Can you get an STI without having sex?

Liz Wood Alphabiolabs

By Liz Wood, Health Testing Specialist at at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 16/12/2022

In this article, we discuss whether you can get an STI without having sex, how STIs/STDs are passed on, and how to get tested for STIs.
Table of contents
  • What is a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
  • How do you get an STI?
  • Can you get an STI without having sex?
  • What are the ways you can get an STI without having sex?
  • How can I get tested for STIs/STDs?

What is a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are infections that are most commonly passed on during sexual contact.

How the infection spreads depends on the STI. Some STIs can be passed on via bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids, and blood, while others can be passed on simply by having skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.

Some STIs can also be passed from mother to child during labour and childbirth.

Not all STIs display symptoms, which is why regular STI testing is important for peace of mind, and for ensuring any infections are caught and treated early.

If you think you might have an STI and are experiencing symptoms that are causing pain and discomfort, we strongly advise that you contact your GP or local sexual health clinic for advice and guidance on testing and treatment options.

How do you get an STI?

There are lots of ways that a person can catch an STI.

Although many people would rightly think of STIs as infections that are spread during sex, some STIs can be passed onto others without having sex, including as a result of skin-to-skin contact.

You might be at risk of catching an STI/STD if:

  • You and/or your partner have unprotected sexual intercourse (vagina, anal, oral) with multiple partners
  • You engage in genital or sexual touching (manual stimulation of genitals with hands)
  • You share sex toys that have not been cleaned between uses/partners
  • You have had skin-to-skin contact with a person who has an active sore or lesion as a result of an STI (e.g. herpes sores or syphilitic chancres)
  • You inject drugs and share needles with others. Some STIs can be passed on via the blood of an infected person (e.g. HIV, syphilis, hepatitis)

Some STIs can also be passed on from pregnant and breastfeeding women to their babies.

Drug use before or during sex – known as ‘chemsex’ – can also make you more susceptible to catching STIs.

You can find out more about different types of STIs and how they are passed on by visiting https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sexually-transmitted-infections-stis/.

Can you get an STI without having sex?

Because STIs can be spread by infected bodily fluids (semen, vaginal fluids, anal secretions, blood), and skin-to-skin contact, it is entirely possible to catch an STI without having penetrative sex.

Ways that you can get an STI without having sex include having unprotected oral sex with an infected person, by kissing someone with an active cold sore (oral herpes), via skin-to-skin contact (herpes, syphilis), or from the blood of an infected person (HIV, syphilis, hepatitis).

Learn more about how different STIs are spread by visiting www.sexwise.org.uk.

What are the ways you can get an STI without having sex?

There is a common misconception that you can only catch an STI if you have sex. However, this is not the case.

STIs/STDs can be passed on in a variety of ways, depending on the type of infection a person has.

Ways that you can catch an STI without having sex (vaginal or anal) include:

  • During unprotected oral sex
  • From sexual touching (of genitals or manual stimulation with hands)
  • By sharing sex toys that have not been cleaned
  • If you are a drug user and share needles with an infected person. Some STIs/STDs can be passed on in blood (HIV, hepatitis, syphilis)
  • By kissing someone with an active cold sore (oral herpes)
  • From skin-to-skin contact with a person who has an active sore or lesion, caused by an STI (herpes, syphilis)

Mothers can also pass certain STIs on to their babies during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.

It is also possible to transfer an STI from one part of your body to another. For example, by touching an active sore/lesion (e.g. genital herpes) and then touching your face.

Learn more about STIs and how they are transmitted here https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sexually-transmitted-infections-stis/.

How can I get tested for STIs/STDs?

Regular STI testing can help you keep your sexual health in check and ensure any infections are detected early, so that you can seek the correct treatment via your GP or local sexual health clinic.

Many people with an STI/STD do not display any symptoms (are asymptomatic). This makes regular testing even more important for reducing the spread of infections.

AlphaBiolabs offers a range of home STI tests for people with and without symptoms, starting from just £29.

Depending on which test you choose, you will need to provide a urine sample, vaginal swab sample, lesion swab sample or a finger-prick blood sample for analysis at our UK laboratory.

Our test kits have been designed to enable you to collect your own sample quickly and discreetly at home.

However, if you are experiencing symptoms that are causing severe pain and discomfort, or that require a face-to-face examination, we advise you to contact your GP or local sexual health clinic as soon as possible.

Please note, you must be at least 16 years of age to purchase a home STI test kit from AlphaBiolabs.

Order an STI test kit

At-home STI testing you can trust, from just £29.

Liz Wood

Liz Wood

Health Testing Specialist at AlphaBiolabs

Liz joined AlphaBiolabs in 2021, where she holds the role of Health Testing Specialist.

As well as overseeing a range of health tests, she is also the lead on several validation projects for the company’s latest health test offerings.

During her time at AlphaBiolabs, Liz has played an active role in the validation of the company’s Genetic Lactose Intolerance Test and Genetic Coeliac Disease Test.

An advocate for preventative healthcare, Liz’s main scientific interests centre around human disease and reproductive health. Her qualifications include a BSc in Biology and an MSc in Biology of Health and Disease.

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