My boyfriend and I are thinking about having sex for the first time. I’m on the Pill already, and neither of us has had sex with anyone else. We don’t need to worry about STIs, right?
Great question! You and your boyfriend are wise to have this conversation before any clothing comes off. It bodes well for both your relationship and your future sex life that you can have these kinds of open discussions about your needs. If this is your first time having sex, there are a few things that you want to think about, including whether you and your boyfriend show respect to each other and understand consent. Figuring out what sexually transmitted infection (STI) and pregnancy protection works best for you is an important step.
If this is the first time for both of you, your STI risk is likely very low.
That being said, how do you and your boyfriend define “sex”? Make sure you are on the same page about that definition so you can effectively evaluate your STI risk. Herpes, HPV, and pubic lice are all STIs that can be contracted through sexual skin-to-skin contact. So, you can’t just get them by shaking hands, but you CAN get them without any kind of penetrative sex.
Many other STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and even HIV, can be transmitted through oral and anal sex. Oral herpes, which you can contract through casual contact like kissing and sharing utensils, can be transmitted to the genitals through oral sex.
This all sounds pretty scary, but you should always talk honestly with your medical provider about your potential risk.
No matter what, it’s never a bad idea to get in the habit of getting tested with your partner. Even though it’s unlikely that either of you has an STI, it’ll be a relief to actually have a piece of paper in hand declaring you STI-free. There are plenty of clinics that do free or low-cost STI and HIV testing. If you live in NYC, Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center provides completely free, confidential STI testing. Planned Parenthood charges on a sliding scale and is usually affordable as well.
Even though your STI risk is low, you should still consider using condoms. This way, you’ll be doubled-up for pregnancy protection and will have the skills to be condom confident for the future!
It sounds like you and your boyfriend are on the right track. These conversations can sometimes feel challenging, but having them is always worth it. Making plans for STI and pregnancy prevention beforehand frees up your mind to focus on the fun part while it’s happening. So don’t worry–get tested!
A version of this article was originally published in December 2016.