.S. every year. Although sexual intercourse is a common way to contract an STD, you may be wondering how you wound up catching one yourself without having sex. That’s why we’ve put together a list of some of the most common ways people contract STDs without having sex.
Common Ways to Get an STD Without Having Sex:
If you think kissing is sweet and innocent, think again. If you’re trying to avoid catching one of the big, bad sexually transmitted infections, tongue wrestling isn’t your best plan of action. A few STDs can be passed on when you swap spit, though. Mononucleosis (Mono) is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a kissing disease. But herpes, the virus that causes cold sores, is the one you should be on the lookout for!
Take the Downtown Express
Many people don’t consider oral sex to be “real” sex because it doesn’t involve nether-region-to-nether-region contact or penetration. However you classify it, oral sex can transmit diseases if the penis, vagina, or anus involved are infected. The secretions, sores, and broken skin that are common to genital herpes, most commonly caused by herpes simplex virus 2, are all very likely to spread the disease during oral sex. (Read more about that here!) Chlamydia, in rare cases, can infect your throat during oral sex. Diseases like herpes and HPV (human papillomavirus) can’t be prevented by condoms.
You can get hepatitis A (HAV) from contaminated food and drinks. Hepatitis A is mainly transmitted via ingestion of fecal matter. If someone uses the restroom, doesn’t wash their hands, and begins prepping your food or making you a drink, you can end up getting an STD from your food, which you can then transmit sexually. Yuck!
Get Close Without Clothes
Skin-to-skin contact may seem harmless, but it’s all herpes or HPV need to become your lifelong viral travel companion. The bare-down-there grooming trend makes transmission even more likely because it is easier to cause breaks in the skin. Your risk of contracting either infection depends on many factors, such as the level of infection and condition of the skin.
Much like the skin-to-skin contact mentioned above, indirect contact is a less likely, but still possible, way to get an STD without having sex. Trichomoniasis can be spread by hand-to-genital contact or even hitch a ride to your genitals on an unwashed sex toy.
Share Sheets (or Towels or Clothes)
You aren’t likely to find viral infections present in your towels or sheets, but there could be other infections waiting in the fibers. The single-celled protozoan parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis causes trichomoniasis. This parasite loves damp fabrics and can hang out for almost an hour outside the body waiting for you. Crabs, or pubic lice, are creatures that can also stick around in your bedding or clothing. Read more about these creepy crawlies here.
Get Some Color
One of the most unexpected places to get an STD without having sex may be radiating light at your local tanning salon. Molluscum contagiosum, a bumpy genital infection and definitely not a spell from Harry Potter, can spread by skin-to-skin contact or shared contaminated surfaces like your tanning bed.
Share a Shave
Sharing razors– or pretty much anything that cuts or pierces the skin– is a possible way to catch an STD without having sex. In the case of sharp objects, if one of the users is positive for HIV or hepatitis A, B, or C, there is a risk of breaking the skin and mixing blood, leading to the spread of the disease. It is very unlikely for an STD to spread by sharing a razor, unlike sharing needles, which is a high-risk behavior.
If you get a blood transfusion from blood that has HIV, your chances of contracting HIV as well are extremely high. However, significant improvements have been made to screen blood donors over the last 30 years. For example, nowadays blood banks test every unit of donated blood for HIV-1 and HIV-2 antibodies. This greatly reduces your chances of contracting HIV through a blood transfusion.
Additionally, you cannot contract HIV from donating blood. According to the Red Cross, they use sterile needles once and then safely dispose of them. HIV occasionally spreads via blood transfusion though. We have a story about a lady who got HIV from a blood transfusion while giving birth on another post on our blog.
The Bottom Line About Catching STDs:
Here’s the bottom line—50% of sexually active people contract an STD by age 25, and yet only about 12% of people ages 15-25 report testing in the last year, according to the American Sexual Health Association. One in five people will get an STD at some point in their lifetime. If you suspect you may have an STD or you haven’t been tested recently, get tested. Many STDs do not present symptoms, but, when caught early, are treated easily. If you are positive for an STD, it’s extremely important to begin treatment as soon as possible.