Sex with a partner can be a great thing, in fact it should be a pleasurable experience but it is hard to really enjoy it if you are worried about becoming pregnant or catching a sexually transmitted infection. There are lots of different types of options to pick from when it comes to contraception but only one of them is both a contraceptive and a protection against catching a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and that is condoms. Most STI’s are transmitted from person to person through unprotected sex or genital contact. Therefore only a barrier method of contraception can significantly reduce your risk of contracting something.
What is Safe Sex?
Safe sex is all about taking precautions and making sensible decisions to help reduce the risk to both you and your partner(s) of getting at STI. Most people assume that safe sex means just wearing a condom but actually good safe sex practises extend beyond just condom use.
Condom and dental dams
Clearly the key to safe sex is to take actual physical precautions when having sex with another person. Wearing condoms is a must for both vaginal and anal sex. Both male and female condoms provide protection and so it is up to you which one you want to use. However most people prefer male condoms for anal sex but make sure you use plenty of water based lube. This not only makes anal sex more comfortable but it also reduces the risk of the condom tearing and exposing you to potential infection risk.
However condoms alone are not enough. Many STI’s can be transmitted through oral sex and that is where dental dams come in. They are thin square pieces of latex that can be placed over the genitals, such as the vulva or anus to create a barrier between the person giving oral sex and the one receiving. Likewise when performing oral sex on a person with a penis a condom should be worn.
Getting regular STI tests is a vital part of safe sex. Taking precautions is obviously a key step but getting tested really helps to reduce the spread of infections. Many sexually transmitted infections have little or no symptoms and it is very easy to have contracted an infection and have no idea about it. Regular testing means that you are keeping a check on the situation and if you have contracted something then you can get the right treatment for both you and your(s) to stay healthy.
Low risk sexual activity
Another way to reduce your risk of contracting an STI is to engage in low risk sexual activities only.
Low risk sexual activities include kissing, touching your partner’s genitals with your hands, using sex toys with a partner, dry humping (grinding) without clothes, and oral sex. But it is vital to remember that certain sexually transmitted infections can be contracted from oral sex and so using condoms and dental dams to avoid contact with skin and fluids whenever possible.
There are a few totally risk-free ways to get share sexual pleasure with a partner(s) such as mutual masturbation (when you watch each other masturbating, and dry humping (grinding) with your clothes on. Of course not engaging in any sexual activity at all with another person will also work but for most humans this is just not a happy, healthy option and so learning about good safe sex practises is the best option so that you can have an enjoyable sex life.
Talk to your partner
One of the key areas of safe sex is being able to talk to your partner(s) about the subject. Clearly this is not always easy and really depends on the type or longevity of a relationship. If it is a one night stand then the likelihood is you are not going to have a particularly in-depth talk about it, but that is the time that you should take all the physical precautions that you can and that does not mean you shouldn’t mention it at all. Far from it, stating clearly your safe sex practices and making sure a partner understand what that means for them before you both start taking your clothes off is really important.
If a relationship develops beyond that then there is more opportunity to discuss safe sex. It is a subject that many people find difficult to bring up but being able to have open and honest conversations about it with your partners is a vital step in being able to make sensible plans together for to keep everyone as healthy as possible.
Some tips for talking to your partner.
- Sit down and write a list of the things you want to discuss with them and have it close to hand during the discussion that way you won’t forget anything and you don’t have to memorise it all beforehand.
- Be open and honest. Tell them you want to discuss it because you like spending time with them and want to be able to share your thoughts with them on this subject.
- If you find it really difficult to do maybe try bringing up the subject in an email or text and hopefully that will be a stepping stone to an in person conversation.
- As well as being heard it is important to also listen. Try to create an environment where you both feel comfortable, confident and relaxed about sharing.
Ideally you want to work towards being tested together and sharing your results. If you are in an open relationship where one or both of you has other partners then you should be setting up a schedule to have this done regularly but if you are in a closed relationship then testing might be something you do less often.
What is fluid bound?
When a couple (it is usually couple but there is nothing to stop it being a three people or even more) decide to be in a closed relationship together. In other words they commit to only having sexual relationships with each other and no one else, if they all go and get tested at that point and the results are negative then they can decide to stop using barrier methods and they can be referred to as being fluid bound. As long as no one strays outside that bond and has sexual contact with anyone else then all the people within that bonded group can have risk free unprotected sex.
If you have had unprotected sex, or been exposed to someone who has an STI then you seek medical help. There are lots of Sexual Health Clinics you can attend in the UK or even just go to your GP and discuss it with them.
In the USA depending if you have insurance you might be able to go to your GP but if you don’t have any insurance or not sure if your insurance covers it then your best bet is to go to your nearest Planned Parenthood center.
Getting advice is very important but if you think you might have an STI getting tested and finding out for sure is the key to your future health. If you want to know more about different types of infections, how they can be spread and the possible symptoms associated with them then check out this comprehensive guide. Many STI’s can be treated easily with medication and the earlier you catch them and the easier they are to treat and even those that can’t be cured can be well managed with medication but again, early diagnosis is vital, so be smart, use protection, get tested and encourage all your partners to do the same thing.