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Anonymous on August 5, 2011

My husband cheated on me...he used a condom, but am I still at risk for STDs?

My husband just admitted that he cheated on me a few years ago. I know that after he did, I got some type of infection that the doctor cleared up with medication. He said he used a condom with the other woman. Could he have transmitted an STD from her to me even though he used a condom with her? Second, I might leave him...how long should I wait before having sex with someone new?

answered by Eric Christoff, MD, AAHIVM on August 5, 2011

Thank you for your questions. It can be painful to learn that your spouse cheated...all kinds of emotions can rise to the surface. I’ll do what I can to address your concerns.

First, do you know if the infection for which you were treated was an STD? Many non-sexual vaginal infections (like a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis) have similar symptoms to STDs. So the only way you would know if you had  or have an STD is to get tested.

I encourage you to talk with your doctor about your previous infection...and your possible exposure to an STD. Testing for common STDs including chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes 1 & 2, syphilis and others might be a good idea in your situation. And the sooner you know your STD status, the sooner you can get treated, if necessary...and you’ll have a better idea of what steps to take to protect your health and that of a future sexual partner.

As for your husband’s indiscretion...

Yes, even if he used a condom, he still could have caught a sexually transmitted infection and passed it on to you. How? While safer sex practiceslike using condoms reduce the risk of catching an STD from an infected partner, they’re not foolproof. Condoms don’t cover the entire genital area...so, for example, direct contact between the vulva and scrotum could transmit an infection. Genital herpes and genital warts are the most common STDs transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, so you may want to mention these possibilities to your doctor. You can also learn more about these and other STDs in our Expert Guides.

How long should you wait before having sex with a new partner? Most STDs won’t clear up on their own...so just waiting a certain amount of time won’t make you more or less infectious. Rather, before you have oral, vaginal or anal sex with a new partner, I would encourage both of you to get tested for STDs. Again, that’s the only way to know if one of you has an infection.

If you find out that you do have an STD, you can take the necessary precautions to keep each other as healthy as possible. For example, chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis and syphilis can all be easily cured with a dose of antibiotics. HIV, herpes and hepatitis can’t be cured...but there are effective treatment options that can help manage symptoms and reduce the risk of transmission. Of course, I would also encourage you to practice safer sex by using a condom for vaginal and anal sex; and a condom or dental dam for oral sex.

Finally, before you start a new relationship, you may wish to see a counselor to help you work through any lingering emotional concerns you may have about your marriage and your husband’s infidelity. I wish you good luck and good health as you move forward.

Eric Christoff, MD, AAHIVM

Dr. Christoff is a practicing physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. His areas of expertise include the treatment of HIV and syphilis along with other STDs, the medical treatment of depression and chronic fatigue, and the specific health needs of gay and lesbian patients. Dr. Christoff was educated at the University of Toledo, College of Medicine and completed his residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

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