Remaining sexually transmitted disease (STD) free is a key consideration when dating in middle years and later. The two main issues I see are mistakenly believing one is STD free and being infected before one becomes savvy enough to protect oneself.
The facts one should know
There is no such thing as safe sex where genital herpes (herpes simplex virus HSV) or genital warts (human papillomavirus - HPV) are concerned. There is also no complete cure - an infection is likely to be life long, even if that is a life without further symptoms.
Both HSV and HPV can infect the face, mouth, nose and genital areas. Both can be transmitted via exchange of infected bodily fluids and skin contact with an infected area.
As a result of the places infected, STDs can be caught from kissing, intercourse, sharing sex toys and sharing eating utensils as well as touching infected areas.
The range of activities that can present a risk of infection mean you may become infected long before you actually have sex and condoms simply do not cover enough of you to ensure you don’t become infected if your partner is shedding viruses, either through a lesion / wart or bodily fluid.
A person can be infectious even without visible lesions / warts because either the lesions / warts are tiny or hidden or they are simply shedding in their bodily fluids. Hence, even if you are careful, use condoms and inspect each other, you still might become infected.
Infection is so prevalent in the community - you simply cannot take chances if you want to remain STD free. Approximately 1 in 8 people in Australia are HSV positive. Most people that are sexually active will contact HPV sometime in their lives. In fact, around 50% of sexually active people with have HPV antibodies by the time they are in their late 40s / 50s.
Only people who have never had intimate contact with another person (including kissing) or who have only had intimate contact with another person similarly STD free are likely to be STD free.
What you can do
If you are HSV / HPV free and wish to retain this very desirable state, you don’t have the opportunity to make even one mistake – one kiss (even on the cheek), sex with a condom or even sharing a towel could end your STD free status.
Here are recommendations based on science and my experience:
Recommendation 1: Don’t take chances. Educate yourself and decide on a strategy before you start dating – even before you kiss anyone or have protected sex.
Recommendation 2: Check you are actually STD free. Seek the best medical advice and have the best tests for all STDs. HPV is mostly diagnosed through visual inspection and pap smears. There is no definitive test routinely available, seek the best service you can obtain.
Recommendation 3: Keep your test results. When someone suspects they have an STD (and this is very common) they start looking for sources of infection. Your results are your defense.
Recommendation 4: Be immunized against HPV – this will not cover all strains, but will reduce your chances of contracting the main ones that cause cancer. Don’t be put off by being outside the recommended age group.
Recommendation 5: Don’t commit your heart or even kiss until you are sure of the STD status of the prospective partner – then make an informed decision.
Recommendation 6: Don’t accept assurances that a person is STD free or that tests have proven them STD free - see next recommendation..
Recommendation 7: Have a reputable doctor test both of you and report back to you both.
Recommendation 8: Ensure your new STD free partner is as dedicated as you to remaining STD free.