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Does Showering After Sex Reduce Chances of STDs?

Written on November 24, 2023 by Amy Harris, MS, RN, CNM. 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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If showering after sex reduced your chances of getting STDs, then there would be much more shower sex and fewer STDs. Unfortunately, showering after any intimate, skin-to-skin contact does not prevent transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). STDs are also called sexually transmitted infections (STIs). There are plenty of other ways besides frequent post-coital showering to have a safe sex life and reduce your risk for STDs. <a Read on to keep informed about the steps you can take to optimize your sexual health in and out of the bedroom (or shower).

Why Doesn’t Showering After Sex Reduce Your Chances Of STDs?

STDs are caused by either bacteria (like Chlamydia and Gonorrhea), viruses (Hepatitis B and C, HIV, HPV, and Herpes), or parasites (crabs, trichomoniasis, and scabies). Viruses, bacteria, and parasites survive best in warm, moist environments such as in [1]:

  • Liquids (blood or saliva)
  • Bodily secretions (vaginal or cervical discharge) and ejaculate
  • Mucus membranes, like the tissue linings of your mouth, genitals, vagina, anus, urethra, and penis

Over time, STDs have evolved to be transmitted more efficiently and to resist treatments or things that harm them (like soap and water or medicines).[2]

A small amount of ordinary soap mixed with warm shower water may kill some viruses or bacteria left on your skin or external genitals after sexual contact.[3] For example, soap breaks open the lipid membrane or shrink-wrap packaging viruses such as Hepatitis B and C and Herpes.[4] That is why small amounts of mild soap can keep you healthy. Washing your hands, face, genitals, and any sex toys (if you used them) with warm water and mild, unscented soap after sexual activity might not hurt, but it is not a guaranteed STD-prevention strategy.[5]

Transmission of a virus, bacteria, or parasite from an object (towel, bedding, sex toy, or toilet seat) to a living person is called fomite transmission.[6] Catching STDs from objects such as shared bed linens, clothing, towels, toilet seats, eating utensils, shared cups/glasses, or public spas is nearly impossible.

Even though showering after sex may reduce your chances of some STDs by a small amount, it is not a fail-safe method of protection because:

  • The bacteria and viruses causing STDs spread most effectively during sex—showering after sex may be too late to prevent infection.
  • Aggressive cleaning with harsh or perfumed soaps or hygiene products may have the opposite effect of increasing your risk for STDs.

Before and during sex are the best times to protect yourself from STDs, not after.

How To Reduce Your Chances of Getting An STD Before Sex

When it comes to STDs, it is all about prevention. Especially with those STDs that don’t have a cure, like herpes and HPV. You can take several other steps to reduce your chances of getting an STD before having sex [7]:

  1. Get tested regularly for all STDs, even if you don’t have symptoms
  2. Get vaccinated against the STDs prevented by vaccines: Hepatitis A and B and HPV
  3. Talk with all prospective sexual partners about STDs and their sexual health history
  4. Talk with a health care provider about taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication that someone who is HIV negative can take to reduce their risk of contracting HIV

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Ways To Protect Yourself From STDs During Sex

Once you are ready to have sex, there are additional ways to help keep sex safer. Sometimes, a little due diligence (like reading this post) and advanced planning can help you worry less and enjoy sex more.

Using condoms, internal condoms, and dental dams every single time you have oral, anal, or vaginal sex or do anything that can pass sexual fluids (like sharing sex toys) is the best way to avoid STDs. The STDs that can spread through skin-to-skin contact include:

  1. HPV
  2. Herpes types 1 and 2
  3. Syphilis

Safe sex practices include [5,7,8,9]:

  • Using dental dams for oral sex
  • Using internal condoms for penetrative intercourse
  • Using gloves for manual stimulation or penetration
  • Using condoms and a new condom for each new activity
  • Using lubricants to reduce micro-tears or trauma to fragile genital skin, especially if engaging in receptive anal intercourse
  • Washing sex toys in between use and partners
  • Not sharing sex toys
  • Covering penetrative sex toys, such as vibrators, with a new condom each time they're used

Getting An STD Is Not a Sign Of How Clean Or Dirty You Are

Sometimes, trying to be too clean before or after sex may actually increase your risk for STIs. Here’s how.

