Walking into a public bathroom, or any bathroom for that matter, is not always a pretty sight.
While it’s true that viruses, bacteria, and parasites can live on sinks, toilets, and other surfaces, it’s highly unlikely you will catch a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or sexually transmitted infection (STI) from a toilet seat.
The most common organisms responsible for sexually transmitted infections cannot survive long outside the human body.
What Can You Catch From a Toilet Seat?
The only types of STDs that have a reasonable chance of being contracted from a toilet seat are certain parasitic or viral STDs.
- Trichomoniasis: Can be picked up from contact with damp or moist objects, such as toilet seats or a used towel, if your genital area comes in direct contact. But toilet seats do not provide the ideal environment for parasites to live or reproduce.
- Pubic Lice (Crabs): Lice can live outside the body for up to 24 hours on sheets, clothing, and towels, but they really prefer to snuggle up in warm places—and their feet are not designed to walk on smooth hard surfaces like a toilet seat.
How STDs and STIs spread
STI can be broken into three different categories: bacterial, viral, and parasitic.
Diseases in each of these categories can be spread in a number of ways.
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), making it virtually impossible for you to contract a bacterial STI in this way.
Examples of bacterial STIs include:
- Gonorrhea: Spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex without a condom or other barrier method. A pregnant person with gonorrhea can give the infection to their baby during childbirth.
- Syphilis: Spread by vaginal, anal, or oral sex without a condom or other barrier method. Syphilis can be transmitted to the fetus during pregnancy or childbirth.
- Chlamydia: Spread by vaginal, anal, or oral sex without a condom or other barrier method. Can be transmitted to a newborn during childbirth.
A viral STI can spread throughout the body or cause symptoms only within the genital or oral areas.
Viruses cannot live very long outside the human body, so are unlikely to stay on surfaces.
Examples of viral STDs include:
- Hepatitis B: Spread by vaginal, anal, or oral sex without a condom or other barrier method or by sharing injection needles. Hepatitis B can be passed to an infant during childbirth.
- Herpes: Spread by herpes sores, saliva (if your partner has an oral herpes infection), or genital secretions (if your partner has a genital herpes infection). It can also be spread by skin-to-skin contact if your partner has an oral or genital herpes infection even if sores are not visible.
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV): Most commonly spread by vaginal or anal sex without a condom or other barrier method or by sharing injection needles. HIV can be transmitted to an infant during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): Spread by vaginal, anal, or oral sex without a condom or other barrier method.
Some STIs are caused by live parasites that live off of human hosts.
Examples of parasitic STIs include:
- Trichomoniasis: Spread by vaginal sex without a condom or other barrier method.
- Pubic Lice (Crabs): Spread by vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Occasionally, pubic lice may be spread by close personal contact or contact with articles such as clothing, bed linens, or towels that have been used by an infested person.
How to Protect Yourself in Public Restrooms
If you look inside the restroom and it’s crowded or dirty, try to move on.
If that’s not possible, it doesn’t hurt to take a few extra hygienic precautions:
- Wipe off the toilet seat and cover it with toilet paper or a toilet seat cover before sitting down
- Make sure the toilet paper roll is dry
- Don’t place any personal belongings on the floor
- Flush the toilet with your foot
- Leave the stall promptly after flushing
- Properly wash your hands
Many people do not wash their hands thoroughly enough.
Here are the CDC’s five steps for handwashing:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
While sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise in the United States, with more than 20 million infections diagnosed last year, they are largely preventable.
You can follow safe sex practices to prevent contracting or spreading an STI by:
- Abstaining from sexual contact
- Using barrier methods during any genital contact
- Abstaining from sex with anyone with active STI symptoms or who has not recently been tested for STIs
- Undergoing regular STI testing
- Vaccinating yourself against common STIs (such as HPV and hepatitis B)
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). (2021).
When and How to Wash Your Hands. (2021).
Incidence, Prevalence, and Cost of Sexually Transmitted Infections in the United States. (2021).