With the majority of Americans having received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, people are feeling more free to interact closely…really closely! That means the pent-up need for physical connection is being satiated on many levels, from in-person gatherings to IRL sex. That’s all good, but it seems like some of us have forgotten that catching up for lost time with multiple partners can mean increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STD’s).
Why Are Sexually Transmitted Disease on the Rise?
The data have shown that STD rates were on the rise even before COVID. This is thought to be because of lack of access to health care services and increased use of PReP with concomitant reduced use of condoms. And gay men have higher rates of syphilis than men who don’t have sex with men – by about 15x!
STD Prevention Methods
Here are a few prevention methods that you can use to keep safe:
- Use a condom or dental dam with new partners
- Clean sex toys before using them with a new partner
- Get tested! Many undiagnosed STD’s are out there, especially in men, so even if you don’t have symptoms, it’s prudent to get checked.
For those of you on PReP, remember it only minimizes the risk of HIV; it does nothing to prevent other STI’s like syphilis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia. Are condoms the only way to prevent STDs? No – but they do help, so reconsider using them with new partners.
What Are Natural Ways to Prevent STDs?
One thing to consider is to minimize alcohol and drug use when you’re likely to hook up. These can affect your judgment, making you less likely to use a condom and may make you more likely to have sex with multiple partners.
If you have herpes, avoid skin-on-skin contact if you feel an outbreak coming on or have active lesions. If you get frequent outbreaks, see your doctor for a prescription of antivirals like Valtrex or Acyclovir to minimize their occurrence.
When I am asked, “How can men reduce the risk of getting a Sexually Transmitted Disease?” my number one recommendation is to ask your partner to get tested. Especially for MSM, since men, more than women, can have asymptomatic infections in the urethra, rectum, or throat. When you get tested for STDs, it should include a urine test, throat swab, rectal swab, and blood test (for syphilis, HIV, and potentially hepatitis B and C).
Sex is an important part of life and an expression of intimacy, connection, and fun. It doesn’t have to be scary and doesn’t have to cause disease. Getting tested, asking your partner to get tested while using protection can all help to minimize the risks.
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Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has been a consultant with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on national television, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He was most recently National Medical Director and Chief Medical Officer of a national medical practice, but is available to consult with individual patients interested in a personalized approach to optimal performance and health.