Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

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Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are passed from person to person through sex, including oral, anal or vaginal sex and, in some cases, through skin-to-skin contact. STIs are sometimes called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Many people with an STI have no signs or symptoms. You can feel healthy and not know that you have an STI. The only way to know if you have an STI is to get tested.

How to Prevent STIs

Here are some tips for preventing STIs:

  • Use a new condoms, dental dam, nitrile or latex glove with water-based or silicone-based lubricant. Use one correctly for every sexual activity, including each time you change partners and each time you switch between oral, anal or vaginal sex. This is the best way to prevent many STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV.

  • Consider Doxy PEP. Taking the medication doxycycline after sex can prevent STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Doxy PEP works best within 24 hours of sex. It is currently recommended for cisgender men who have sex with men and transgender women.

  • Consider PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to prevent HIV. PrEP is available for anyone as a daily pill or injection every 2 months administered by your provider. If you are a cisgender man who has sex with men, PrEP on demand (PDF) is an additional option to prevent HIV.

  • Take emergency PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) if you are exposed to HIV. PEP can stop HIV infection if started as soon as possible, and no more than 72 hours after exposure. To start emergency PEP right away, call the NYC 24/7 PEP at (844)3-PEPNYC (844-373-7692) or visit a clinic, emergency room, or NYC Sexual Health Clinic and ask for PEP to prevent HIV.

  • Get vaccinated. Some STIs can be prevented with a vaccine, including HPV (human papillomavirus, a virus that can cause cancer and genital or anal warts), hepatitis A and hepatitis B (viruses that can cause liver cancer), and mpox. These vaccinations are available at the NYC Sexual Health Clinics and Immunization Clinics.

  • Get tested regularly. Make sure your health care provider offers you STI tests you may need because of the type of sex you have.

  • Use sex toys carefully. Read the manufacturer’s instructions for storage, use and cleaning. You can avoid injuries by checking for any damage before and after use. You can also use condoms on toys. Use a new condom each time you change partners and each time you switch between oral, anal or vaginal sex. If you have more than one partner at a time, be sure to use a new condom on the toy for each partner who uses it.

  • Avoid vaginal douching or cleaning the inside of your vagina with water or other fluids. Douching can change the balance of natural bacteria and acidity necessary to maintain a healthy vagina. Vaginal douching can increase your chance of getting infections and pelvic inflammatory disease.

  • Avoid anal douching or cleaning the inside of your anus with water or other fluids before having anal sex. Anal douching may cause injury to the lining of the rectum, increasing the risk of many STIs. To avoid these risks, use enemas that are available in stores.

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When to Get Tested

Get tested if you have symptoms such as:

  • Discharge from the penis
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Burning during urination
  • Intense itching on or around the vagina, penis or anus
  • A chancre (painless sore) or painful sores on or around the vagina, penis or anus
  • Stomach cramps unrelated to menstrual cycle

You should also get tested if you have a sex partner with an STI or symptoms of an STI.

Routine Screening

Routine screening is important because many people with STIs do not have symptoms. Recommendations on which STIs to get screened for – and how often – are based on a person’s gender, the gender of their sex partners, their sexual activity, their pregnancy status and their HIV status.

Have an open and honest conversation about your sexual history and STI testing with your doctor and ask whether you should be tested for STIs.

Here are some key guidelines for different groups:

  • Sexually active women younger than 25 years, and women 25 years and older with new or multiple sex partners, should get tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia every year.
  • Pregnant people should get tested for syphilis three times during all pregnancies: at their first prenatal care examination, between 28-32 weeks gestation (third trimester) and at delivery. You should also be tested for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C early in pregnancy.
  • Sexually active gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men should get tested at least once a year for syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea. Those who have multiple or anonymous partners should be tested more frequently, such as every 3 to 6 months. Men without HIV who are gay, bisexual or have sex with men should be tested for hepatitis C at least once a year.

For more information on which tests to get, see the CDC’s STI and HIV screening recommendations and hepatitis screening recommendations.

To diagnose an STI, your provider may order tests on your blood, your urine or samples from your mouth, anus or vagina.

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Why Get Treatment

STIs can have lasting effects on your body. Some STIs can cause damage to your vision, hearing, brain and cardiovascular system. They can make you more likely to get or spread HIV. Many STIs can cause infertility. Some infections can also be passed to a baby during pregnancy, leading to birth defects, premature death or stillbirth.

Some STIs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, can be treated and cured. STIs that are caused by viruses, such as HPV, genital herpes and HIV, can be treated but cannot be cured. There are medicines you can take to manage symptoms and health complications of these STIs.

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Where to Get Sexual Health Care

NYC Sexual Health Clinics offer low- to no-cost services for STIs, including HIV. Anyone 12 years and older can receive services, regardless of immigration status. Parental consent is not necessary.

The Chelsea and Fort Greene Express Clinics offer appointments for Express testing services. These sites offer testing for HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis for people who have no symptoms of an STI. HIV test results are provided on site and chlamydia and gonorrhea test results are usually available within hours.

The NYC Sexual Health Clinic Hotline is available at 347-396-7959, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

To find other sexual and reproductive health providers near you, visit NYC Health Map.

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