True or False: It Is Possible for a Person to Get a Sexually Transmitted Infection from a Public Toilet Seat

mythbuster graphicSexually transmitted infections (STIs) are communicable diseases passed from one person to another during sexual activity. STIs can be transmitted during vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and sometimes by close skin-to-skin contact. A common fear among people is that STIs can be passed in public places, such as through contact with toilet seats. While it is theoretically possible that some STIs could be passed from person-to-person via a public toilet seat, it is extremely unlikely that you will become infected in this manner.

Evidence for the Health Claim

STIs can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Bacterial STIs include chlamydia , gonorrhea , and syphilis . Viral STIs include hepatitis B , herpes simplex , human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) , and human papillomavirus (HPV, the virus that causes genital warts). STIs caused by parasites include pubic lice (crabs) and trichomoniasis , a parasitic infection that can be contracted by both men and women. Each type of STI is spread differently. Bacterial STIs live in mucous membranes (eg, membranes of the vagina, penis, rectum, and mouth) and are transferred through contact with these infected membranes. Viruses, on the other hand, may exist outside of mucous membranes (eg, in the porous skin surrounding the genitals). But, in the case of hepatitis and HIV, these viruses do not readily pass through intact skin. Finally, parasites are usually spread during sexual contact, but can also be spread through contact with an infected person’s clothing, bed linens, or towels.The only type of STI that has a reasonable chance of being passed from person-to-person via a public toilet seat is a parasitic STI. The National Women’s Health Information Center states that, in addition to sexual contact, trichomoniasis can be picked up from contact with damp or moist objects, such as toilet seats, if the genital area is in contact with the damp object. But toilet seats do not provide the ideal environment for parasites to live or reproduce. And to become infected, your genital area would have to come in contact with the parasite while it is still on the toilet seat.

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