People are finally, blessedly starting to realize there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having casual sex. Yay for arriving in the 21st century. If it’s what feels good for your body and your mind, you’re well within your rights to explore what it feels like to connect your genitals with different people via one-night stands and any other form of sexual experimentation. But even as you revel in the frivolity of a fling, you have to be willing to remember that no-strings-attached still comes with all the typical dangers of sex—and then some.
The less invested you are in the sex, the more you have to be on top of protecting yourself, and part of that involves learning the truth behind prevalent casual hookup myths. Here, ob/gyns debunk six of the most common ones.
Myth #1: You can “tell” when someone has a sexually transmitted infection.
No, you can’t. “There are a number of sexually transmitted infections that have outward signs, but [finding] those outward signs requires inspection of the genitals—that’s not something one can routinely count on during a sexual encounter,” board-certified ob/gyn Antonio Pizarro, M.D., tells SELF. Busting out a magnifying glass to evaluate the goods before getting down to business isn’t exactly common.
But even if you were to get up close and personal with someone’s below-the-belt area on the hunt for any STI symptoms, coming up empty-handed wouldn’t necessarily mean they’re in the clear. There are certain STIs people can have without knowing it, aka they don’t necessarily present with symptoms in every person. Take herpes, for example. “It’s common to have asymptomatic shedding, which means somebody is contagious and able to give the virus to someone even though they don’t have an obvious outbreak,” Alyssa Dweck, M.D., assistant clinical professor of obstetrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and co-author of V is For Vagina, tells SELF.
Myth #2: Condoms are all you need to truly be safe.
“Condoms help reduce the risk of most infections, not all,” says Pizarro. Specifically, condoms help ward off STIs that are passed via bodily fluids, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, but they don’t do jack to stop the passage of things like herpes and HPV, which only need skin-to-skin contact to move from person to person. That’s why bringing up your STI history is an important, if uncomfortable, part of the one-night stand process.
Myth #3: Condoms are just for the penetration part of a hookup.
You can in fact catch or pass STIs when enjoying things besides intercourse, so it’s important to stay safe during all sex acts. “It only takes one time to get that infection,” says Dweck. “So many young women come in and are absolutely flabbergasted to find out you can get genital herpes from someone with an active cold sore on their mouth giving oral sex to them,” says Dweck. There are condoms for penis-focused oral, and you can lay dental dams over your vagina or someone else’s to keep you both safe. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to protect yourself,” says Pizarro.
Myth #4: If you’re with a guy and he pulls out, you’re golden.
Gyns warn that pulling out isn’t a good idea, in most instances—and that’s especially true during a casual encounter. It doesn’t guard very well against pregnancy—22 out of every 100 women who use this method typically will get pregnant each year—and it doesn’t do a single thing to prevent against sexually transmitted infections, which can be carried in pre-ejaculatory fluid.
Myth #5: Asking about someone’s STI status will kill the mood.
Instead of being a buzzkill, checking in with each other about this can actually make you feel freer and more able to focus on enjoying yourself. You’re both adults about to engage in some very adult practices, so just ovary up and put the discussion on the table. “There’s no reliable way to be sure someone isn’t infected, all you have is their word,” says Pizarro. “You need to be on the most honest level possible and simply ask, ‘Have you been tested? What’s your status?'” It’s the mature, smart, safe thing to do. If they freak out or get offended, it might be a clue that they’re not the best one-night stand candidate around.
Myth #6: You’re a paranoid freak if you text your friends pertinent details about where you’re going and who you’re doing.
Not to sound like your mom after a Law & Order: SVU marathon, but your life isn’t a game. “It’s so important for patients to take their personal safety into their own hands,” says Pizarro. “Letting people know where you are is crucial, so is having very clear boundaries, especially in the context of casual interactions with others you don’t know that well.” If things start happening that you feel uncomfortable with, or if your intuition starts setting off warning bells, don’t feel ashamed to put a stop to things and leave, or ask this person to go if you’re at your place.
Myth #7: All you need to be aware of is your physical health.
“We probably underestimate the emotional tolls one-night stands can take,” says Dweck. “No judgment, just make sure you’re emotionally equipped to deal with them.” Not everyone is, and even that can change depending on where you are in your life. With that, go forth and have plenty of one-night stands. Or don’t. Really, whatever you want to do is right.