No one can deny that an uncleaned public toilet seat can be incredibly gross. Even so, it may be refreshing to know that the germs making their way onto the toilet seat or rim are unlikely to survive for very long.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), sometimes referred to as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), can be caused by viruses, bacteria, and parasites. These organisms can’t live or thrive on hard surfaces — including toilet seats.
Bacterial STIs can’t survive outside of your body’s mucous membranes. For this reason, it’s nearly impossible to contract an STI from a toilet seat. Read on to learn more about germs on toilet seats, as well as proper ways to prevent STIs.
Some viral and parasitic STIs can live outside of your body for a limited period of time. Theoretically, they may be transmitted from contact with a toilet seat.
There are, however, potential exceptions to this rule:
- In some rare instances, a damp toilet seat can spread trichomoniasis. But for this to happen, it would need to be freshly deposited, plus come into immediate contact with your genital region.
- Hepatitis B might enter your body from a toilet seat through freshly deposited blood or semen. But for transmission to occur, an open wound would need to come into contact with the virus.
There are different types of STIs. Transmission can vary between each type.
All STIs can be transmitted through various forms of sexual activity, including:
- skin-to-skin contact
- genital-to-genital contact
- oral-genital contact
“Skin-to-skin contact” can occur when secretions like semen or saliva are shared skin to skin. There don’t need to be any open sores present. STIs that are commonly transmitted this way include:
These bacteria live in the mucous membranes of the penis, vagina, rectum, and mouth. They can’t survive in air or on surfaces, such as a toilet seat. You can’t contract a bacterial STI from sitting on a toilet seat.
Bacterial STIs are transmitted through sex without a condom or other barrier method, including oral, anal, and vaginal sex.
In some instances, a person may be able to transmit a bacterial STI to a baby during childbirth.
Examples of bacterial STIs include:
These viruses may survive for a period of time outside of your body. The route of transmission may vary for each type:
HIV is contracted by coming into contact with bodily fluids, including blood, semen, and breast milk. You can contract HIV through:
- sex without a condom or other barrier method
- sharing injection equipment, such as needles
- contaminated blood transfusions
- pregnancy, nursing, and childbirth (pregnant person-to-child)
Hepatitis B is transmitted through bodily fluids. Hepatitis B isn’t transmitted casually. You can’t contract it from a toilet seat, unless your skin has an open wound or infection that comes into contact with blood or semen. You can contract Hepatitis B through:
- sex without a condom or other barrier method
- sharing injection needles
- childbirth (mother-to-child)
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
There are 40 different HPV genotypes that can cause an STI. These HPV types are typically transmitted via skin-to-skin contact, such as oral, anal, and vaginal sex. They may also be transmitted via genital contact that doesn’t include sex.
Since HPV can live for a time on hard surfaces, theoretically, you may be able to contract it from a toilet seat. However, this is highly unlikely. In fact, the American Cancer Society has specifically stated that you can’t contract HPV from toilet seats.
Herpes simplex virus (HSV)
There are two types of HSV:
- HSV-1 is primarily transmitted by kissing and oral-genital contact.
- HSV-2 is primarily transmitted through vaginal or anal sex.
You can’t contract either kind of HSV from a toilet seat.
A parasite is an organism that lives in or on a host. Parasitic STIs include:
Trichomoniasis is passed primarily through vaginal sex, regardless of if one partner has a penis or a vagina.
Pubic lice live in coarse body hair and are primarily passed from one partner to another during vaginal or anal sex.
Occasionally, there may be a transmission of parasitic STIs from contact with contaminated fabrics, such as shared clothing, towels or sheets.
Here are some strategies you can use for preventing STIs:
- Prior to having sex, talk openly with potential partners about your sexual histories.
- If possible, you and your partner should get tested before having sex.
- Consider using barrier methods every time you engage in sexual activity.
- Don’t share injection equipment, such as needles.
- If you get a tattoo, choose a licensed tattoo parlor known for cleanliness.
- If you’re 26 or younger, consider getting the HPV vaccine.
- Consider using pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication that can be taken by a person who’s HIV-negative in order to reduce their chance of contracting HIV.
It’s practically impossible to contract an STI from a public toilet. That said, it’s still always a good idea to clean or cover a public toilet seat before sitting on one.
The best way to prevent transmission of STIs is to always use a barrier method when having sex, and to be aware of your own sexual health and that of your partners.