Sexually Transmitted Infections
About one in three travelers will have sex with a new partner while on a trip. The excitement of being in another country and meeting new people may lead travelers to engage in risky behaviors that can lead to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, gonorrhea chlamydia, and syphilis. Some people travel for “Sex tourism” which is defined as travel planned specifically for the purpose of sex, generally to a country where sex work is legal.
STIs may occur without any signs or symptoms, so you may not realize that you or a partner is infected. While most STIs are treatable — some can cause serious health problems if left untreated.
The following activities put you at risk for STIs
- Having anal, vaginal, or oral sex without a condom
- Having multiple sex partners
- Having anonymous sex partners
- Having sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol which can lower inhibitions and result in greater sexual risk taking.
Take steps to protect yourself
Not having sex or having sex with one uninfected partner are the most reliable ways to avoid getting and spreading STIs. However, if you have sex with new partners during your trip, take steps to protect yourself and your partners.
- Use a new condom, consistently and correctly, for every act of vaginal, anal, and oral sex throughout the entire sex act (from start to finish). Bring condoms from the United States, because those in other countries may not be up to U.S. quality standards.
- Get vaccinated for hepatitis A and hepatitis B before you travel, both viruses can be spread through sex.
- Talk to your doctor about an HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine
- If you are concerned about HIV, talk with your health care provider about PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis. It is usually a pill or a shot.
The symptoms of STIs are different depending on the infection. Many STIs don’t cause any symptoms at all. When symptoms do occur, you may experience:
- Pain when you urinate or have sex
- Discharge from the vagina, penis, or anus
- Unexplained rash, sores, or ulcers on your skin, genitals, or throat
- Jaundice (yellow color of the skin and eyes)
Seek treatment early
Treating STIs early is important to prevent more serious and long-term complications and to prevent spreading infection to your partners. If you are sexually active, talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested for STIs. If you have symptoms take the following steps.
- Do not have sex.
- See your healthcare provider.
- Be open and honest with your provider, tell them about recent sexual history and international travel. Some are more common in some countries.
- If your provider diagnoses you with an STI, notify your recent sex partners. Your partners may also be infected and may need to get tested and treated.
If you traveled and feel sick, particularly if you have a fever, talk to a healthcare provider and tell them about your travel.
If you need medical care abroad, see Getting Health Care During Travel.
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
- CDC Yellow Book: Sexually Transmitted Infections