The 9 biggest misconceptions about STDs

by Frank Kobola


The truth: “Technically it is very hard to get an STD from a toilet seat,” says Ross. “But can it happen? Theoretically it is possible, but it is highly improbable.”

Dr. Rachael Ross, family doctor, sexologist and host of “The Doctors,” tells Cosmo that you can’t get an STD from a toilet seat. But from a hot tub? Yep.

1. The myth: You can only get an STD from semen or bodily fluids. 

The truth: There are a lot of ways to contract STDs, and there are STDs that don’t require intercourse or the exchange of fluids. “You can contract HPV by just general contact — you know, grinding,” says Ross. Manual stimulation can spread HPV, pubic lice, or crabs too. Eliminating bodily fluid exchange does minimize risk of transferring some of the more serious STDs, like HIV, but “it’s completely a myth that you cannot contract an STD from fingering or oral because you absolutely can,” says Ross.

2. The myth: Oral and anal sex are safer alternatives to vaginal intercourse. 

The truth: Oral and anal obviously negate the risk of pregnancy and preserve virginity, but they don’t prevent STD transmission. Although your risk of transmitting STDs is generally lower with oral — gonorrhea and chlamydia can still be transmitted via oral, but you can’t get HIV from ingesting infected semen unless you have any cuts or open sores in your mouth — anal intercourse actually puts you the most at risk because your skin is likely to tear. “If you want to increase your risk of contracting HIV 100-fold, that’s what you do,” says Ross.

3. The myth: You can get an STD from a hot tub. 

The truth: Unfortunately, this is entirely possible. People assume the heat from the hot tub will kill germs and STDs, so they are more likely to have unprotected sex. But STDs can survive for several hours in a warm, moist environment, and swimsuits don’t protect your genitals from infected water. On top of that, Ross says the hot water opens your pores and makes your skin more vulnerable to cuts and chafing.

4. The myth: You can put vinegar on sores to test if they’re HPV. 

The truth: There’s a rumor that HPV sores actually change color when exposed to regular household vinegar, but it just isn’t true. “When we’re looking at lesions, sometimes we’ll put acid on them and it forms a color. Then we might do a biopsy, but this is more so done during a colposcopy when we’re looking for cervical cancer. I think what’s happened is everybody is taking what we do during colposcopy and looking for the effects of HPV and translating that into this home remedy, and that’s absolutely not true,” Ross explains.

5. The myth: You can get herpes anywhere on your body.

The truth: Well, yes and no. Herpes can appear places other than your mouth or genitals, but it won’t appear around an open wound anywhere on your body. “We have ocular herpes, which is in your eye,” says Ross, “but it’s usually in more mucus types of membrane areas — mouth, eyes, vaginal area, anus, and the areas that surround those places. You can potentially get it on your hands and transfer it to your eye or mouth or genitals. But typically, if you touch someone’s genital herpes you won’t get warts on your hands.”

6. The myth: You can’t spread herpes if you don’t currently have an outbreak. 

The truth: “That’s a huge myth, and unfortunately that is one many people believe,” says Ross. If your partner has herpes, the best way to prevent contracting it is for your partner to be on immunosuppressant therapy, a daily medication that makes them non-contagious. Otherwise you are always at some risk to contract the STD.

7. The myth: If you have herpes, your dating/sex life is over. 

Truth: As long as you’re practicing safe sex and being up front with your partners, this is not the case. “Believe it or not, the same goes for HIV,” Ross says. “Many couples avoid spreading their STDs with suppressant drugs, safer forms of sex, and always using condoms.” That doesn’t mean that safe sex will definitely prevent your partner from getting your STD, but your doctor can help you figure out the best way to maintain a healthy sex life.

8. The myth: Your body will get rid of chlamydia and gonorrhea on its own. And once you have those STDs once, you can’t get them again. 

The truth: It’s extremely rare that your body’s immune system will cure you of an STD, and they’re incredibly dangerous if left untreated. “Gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause fertility problems and leave scarring in the fallopian tubes if left untreated,” says Ross. And you can get either STD twice. In fact, people often find themselves getting chlamydia and gonorrhea multiple times because they keep going back to the partner who has it. You should both abstain from sex until your doctor tells you it’s safe.

9. The myth: You can get an STD from a toilet seat. 

The truth: “Technically it is very hard to get an STD from a toilet seat,” says Ross. “But can it happen? Theoretically it is possible, but it is highly improbable.”

Ross says you should get tested every three to six months, even if you have a steady partner that you trust. Although they’re not as thorough, home tests like OraQuick can make it a pretty quick and easy process, but you should also be getting tested at the doctor once or twice a year, or get a second opinion if a home test comes back positive.


Read more in Cosmopolitan


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