Can you get trichomoniasis without being sexually active?

Medically reviewed on February 15, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. 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.


Trichomoniasis, also known as “trich” for short, is a common sexually transmitted infection in the country among all genders [1]. The good news is that it is curable, but many people wonder if it’s possible to get infected without being sexually active.

If you have asked yourself, “Can you get trichomoniasis without being sexually active?” you have come to the right place. Learn more about trichomoniasis, its mode of transmission, and whether you should consider taking an at-home STD test.

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What is Trichomoniasis?

While other sexually transmitted infections are caused by bacteria or viruses, trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite—specifically, a single-celled protozoan called trichomonas, that is spread through sexual contact. This parasite is impossible to see with the naked eye.

The tricky thing about trichomoniasis is that most people don’t know that they have it. About 7 out of 10 people show no noticeable signs or symptoms of the infection, meaning only about 30 percent of people with the infection actually show symptoms. Symptoms in men are especially rare. That means an infected person may continue to have unprotected sex and spread it to their partner if they are unaware.

Learn more: How Long Can Trichomoniasis Be Dormant?

Furthermore, even if you have symptoms, they can be extremely mild and easy to mistake for other common issues, like a yeast infection or urinary tract infection. Learning the differences between a yeast infection and trichomoniasis will help you get the proper treatment should you contract either one. Symptoms that show up can typically appear in three days to one month after initial exposure. Vaginitis is the most common symptom [2], and this can consist of:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge that is yellow, green, grey, frothy, and/or foul-smelling
  • General itching, irritation, and burning in and around the vagina
  • Bloody vaginal discharge or spotting
  • Genital inflammation and swelling
  • Pain or burning when having sex or urinating

Potential penile symptoms are similar and include discharge, a constant urge to pee, and general irritation and burning in the genitals.

How You Get Trichomoniasis

The single-celled protozoan responsible for causing trichomoniasis passes from person to person via sexual fluids, including semen, pre-cum, and vaginal fluids, that get on or inside the genitals through sexual intercourse. The parasite most commonly passes through vaginal sex with an infected sex partner, though it can also pass through vulva-to-vulva contact, sharing sex toys, or touching a partner’s genitals with infected fluids on the hands. Any kind of sexual activity or sexual contact can spread the trichomoniasis infection.

Although trichomoniasis can infect the genitals and/or the urethra, it’s generally uncommon in other parts of the body of an infected person. This means that there is not typically a trichomoniasis infection on the mouth or in the anus.

Trichomoniasis is spread specifically through unprotected sexual contact. You cannot get it from casual contact, meaning from sharing foods, holding hands, hugging, or kissing. As the infection doesn’t affect the mouth or nasal passages, it can’t spread from coughing or sneezing, and despite common urban legends, you can’t get trichomoniasis from a toilet seat.

Why It Matters

Many people who suddenly discover they have trichomoniasis might wonder why they have it if they haven’t had sex in some amount of time. Others may be worried about partners and/or potential infidelity.

Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection, meaning that you can only get it if you partake in sexual activity with an infected partner. However, keep in mind that the infection typically doesn’t present symptoms in most people who have it. Left untreated, the infection can theoretically exist in the system indefinitely. Symptoms can come and go in varying levels of severity for several years without knowing the root cause. What you may think of as just frequent yeast infections or UTIs may be mild symptoms of a trich infection.

The only way to know if you have trichomoniasis from unprotected sex is to get tested. This can be performed by your healthcare provider, at a local clinic, or in the comfort of your own home with the Everlywell STD test for males and STD Test for females. With this comprehensive test, you'll be able to screen for the most common STDs and STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and more. If you had sexual intercourse with a sex partner who has this infection, trichomoniasis treatment is available. In the meantime, make sure you always use protection to prevent spreading the sexually transmitted infection to sexual partners.


References

1. Trichomoniasis - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 15, 2022.

2. Vaginitis - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 15, 2022.

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