Safer Sex

23 05 2011

Warning: This article contains explicit sexual information.  It is intended for the sexually active and those intending to become sexually active. The only way to make sure you won’t get an STD is to not be sexually active.

More than 65 million people—about one in five Americans—are believed to be infected with an incurable sexually transmitted disease.

Safer sex practices allow partners to reduce (but not eliminate) their chance of an infection from sexual activity.  The basic rule for safer sex is to prevent contact with genital sores and prevent the exchange of body fluids, such as semen, blood and vaginal secretions.

The best way to prevent body fluids from reaching someone during intercourse is to use a condom.  A condom is a sheath that fits over the penis.  It can be made of latex (the safest condom available), plastic or animal tissue.

Experts consistently recommend latex because some animal tissue, such as lambskin, has pores small enough for the hepatitis B virus, HIV and other sexually transmitted viruses or bacteria to pass through.  Polyurethane condoms break more often than latex.

The birth control pill, IUDs, Norplant, Depo-Provera, vasectomies and tubal sterilizations offer great protection against pregnancy, but no protection against hepatitis viruses and STDs.  Many people use latex condoms along with these birth control methods for the best protection against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Oral sex may not get one pregnant, but it can still transmit disease.

A condom just might save a life, and should be treated like the valuable tool it is.  Store condoms in a cool, dry place.  Long exposure to air, heat or light makes them more breakable.  Do not store them continually in a back pocket, wallet, purse or glove compartment.

Check the expiration date to make sure the condom is fresh and safe.  If there are any doubts about a condom, buy a new one.

To ensure maximum protection, never use a condom twice and always put a new condom on an erect penis before there’s any genital, anal or oral contact.

A condom is like a sock, with a right and wrong side.  First, unroll it about half an inch to see in which direction it is unrolling.  Then put it on.  If a male has not been circumcised, pull the foreskin back first.  It should unroll easily down the penis.  If it starts off on the wrong side, try again with a new condom.

Hold the tip of the condom gently between the fingers as it rolls down.  This keeps out air bubbles or pockets that can increase the chance of a condom breaking.  It also leaves space at the end for semen.

If using a lubricant, make sure it’s water-based because oil breaks latex.  Don’t use vaseline, hand creams or lotions as a lubricant.

After ejaculation, hold the condom at the bottom of the penis so it doesn’t slip off.  Try to pull out while still erect or hard.  The condom comes off only after the penis is completely out of the partner.

Use a condom only once.  Never use the same condom for vaginal and anal intercourse.

It may be embarrassing to talk to a partner about contraception and condoms, but it’s essential, and should be done before a sexual situation begins.  Don’t wait until the heat of passion takes over.  It can overwhelm good intentions.

Be honest about feelings and needs.  Silence is not a virtue in this situation.  Talking about condoms will make it easier for both partners.

Embarrassment should not become a health risk and increase chances of infection.  It’s important for partners to be open and share health concerns and sexual health history.

This is one in a series of excerpts from PKIDs’ Infectious Disease Workshop. We hope you find the materials useful – the instructor’s text and activities are all free downloads.

Photo credit: music2work2

Safe Sex Can (Still) Save the World!

27 09 2010

At my very small liberal arts college in the late ’80s/early ’90s, talk of safe sex had just begun, trailing the growing HIV/AIDS crisis as public education efforts often do.

They weren’t yet handing out condoms in the student union, but our resident advisors regularly counseled us to “be safe,” and we were given plenty of bananas on which to practice our condom unrolling skills.

Out in the real world (beyond our college campus), movies like Long Time Companion, as well as the touring AIDS quilt were like a Scared Straight (as it were) for college sexual behavior.

Early commercials portrayed AIDS as a death sentence, and they were petrifying performances that had many of us reaching for condoms long before we had a sexual partner.

Fast forward two decades—the picture of HIV/AIDS has changed dramatically, both in terms of survivability and perceived risk of infection. While HIV infection rates continue to grow (approximately 56,000 new HIV infections occur each year in the U.S.),    HIV infection has now become a chronic condition for many.

Today’s commercials are less scary, with ads like this one emphasizing making the right choice (using condoms) during sex:

Once people started surviving AIDS, safe sex lost its immediacy, with a character like the “safe sex angel” now signifying a switch to a lighter, breezier approach.

Also, the fact that condom use and other safer sex behaviors reduce one’s chance of infection with a life-altering STI like gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, or HPV is often barely acknowledged in public awareness campaigns, although it should be trumpeted loud and often.  Safe sex isn’t just about HIV prevention.

The misperception that the AIDS crisis is past has allowed many people to back away from safer sex practices that could save their lives. Everywhere, there are indications that safe sex isn’t what it used to be. In Britain, an HIV+ pop star recently admitted to having unprotected sex. and a recent study found that many young gay men (a population at extreme risk for HIV infection) admitted to having unprotected sex with other men.

Studies show that at least 200,000 people are infected with HIV in the U.S. and don’t know it. According to news reports, those most likely to receive a late diagnosis of HIV and to die from AIDS are adults over 50.

HIV leads to AIDS and death, if left untreated. And there is no such thing as safe sex.

Don’t make the mistake of believing that safe sex is a thing of the past.  You can protect yourself from needless infection and chronic health complications by following these simple steps. And as parents, we need to practice what we preach: