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The repertoire of human efforts to avoid sexually transmissible diseases: past and present Part 1: Strategies used before or instead of sex
  1. Basil Donovan
  1. Sydney Sexual Health Centre, Sydney Hospital and Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia
  1. Sydney Sexual Health Centre, PO Box 1614, Sydney, NSW 2001, Australia


Background/objective: Despite the focus by public health programmes on condoms, chastity, or monogamy, people use a much wider variety of strategies to minimise their personal risk of sexually transmissible disease (STD). The objective of this study was to compile a comprehensive list of personal and societal STD avoidance strategies.

Methods: Data from clinical and research observations, computer searches, and historical texts were pooled.

Results: In addition to discriminating between potential sexual partners, a variety of behaviours before or instead of sex were identified that have been perceived to alter STD risk. Traditional STD avoidance strategies were often poorly documented and difficult to disentangle from other drives such as the maintenance of social order, paternity guarantee, and eugenics. They also varied in popularity in time and place. Some examples were displacement activities such as masturbation or exercise, circumcision, infibulation, shaving, vaccination, or requiring partners to be tested for infection. Social and moral forces typically discourage non-marital sex, and this affects most people most of the time but few people all of the time.

Conclusion: The full spectrum of STD avoidance strategies warrants further study because some are ubiquitous across cultures and because they have the potential to complement or undermine safer sex programmes. Because of their greater acceptability, some less efficacious strategies may have greater public health importance than less popular but more efficacious strategies such as condoms.

  • sexually transmitted diseases
  • HIV infection
  • partner selection

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