Of course, STDs are associated with sex, which people often consider to mean penetrative vaginal or anal sex. After all, they’re called sexually transmitted diseases or infections. But truth is, there are various ways an STD can spread, even if you don’t have sex. It’s important to know about the different ways. You may think you’re practicing safe sex but if you’re only focusing on safe sex during intercourse, you may be leaving yourself exposed to STDs in other situations.

Other than vaginal or anal sex, which are common transmission methods, how can STDs spread? Overall, it depends on the type of STD as to how it can spread, but these are main ways these infections are transmitted.

Oral Sex

People often distinguish oral sex from penetrative sex, but it’s still a form of sexual activity. STDs don’t distinguish between these types of sex and can spread during oral sex, although the likelihood is higher with unprotected penetrative sex than with unprotected oral sex. Nonetheless, there’s still a significant risk during the oral sex, especially if you continue to expose yourself without protection.

Gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, syphilis, HPV and HIV can all be spread through oral sex. Sharing sex toys is another type of sexual activity that could result in the spread of STDs. To practice safer sex, you should use a condom or dental dam during these types of sexual activity.

Skin-to-Skin Contact

Some STDs can spread from one person’s skin to another during sexual contact or even during non-sexual kisses. Herpes, HPV and genital warts are able to spread from skin to skin, so they could be transmitted through the infected oral or genital area of another person through contact that’s separate from penetrative or oral sex. In other words, it’s possible to pick up an STD through a kiss or by rubbing genitals. Also, pubic lice and scabies are able to spread through touch or even through sheets or other fabric.

Other Methods of Transmission

In some cases, STDs can spread through other scenarios than sexual contact or skin-to-skin contact. For example, you can get some STDs like HIV by sharing syringes or needles, whether it’s for using drugs or for another activity like tattooing or piercing. Also, hepatitis A is able to spread through coming in contact with fecal matter, which can happen through food contamination as one example.

Ways to Be Safe

As you can see, the way STDs spread depends on the type of STD. Nonetheless, it’s good to keep in mind that they can spread in more ways than through vaginal or anal sex. This list doesn’t include every single way for these infections to spread, yet sexual contact is the most common way for an STD to go from one person to another.

You should take precautions to prevent the spread during various situations, including during oral sex. If you’re not sure whether you’ve been exposed to one or more STD during different encounters, the only true way to know is to get tested. You won’t always experience symptoms that would alert you to an STD, but testing can give you a definitive answer.