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Sexual Health

An estimated 20% of people travelling abroad say that they have had casual sex with a new partner while in a foreign country.* The excitement of being abroad and experiencing a new culture may encourage you to do things that you would normally not do in your home country. Coupled with the inhibition-lowering effects of alcohol, these behaviors can contribute to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STD). If you choose to be sexually active, you should practice safe sex and protect yourself and your partners from unintended pregnancy, and STDs. Viruses and bacteria do not respect national borders, and the prevalence and spread of sexually transmitted diseases can vary greatly from country to country.

In addition, cultural norms, laws and attitudes relating to sex, relationships, and contraception differ from country to country and culture to culture and you need to be aware of these differences.  You need to understand and pay close attention to the verbal and non-verbal signals associated with flirting in your host country, as these signals may be understood as an invitation to sexual activity. Eye contact, smiling, the way one dresses, and body language can send very different messages in different countries and cultures.

A few words of advice before you depart:

  • Understand your own sexual health and get a medical check-up. This will protect you and others;
  • If you are taking birth control bills or other forms of contraception, talk with your physician about getting a supply to last the entire time that you are abroad and follow our guidance on prescriptions abroad.
  • Research and understand the cultural norms, laws and attitudes relating to sex, relationships, and contraception in your host country;
  • Consider taking latex or polyurethane condoms with you as the quality and availability varies greatly from country to country;
  • Consider bringing a dose of Plan B, which is available over the counter in the United States.
  • Research local resources that provide testing and treatment for STDs in your host country.

and while you are abroad:

  • If you plan to be sexually active, practice safe sex and use a latex or polyurethane condom every time you have sex; 
  • Do not have sex with commercial sex workers; 
  • If you think you have been exposed to a STD or exhibit symptoms of an STD seek medical attention immediately;
  • If you are a victim of sexual harassment or assault, please visit our Sexual Harassment, Assault and Rape page for additional guidance;

Additional resources:

Vivancos R, Abubakar I, Hunter PR. Foreign travel, casual sex, and sexually transmitted infections: systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Infectious Diseases. 2010;14(10):e842–51.