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Syphilis: Can You Contract without Sex?

Can you contract syphilis without sex

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) resulting from a bacterial infection. Although it is a common sexually transmitted infection, it can also be transmitted without sexual activity. Touching sores of an infected person or sharing items such as razors or sex toys can cause infection.

What is syphilis?

Syphilis infection is caused by a bacterium, which may be transmitted during sex with an infected person. Syphilis presents symptoms such as painless sores on the anus, mouth or genitals. The infection usually spreads from contact with the sores.

When diagnosed early, antibiotics can cure it, but untreated it can result in serious health conditions affecting the brain, heart and other vital organs.

How can you contract?

Syphilis is transmitted through close contact with an infected person’s sore. In a few cases, this transmission occurs during other activities such as kissing and touching when the sores are active. Pregnant women with this infection can transmit the infection to their unborn children.

Your risk of contracting syphilis increases when you have unprotected sex, engage in unprotected sex with multiple sex partners, homosexual sex, or are infected with HIV.

Can you contract syphilis without engaging in sex?

Although syphilis is usually transmitted via sex, you can contract it without engaging in penetrative sex. Close contact with an infected sore can transmit this infection.

Ways of contracting syphilis without engaging in penetrative sex

  • Pregnant women

Infected pregnant women can unknowingly spread syphilis to their unborn child at birth, especially during vaginal birth or pregnancy.

  • Anal and oral sex

If your sexual partner has syphilis sores on their genital during sexual intercourse, your risk of contracting is higher.

  • Kissing

Syphilis transmission through kissing is not common, but it may occur if you engage in oral sex with an infected person. Kissing can transmit this infection if you have sores inside your mouth or around it.

  • Skin-to-skin contact

Touching syphilis sores through sleeping naked with an infected person or hand stimulation may transmit the disease.

  • Sharing sex toys

When sex toys touch infected syphilis sores, they can cause transmission. The best way to prevent this transmission with sex toys is to avoid sharing sex toys, but you can thoroughly clean the sex toys before sharing them.

  • Sharing needles and razors

Is you share sharp objects such as razors and needles it can cause small nicks in the skin, which can spread syphilis infection. Also sharing needles is a common mode of this transmission, but using razors after someone has used them increases the risk of contracting syphilis.

Ways that do not cause syphilis transmission

  • Toilet seats

Most people believe that syphilis transfers  due to sharing a toilet seat, but this is untrue. This transmission occurs from contact with infected genital sores.

  • Sharing clothing or towels

Public lice is the only STI which  transmit via sharing clothes and towels with an infected person.

  • Sharing drinks, cutlery or food

Sharing drink, cutlery or food with an infected person cannot cause transmission. Infection with syphilis can occur from contact with infected sores on the genitals. However, you may contract oral herpes from sharing straws, drink ware, and unwashed cutlery with an infected person.

Symptoms and Effects

The symptoms of syphilis vary in different stages of the infection. However, it may be asymptomatic, and the symptoms may not occur for many years. Untreated it is severe, especially in the later stages.

  • Primary

The initial signs of syphilis may be a small sore called chancre where the bacteria enter the body. This sore usually occurs within three weeks after contracting the bacteria. It is painless and usually occurs in the anus or vagina, so many people do not notice it.

  • Secondary

After some weeks following syphilis infection, a rash may occur around the genitals and spread to other parts of the body. Other symptoms include muscle aches, fever, sore throat and swollen lymph nodes.

These syphilis symptoms tend to disappear after a couple of weeks and can repeatedly occur for a year.

  • Latent

Untreated syphilis will gradually develop into latent syphilis where the infection is still present, but symptoms are not present. This infection may remain in the body for years without showing symptoms but progress into tertiary syphilis.

  • Tertiary

This stage of syphilis also known as late syphilis. At this stage, it can damage the nerves, brain, heart, eyes, and other important organs, joints and bones. Tertiary syphilis occurs several years after the initial infection.

  • Neuro

Neuro is a late stage of syphilis infection where the diseases affect the brain, eyes and nervous system.

  • Congenital

Women infected with syphilis can transmit the infection to their babies during pregnancy. Most newborn babies do not show symptoms, but the disease will present a rash on the baby’s feet and hands, causing jaundice and anaemia.

The baby may have deformed bones, nerve and brain damage, low birth weight, and meningitis in severe cases. Stillbirth and premature birth may also occur.


Syphilis treatment is usually a course of antibiotics tablets or antibiotics injection administered into the buttocks. If you’ve had syphilis for a long period, you may need more than a dose of the medication.

Ensure you avoid any sexual activity or close contact with anybody during the treatment and two weeks afterwards.


Different tests are available for diagnosing syphilis. These tests include profile tests that can detect different STDs and specific tests.

If you want to carry out private syphilis tests at Sexual Health Clinic in London, call 020 3475 1653 now to schedule an appointment.

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