Catching Cooties? Ways STDs Are Transmitted Without Having Intercourse

We’ve collectively been warned by the legion of health teachers, concerned parents, concerned friends, and just about anyone who’s ever talked to us about sex that with the deed comes the risk of STDs. In some cases it’s used to scare people away from having sex, as if contracting an STD makes you undesirable, un-pure, un-whatever. We could write an entire separate post about the problems with shame-based sexual education, but continuing on. The reality is a lot of people have STDs, and it doesn’t stop them from boinkin’ butts or whatever it is people do under the sheets.


Most STDs are easily treatable if action is taken early on and also entirely avoidable if you use proper protection and get regularly tested. Knowledge is power, y’all! And to add to your knowledge, you should know that there are ways STDs can be transmitted without engaging in intercourse.


—Record scratch— What?!


Yes. But don’t freak out. Intercourse is still the most common way a lot of these infections are transmitted.  Just not the only way. We aren’t talking about sitting on toilets or sharing food with people. Those are outdated scare tactics used to shame and stigmatize people with STDs. We aren’t about shame here. But there are some sexual activities that could put you at risk, and it’s smart to know what they are and how to take extra precaution before engaging in them.



You’re mostly in the clear if you want to lock lips with your partner, but be mindful if they have open sores on or in their mouth. Infections can technically be passed through saliva, though that’s very unlikely, and the risk of infection is very low without the presence of open sores or cuts. Oral herpes (HSV-1) is the most common STD passed through kissing, but it is easily treatable with topical anesthetics. Also, if you contract oral herpes through kissing, you’re not alone! More than 50% of the US adult population has it.


Oral Sex

Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HPV, oh my! These are some of the STIs that you’re at risk of contracting by participating in oral sex. Your genitals might be safe, but you could potentially develop an infection in your throat. The human papillomavirus (HPV), another common STD, is actually a leading cause of oral and throat cancers. And while it’s much rarer to contract genital herpes (HSV-2) orally, it’s not impossible. In fact, if you have oral herpes (HPV-1), it’s possible to transmit that virus to your partner’s genitals.


The good news is that all of these conditions can be treated, especially if caught early on. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two of the most common STDs in the United States, and can be treated with antibiotics. There is an HPV vaccine for people between the ages of 9 and 26. And genital herpes can be treated with antiviral medications designed either to decrease the severity of outbreaks when they occur, or to prevent them altogether.


Dry Humping

Ugh, we all thought we were safe keeping our clothes on! While the risk of transmitting and STD or STI by dry humping is very low, there is always the possibility it could happen, especially if sexual fluids are passed back and forth. Skin to skin contact can pass along herpes and HPV.


Testing for STDs using a swab.

The fix? We’re not going to tell you to not engage in any of the above activities. Duh. We’re all adults. But get tested annually, get tested after exposure to a new partner, and don’t be afraid to ask your partner(s) when they were last tested.  It feels very sexy to be able to say, “I got tested last month and know I’m clean.” Additionally, the use of condoms or dental dams that prevent the passing of sexual fluids greatly decreases the risk of transmitting STDs. Anyone “too cool” for those preventative measures, ask them what feels worse, condoms or genital herpes. That’ll make them think twice. Have fun with your next hook up!