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Yes, You Can Get a Sexually Transmitted Infection Without Having Sex!

STIs without sex

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 20 million new cases of reportable sexually transmitted infections occur each year in the U.S., almost half of them among young people between 15 and 24 years old. Reportable STIs include HIV, gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and syphilis.

The fact that these diseases are transmitted via sex doesn’t mean it’s the only way you can get them. And just because you can’t get HIV through things like mosquito bites and kissing, doesn’t mean there aren’t other STIs you can.  Here are 12 ways you can get an STI without having sex.

 

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1. Mosquito bites. Zika — the mosquito-borne disease that impacts fetal brain development — has been shown to be sexually transmitted (making it the only known vector disease that can be transmitted sexually and via mosquitos). It's capable of great damage to fetuses, infants, and pregnant women but scientsts discovered it's also killing brain cells in otherwise healthy adults.  So slather on that insect repellant — and make sure your partner does too!

 

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2. Kissing. Mononucleosis is known as the “kissing disease” for a reason, but you can also catch oral herpes, the virus that causes cold sores (HSV-1). Oral herpes can then be spread to the genitals via oral sex and become genital herpes (HSV-2). If an individual has an outbreak and has oral sex with someone it is possible to give someone HSV-2. Once you get herpes, it never goes away. It can lie dormant for years before an outbreak, so a person may not even know they have it but still be able to spread it to others.

 

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3. Sharing silverware, drinks, or lip balm. As with kissing, HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva, so these do not apply to HIV. However, you can get oral herpes, mono, and meningitis by sharing items that touch another person’s mouth during an outbreak. If you have HIV, you should definitely get the meningitis vaccine, too. (Read about the recent outbreak among gay and bi men.)

 

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4. Blow Jobs.  Sorry to break it to you kids, but it’s not just the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that considers oral sex, well, sex. Whatever you call it — BJ, going down on, eating out, 69, suck off, fooling around, playing the skin flute, or even getting to third base — having mouth to genital contact is sexual contact, and it comes with a risk of contracting some STIs. While there is little to no chance of contracting HIV through oral sex, the CDC warns that the giver of condomless oral sex is especially at risk of STIs like syphilis, herpes, gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Human papillomavirus (the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US, which can lead to genital warts and certain kinds of cancer) and possibly the Zika virus. Meanwhile, rim jobs or anilingus (aka mouth to anus contact) can also transmit hepatitis A and B, intestinal parasites like Giardia, and bacteria like E. coli.

 

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5. Sharing sheets and towels. While viruses like HIV cannot survive outside the body, other sexually transmitted infections can, especially those caused by parasites like crabs or pubic lice or trichomonas vaginalis. Anyone who ever got crabs from a college roommate they shared clothes with knows this well. A single-celled protozoan parasite that causes trichomoniasis, Trichomonas loves damp fabrics and can survive for almost an hour away from a host. Oral herpes can also be transferred via towels during an outbreak. 

 

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6. Contaminated Food. If a person doesn’t wash their hand thoroughly before prepping food, they can spread hepatitis A through the food, leaving you with an STI from a restaurant or your own kitchen.

 

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7. Skin-to-skin contact. Just getting naked next to each other, even if it doesn’t lead to sex, can lead to a sexually transmitted infection. Herpes and HPV can both be transmitted through some skin-to-skin contact. 

 

 

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8. Hand jobs. Hello, again, it's technically sex but most people don't count it. Bottom line, putting your fingers in someone or rubbing your hand on their genitals can also spread STIs. For example, trichomoniasis and warts can be spread by hand-to-genital contact.

 

9. Touching your eye. This should make you want to wash your hands: once you’ve got that bodily fluid on your hand, when you touch your eye, you can end up with an ocular version of your STI. There are several types of eye herpes. To be extra scary, some forms of ocular herpes and ocular syphilis can also be transmitted sexually (and cause permanent blindness).

 

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10. Shaving. Although it’s not a high-risk activity, the truth is shaving can lead to STIs. For example, the grooming trend of shaving genital areas clean actually makes getting an STI more likely because it can cause breaks in the skin. That’s why sharing razors is a risk too, because small nicks can leave blood on a razor and then any breaking of the skin can cause a mixing of blood. Hepatitis A, B, or C, can be spread this way.

 

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11. Reusing needles. Needles are an extreme version of the shaving issue, because the needle punctures the skin, and may even be inserted directly into the blood stream. Even needles used for insulin or hormone treatments can transmit HIV and hepatitis C.

 

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12. Going to the doctor. Okay, this happens a lot less frequently than in the past, when say getting a blood transfusion during child birth could give you HIV. But scientists have learned that the hepatitis C epidemic peaked between 1940 and 1965 with the practice of reusing medical syringes. This is why the CDC urges anyone born during that period (1945 to 1965) get tested for hepatitis C. 

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