Hopefully, you already know that the most effective way to prevent a sexually transmitted infection is to avoid unprotected sex. But there are a few other, less obvious things that can affect your risk of contracting an STI that you should know about. It should be said up front— none of these things have huge, definitive effects, so don't freak out if they apply to you. But it's still interesting to know what scientific data has found, and it can't hurt to tweak some of your current habits to reduce your risk, right?
1. Removing pubic hair
A recent study in Sexually Transmitted Infections found that grooming down there at some point doubles your likelihood of getting an STI, and doing so 12 times or more per year quadruples your changes. Now, it's possible that people who are more susceptible to STIs in the first place are more likely to trim, shave, or wax their bushes. But OB/GYN Jennifer Gunter told NPR that these rituals can tear your skin, providing more ways for STIs to be transmitted. So, if you must groom, it's probably best not to do it right before sex.
2. You've had an STI before
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In a unfortunate twist of fate, your chances of getting an STI are higher if you've already had to deal with one, according to the Mayo Clinic. This may be because some STIs can cause sores and skin tears, according to the CDC.
3. You're under 24
About half of the 20 million cases of STDs that pop up in the U.S. each year are in people ages 15-24. Part of the reason is that younger people may be less likely to practice safe sex or get tested, but young women are also physically more vulnerable, according to the CDC.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: douching is unnecessary and harmful. One study found that women who douche regularly are 84 percent more likely to get an STI than those who never do it. Douching not only clears healthy bacteria out of your vagina but also moves unhealthy bacteria upward, which can cause gonorrhea or chlamydia to infect the uterus and may even lead to pelvic inflammatory disease. Seriously, all you should ever be using to clean your vagina.
5. Skipping lube
Vaginal dryness can cause tearing, which creates places for STIs to enter the body. It also ups the chances that condoms will break, according to Columbia University's health site. So, lubing up beforehand leads to safer sex.