Terrifying-but-true fact: You know you don’t necessarily need to have s*x to get an STD. We talked to Alyssa Dweck, M.D., an ob-gyn in Westchester, New York, and coauthor of V Is for va*ina, for the information you need to know to stay disease-free.
Although HPV has risen from the s*xual health lexicon to become a buzzword of sorts, a lot of people still don’t understand that no s*x is necessary to catch it. “The human papillomavirus is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, whether someone touches a wart or some of the surrounding skin,” says Dweck.
HPV comes in various strains, some of which may cause genital warts and others that can result in precancerous lesions. There don’t need to be warts for you to catch it since the virus can shed even if there isn’t an outbreak. “Warts sometimes show up on parts of the body besides genitals, like fingers,” says Dweck.
A doctor can prescribe medication to get rid of the warts or use various techniques like freezing or cutting them off, but the virus may still sit dormant in your system and recur from time to time.
2. Molluscum Contagiosum
It sounds like a Harry Potter spell, but it’s nowhere near as fun. Although it’s technically a viral infection and not an STD, Dweck has seen a rise in women who get the resulting raised lumps with craters on their genitals instead of elsewhere on their bodies.
“We see more women getting this from things like skin-to-skin contact or even a tanning bed,” says Dweck. The lumps aren’t painful, but after you get one they can multiply, which can quickly lead to panic. “The virus goes away by itself, and the bumps can be scraped or frozen off,” says Dweck.
“Although, if they’re frozen, I can’t send it to the lab for testing.” Once the virus is gone, this infection doesn’t usually recur.
This tongue-twister of an STD isn’t well-known, but it’s worth reading up on for one big reason: The virus can live on an inanimate object for a period of time after someone with the infection touches it. It may present itself as a v**inal infection with a foul-smelling discharge accompanied by itching and irritation.
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“It can be transmitted through things like a dirty bath towel or a vibrator that’s been used and not washed,” says Dweck. Although there’s no clear-cut information on how long the virus can live, Dweck explains that it’s unlikely you would be at risk if you come into contact with something several weeks after someone with trichomoniasis touched it.
Thankfully, Dweck says antibiotics can help conquer this one.
Herpes is often the first infection that comes to mind when people think of STDs, so it can be alarming to realize you can get it in some pretty innocent ways. “Herpes can be transmitted through kissing or things like using a dirty razor and sharing utensils, although that’s much less risky,” says Dweck.
Although there are technically two types of the herpes virus, HSV-1 and HSV-2, ob-gyns are moving away from distinguishing between them as much. HSV-1 used to be thought of as oral, while HSV-2 was considered the genital type—but that difference is less important than it used to be.
“Other than the fact that type 1 doesn’t usually recur, while type 2 is more recurrent, each one of those types can show up wherever,” says Dweck. Although herpes can be asymptomatic, a cold sore is a sure sign of infection, while genital sores could point to herpes, as well.
Although doctors can help you manage symptoms, there’s no known cure for the virus.
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