Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
Last Updated: 
August 2013

Know your sexual health status

Routine testing will tell you if you have an STI like gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, herpes or HIV. Some STIs do not have symptoms, so you can have them without knowing. Finding and treating an STI early has benefits:

  • It reduces the chances of passing the STI on to your partner(s).
  • You are less likely to develop complications like pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility from STIs, or immune system failure from advanced HIV disease.
  • If you have an STI, your chance of getting or passing on HIV increases. Treating STIs and HIV lessens the chance of HIV being transmitted.

The more partners you have, the more likely you are to be exposed to a sexually transmitted infection.


Some STIs, such as hepatitis A, B and human papillomavirus (HPV) can be prevented with vaccines. Talk to your health care provider about how to get these vaccinations.

Talk about prevention

Talk with your partner before having sex. Discuss how you would like to prevent STIs like HIV.

  • Make sure your partner has been tested and treated for STIs.
  • Alcohol and some prescription and illicit drugs can interfere with your ability to have a conversation and make decisions to have safer sex.

If you have difficulty discussing safer sex with your partner, talk about it with your health care provider or counselor. For tips on how to talk to your partner, visit the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) SmartSexResource at

Important facts about condoms

  • Male condoms are made of natural (latex) or synthetic (polyurethane, nitrile, polyisoprene) rubbers, or sheep intestine. They can be used during vaginal, anal or oral sex. Female condoms are made from synthetic rubbers.
  • Condoms made from rubber prevent STIs including HIV by preventing sexual and body fluids from being exchanged during sex.
  • Sheep intestine condoms do not protect against STIs or HIV.
  • Sheep intestine and synthetic rubber condoms can be used by people with latex allergies.
  • Condoms are less effective at protecting against a STI passed by skin-to-skin contact, such as herpes simplex, genital warts (human papilloma virus), and syphilis.
  • Do not use expired condoms or reuse condoms.
  • Store condoms at room temperature and keep them away from sharp objects.
  • Use only water-based lubricants with the male latex condom. Oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly, lotion or baby oil, can weaken and destroy latex.
  • Water or oil-based lubricant may be used with polyurethane condoms.
  • Female and male condoms should not be used at the same time. Using 2 condoms together may result in a condom breaking.
  • Although unusual, condoms can have minute flaws or break during use.
  • If a condom breaks, emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) or copper IUD (intrauterine device) can prevent pregnancy. These should be started as soon as possible. For more information, talk to your health care provider. For more information about emergency contraception, see HealthLinkBC File #91b Emergency Contraception.
  • Condoms and emergency contraception are available at most pharmacies.

How do I put on a male condom?

To use a male condom, follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Carefully open the package and take the condom out. Avoid using teeth, scissors or other sharp objects, as they can damage the condom.
  3. Make sure that the rolled-up condom rim faces outward.
  4. Put the condom on the penis when it is hard and erect and before starting to have sex.
  5. Pinch the tip of the condom to remove any trapped air and then unroll the condom to the base of the erect penis.
  6. After sex and before the penis becomes soft, hold the rim of the condom against the penis so the ejaculated semen will not spill out and then carefully pull out the penis.
  7. Slide the condom gently off the penis, knot the open end and throw it in the garbage.

How do I put on a female condom?

A female condom looks like a small, clear and narrow bag. It may be inserted into the vagina up to 8 hours before sex.

To use a female condom, follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Carefully open the package and take the condom out. Avoid using teeth, scissors or other sharp objects, as they can damage the condom.
  3. Find a comfortable position lying down, sitting with your knees apart or standing with one foot raised on a stool. Then squeeze the small ring and insert the condom straight into the vagina as far as it will go.
  4. Put a finger inside the condom and push the small ring inside as far as possible. Keep the outer ring of the condom outside of the vagina. The outer ring will lie flat against the body when the penis is inside the condom.
  5. Using lubricant with the female condom helps to keep it in place during sex.
  6. When the penis goes into the vagina, make sure that it goes inside the condom.
  7. Right after sex, remove the condom by gently twisting the outer ring to keep semen from spilling out, pull out the condom and throw it into the garbage.

For More Information

For more information about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), visit the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) SmartSexResource at

For information about harm reduction, see HealthLinkBC File #102a Understanding Harm Reduction: Substance Use.

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