Many hygiene products like soaps, body washes, intimate cleansers, and douches contain perfumes and chemicals. These chemicals can cause irritation and inflammation in sensitive genital skin areas on both the outside of your genitals (if you have a vulva) and inside your vagina or your rectum if you are rectal douching before or after anal sex.

This increased inflammation and irritation may make it easier for people with vaginas to develop yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis by changing the protective pH of your vagina. These infections or reactions to cleaning products can mask or mimic the symptoms of STIs, complicating diagnosis and treatment.[10]

If you have a vagina or rectum, remember that it cleans itself. Vaginal discharge is normally a sign of a healthy vagina. If your vaginal discharge changes in amount, smell, or consistency, it may be time to see a healthcare provider and check for infections, potentially with Everlywell’s online STD consultation. Rectal discharge is never normal and is an excellent reason to schedule a check-up with a healthcare provider.

Research has shown that both vaginal and rectal douching may increase people’s risk for infections, including STDs.[11,12] Vaginal douching removes some of your body’s natural bacteria that protect you against infection. Altering your body’s normal mix of bacteria can increase your risk for STIs, including HIV.[12]

Regular STD Testing—Part Of Your Safer Sex Strategy

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), having fewer partners and making sure both you and your partner have been tested are reliable ways to prevent STDs.[7] That way, you know for sure that neither of you has an STD. Getting tested for STDs regularly is a part of safer sex, just like using condoms.

Most people with STDs don’t have symptoms or know they’re infected. Some STDs, like Herpes and HPV, can still be transmitted even though you don’t have any symptoms. Many STDs are transmitted most easily right after someone becomes infected, sometimes before they even have symptoms. Your partner may inadvertently pass an STD on to you if they don’t have any symptoms. Testing is the only way to know for sure whether or not someone has an STD.[7]

Everlywell understands how confusing the alphabet soup of STD tests and treatments can be. That is why we offer confidential online sexual health consultations via telehealth. Expert nurse practitioners can answer your questions about what STD tests you should take and potentially even prescribe you STD treatments, if indicated, within two hours or less.

Can You Have Unprotected Sex on Birth Control?

Are Crabs An STD?

What Causes Pain During Sex In Females?


  1. Garcia M, Leslie S, and Wray A. Sexually Transmitted Infections. StatPearls [Internet]. Last updated May 30, 2023. Accessed November 12, 2023. URL.
  2. Tien V, Punjabi C, Holubar MK. Antimicrobial resistance in sexually transmitted infections. J Travel Med. 2020;27(1):taz101. doi:10.1093/jtm/taz101.
  3. Show me the science – why wash your hands? CDC. Published May 4, 2023. Accessed November 12, 2023. URL.
  4. Why soap works. Yale School of Medicine. Accessed November 12, 2023.
  5. Can you prevent STDs by bathing after sex? Planned Parenthood. Published January 28, 2022. Accessed November 12, 2023.
  6. Stephens B, Azimi P, Thoemmes MS, Heidarinejad M, Allen JG, Gilbert JA. Microbial Exchange via Fomites and Implications for Human Health. Curr Pollut Rep. 2019;5(4):198-213. doi:10.1007/s40726-019-00123-6.
  7. The lowdown on STD prevention. CDC. Published January 21, 2021. Accessed November 12, 2023.
  8. Guidelines: prevention and treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among men who have sex with men and transgender people: recommendations for a public health approach. WHO. 2011. Geneva, Switzerland.
  9. Are Sex Toys Safe? NHS. Published January 5, 2023. Accessed November 12, 2023.
  10. Ott MA, Ofner S, Fortenberry JD. Beyond douching: use of feminine hygiene products and STI risk among young women. J Sex Med. 2009;6(5):1335-1340. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2008.01152.x.
  11. Li P, Yuan T, Fitzpatrick T, et al. Association between rectal douching and HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among men who have sex with men: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sex Transm Infect. 2019;95(6):428-436. doi:10.1136/sextrans-2019-053964.
  12. Douching. OASH Office on Women’s Health. Published December 29, 2022. Accessed November 12, 2023.
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