Starting from the moment we consider being sexually active we have to consider the steps to protect ourselves. Sex comes with the risk of HIV and other STD/STIs. The term “safer sex” became widely used to signify that “safe” sex is not 100% safe and complete protection can’t be guaranteed. We can only work towards “safer” sex that minimizes risk as best we can. Safer sex is an important component to your overall sexual health. It’s important to stay up to date even if you’re in a long-term single partner relationship. From you’re earliest explorations, along a lifetime of adventures and into the golden years of continued sexual experiences, there are many types of safer sex options to keep in mind.
What Are The Risks?
When engaging in sexual activity, there is not just the possibility of pregnancy but also the passing of sexually transmitted diseases (also known as sexually transmitted infections). There are several infections that can pass through the mucus membranes and during skin-to-skin contact. Some are passed through the exchange of bodily fluids. There’s also the chance of passing along infections through cuts, nicks, sores and micro abrasions on the skin, in the genital area and the mouth. Each STD has it’s own pathway to infection. HIV is transmitted when the bodily fluids blood, semen, pre-semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids and breast milk come in contact with mucus membranes or enter the bloodstream. Herpes (HSV-1 and HSV-2) can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact; this includes kissing, as well as, sexual contact. Syphilis is spread through sexual contact but sometimes is passed through kisses and extended close physical contact. Chlamydia is spread through mucus membrane and sperm contact during vaginal, anal and sometimes oral sex. Gonorrhea is passed through sexual contact and contact with bodily fluids. Hepatitis B is passed through contact with infected blood and bodily fluids. HPV is transferable through skin and contact with mucous membranes. Using condoms, oral barriers and limiting sexual encounters with higher risk individuals, like drug addicts and people who don’t regularly use barriers, can help reduce your risk. All of these STI’s also can be active without symptoms; they can be passed along even if there is not visible evidence of the infection.
The First Defense - Condoms
An effective method of reducing your risk of infection is using a barrier to minimize the possibility of infection. One of the most common is the condom. Condoms provide protection because they don’t allow the absorbsion or passing of bacteria or viruses during sex. They are not 100% effective as some STIs can be passed with other skin-to-skin contact but they can significantly reduce the risk. It’s important to use the condom properly and also avoid lubes and other products that can compromise the condom material causing rips and tears. They should be stored properly and disposed of properly. Condoms should be used for oral sex since mucus membranes and open cuts can be an open door to infection. Look into the Female, or internal condom, also for a barrier that not only covers the interior of the vagina but part of the vulva too. Condoms should also be used for anal sex and used on sex toys too. Make sure you stay away from Nonoxynol 9. This spermicide does more harm than good by making it easier for women to contract HIV.
Other Barriers – Dams and Gloves
Dental dams or even simple plastic wrap (although some say the research isn’t conclusive on it’s effectiveness) can be used for oral so you can still enjoy cunnilingus and annilingus while keeping a barrier between you and a possible infection. If you encounter a partner that refuses to use any barriers, use some hints and tips to remind them that barrier use can still be sexy and feel great. Experiment with different condoms, there are some that are quite thin and conduct body heat more readily. Practice using the barrier so when the time comes to use it for real you’ll feel confident and wont break up the rhythm of things. Condoms also come in different sizes so check out some online stores that help with “fit” to get a better idea of what works for you. Even dental dams come in different widths, they all also come in flavors. Another way to minimize skin to skin contact, and contact with fluids, is using gloves. Surgical gloves come in latex and latex free nitrile. Using them during sex, especially when inserting fingers in vulvas, vaginas and anuses, will add an extra barrier of protection. Don’t be fooled, rubber surgical gloves can be very sexy.
Barriers Aren’t the Only Option
Barriers alone aren’t enough. Be mindful of your actions to minimize contact with bodily fluids even in the heat of the moment. Getting tested regularly is essential. Insurance will usually cover it and there are clinics that will offer testing for free or at a reduced price. Try Planned Parenthood, a local LGBT center or even services like STDtestexpress.com where you order your testing online then get directed to a local lab. Disclose when was the last time you were tested and if anything came up. Be honest about the number of partners and upfront about any behavior that has a higher risk. Many STIs take a while before you have symptoms, or have no symptoms at all, so you could be infected and not know it yet. Always have a safer sex kit with you so you’re not depending solely on your partner. Using the pill or an IUD, only protects you from an accidental pregnancy. You need to add another level of defense against infection. Cover sex toys with a condom during use then clean and disinfect your sex toys well. When engaging in a BDSM scene, take extra care with anything that draws blood, or that puts you in contact with urine or feces. If barriers are not an option, find other ways to have sex that doesn’t require penetration or contact that is risky. Some STIs, like Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and HPV, have vaccinations available. Even HIV has the PrEP which is a pill taken by those at higher risk of HIV infection as a preventative measure. Don’t be afraid to ask for barrier use, even if you have to insist on it. Also don’t be afraid to refuse sex with someone who refuses to comply with your safer sex rules.
Getting yourself educated about safer sex will give you a good foundation. Take the few things you’ve learned here and delve more. Read up on all sexually transmitted diseases and infections. Explore new research and findings about transmission and prevention. Being educated on the topic will also help you defend yourself when partners want to argue to do something irresponsible. New strains of bacteria and viruses pop up occasionally, staying on top of new developments will help you prepare for new possible infections or inform you of new strains that are more difficult to cure or treat. You may find new products, like a more effective condom or a new vaccine. You’ve gotten off to a great start by reading an article like this one.
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