STD Risk

a-woman-plays-footsie-with-a-man-in-a-cafe Matthew Henry Burst

This reader wants to know her partner’s STD risk if they don’t use condoms…

Hi Dr. Kate,

My boyfriend is a virgin, and I’m…not. I’ve always used protection with previous sexual partners, and I got tested for STDs after my last encounter. Last weekend he wanted to have sex, but didn’t have condoms. I’m on the Nuvaring, but I made up an excuse and told him I didn’t trust my birth control. My real reason was I was afraid to pass on STDs to him that I wasn’t aware of carrying (even though I’m clean). I know that it’s possible to transfer STDs to your partner when you show no symptoms (like herpes and warts). My question is if I theoretically didn’t use condoms (I think I still will use protection with him, I already bought us a box) with him how likely am I to pass on something to him?

The (possibly) dirty devirginizer

Dr. Kate:

Thank you for being such a considerate partner! First thing is to assess your chances of actually having an STD to pass. Your doctor can test you for the following infections:

  • Chlamydia and gonorrhea—a swab during your pelvic exam or a urine sample
  • Trichomonas—a swab during your pelvic exam
  • HIV—generally a blood test, though sometimes a finger stick or a cheek swab
  • Syphilis and hepatitis—blood tests
  • HPV—only with your pap smear, we can’t directly test you for warts

Herpes testing is tricky, and the only way to know for sure if you have genital herpes is to swab a bump during an outbreak.

If you were tested for all of the other infections after your last encounter—and to be safest, six months after, to allow time for any tests to become positive—that gives you great peace of mind.

If you’ve never had an outbreak of warts or herpes, your chances are low of not having either one. Not zero chances, but lower. These two infections, unfortunately, are also the ones most likely spread even when using a condom…or by “outercourse.” Which may mean that your boyfriend has been at risk as well, depending on what you mean by “virgin.” So what is the chance of passing an infection that you don’t know you have? It’s not high, but I can’t say how low. Most infections with warts or herpes lead to an outbreak in the first several weeks of exposure. But we don’t know exactly how common it is to not have your first outbreak for months or even years after infection (it’s a hard thing to study).

Using condoms certainly lowers his STD risk, and gives you the best peace of mind.