Written on October 21, 2023 by Lori Mulligan, MPH. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Most sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are passed through oral, vaginal, or anal sex. However, can you get an STI without having sex? Yes. Certain STIs can be spread through skin-to-skin contact, through infected blood, and transmitted from mother to child during childbirth. We will look at herpes, syphilis, pubic lice (crabs), human papillomavirus (HPV), chlamydia, HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
Genital herpes is caused by two types of viruses — herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).
HSV-1 often causes oral herpes, which can be transmitted to the genitals through oral sex. However, most people with oral herpes do not have any symptoms.
Besides contracting herpes from having sex with someone who is infected, you can get herpes if you have contact with:
You can pass herpes to your unborn child before birth, but it more commonly passes during delivery. This can lead to a deadly infection in your baby. You should avoid getting genital herpes during pregnancy.
You also can get genital herpes from someone who does not have a visible sore or is unaware of their infection.
You will not get herpes from toilet seats, bedding, or swimming pools or from touching silverware, soap, or towels.
Syphilis is an STI caused by a bacterium. If left untreated, the disease lasts for years and can cause serious health problems.
You can get syphilis by having direct contact with infectious sores on the genitals, anus, rectum, lips, or mouth.
Syphilis can also be spread via blood transfusions.
Around 50% of pregnant women with untreated syphilis will spread the infection to their unborn child.
If syphilis is left untreated during pregnancy, it can lead to early birth, low birth weight, stillbirth, death shortly after birth, or inflammatory manifestations affecting the eyes, ears, and joints. It can also cause skeletal malformations.
Keep in mind that many infants with syphilis infection may not have obvious clinical signs or symptoms.
Crabs are parasites and are not body lice. Crabs need blood to survive, but they can live up to 24 hours off a human body.
Even when there is no sexual penetration, you can get (or give) crabs through skin-to-skin contact with another person or from sleeping in an infested bed or using infested towels.
HPV is made up of more than 200 related virus types. HPV is not transmitted through bodily fluids but through skin-to-skin contact. This happens mostly through sexual contact. However, HPV can enter the body through any mucous membrane — mouths, lips, anus, or parts of the genitals.
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection spread through sex or contact with infected semen or vaginal fluids.
You can get chlamydia through non-sexual contact, including:
It can also be passed by a pregnant woman to her baby.
Chlamydia cannot be passed on through kissing and hugging, or from sharing baths, towels, swimming pools, toilet seats, or cutlery.
There are several ways you can get HIV without having sex.
You are at high risk for getting HIV if you share needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment with someone who has HIV since they may have someone else’s blood on them, and blood can carry HIV.
HIV can also be transmitted from a parent to their baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. This is called perinatal transmission, which is the most common way that children get HIV.
The U.S. blood supply and donated organs and tissues are thoroughly tested, so it is very unlikely that you would get HIV from blood transfusions, blood products, or organ and tissue transplants. You cannot get HIV from donating blood. Blood collection procedures are highly regulated and safe in the United States.
Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. Some people are sick for only a few weeks, but for others, the disease progresses to a serious, lifelong illness.
It is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluids from an infected person enter the body of someone who is not infected. Non-sexual infections can come from:
The hepatitis B virus is not spread through kissing or sharing utensils, sneezing, coughing, hugging, breastfeeding, or through food or water.
The hepatitis C virus is usually spread through blood-to-blood contact, such as :
Everlywell also offers online STI consults in 2 hours or less. If you think you have been infected, fast and discreet care is just a click away. Get treatment and have a prescription sent directly to your pharmacy (if applicable).