Hesperian Health Guides

Women and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

In this chapter:

How STIs pass to partners through sex

a drunk man entering a house, speaking to a woman who looks scared

Come to
bed with
I wonder where he's been this evening?

Using condoms during sex is the best way to protect against getting or giving an STI. Any sex where the genitals touch, and oral sex (using the mouth on the genitals), can pass STIs. Being penetrated during sex (in the vagina, anus, or mouth) increases the likelihood of getting an STI. Penetration with the penis can rub and open the skin inside the vagina, anus, or mouth, so an infection can enter that person’s body. This can happen even if the person does not notice these breaks in the skin. If condoms are not used, semen which may carry infection stays inside the vagina, anus, or mouth. Some STIs can be passed by sores on the genitals or by skin-to-skin contact when no sores are present.

Why so many women get STIs

More Information
gender roles

Like others with low status, many women cannot protect themselves from getting STIs. If a woman is expected to have sex whenever her partner demands it and has no control over condom use or who else her partner has sex with, she is more likely to get an STI. This may be even more difficult for women from marginalized groups, including transgender women and sex workers.

You are more likely to get an STI if ...

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  • one of your sexual partners has signs of an STI or was recently treated for an STI.
  • you have had a new sexual partner in the last 2 months. That person may have had another partner just before you who had an STI.
  • you have more than one sexual partner.
  • you think your sexual partner might have other sexual partners (for example, he spends time far from where you live).
  • you or your partner is a sex worker.
  • you share needles to inject drugs, or you have sex with someone who shares needles.

If any of these is true for you, use condoms as much as possible when you have sex, and get tested for STIs if you can.

This page was updated:22 Jan 2024