Why safe sex is important
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infectious conditions transmitted through sexual activity – vaginal, oral or anal. Some of the STDs can be easily treated but unfortunately there is no cure for many of them, and these incurable STDs tend to be the most common and longest lasting. Some, for example HIV and hepatitis B, can have serious health consequences.
A person can have any of the STDs without any symptoms. They may therefore be unaware that they have an infection and may be passing it on each time they have sex.
Reducing the risk
The only way to be 100% certain of never getting an STD is never to have sex at all. This means that if you do have sex, you need to consider ways that you can reduce your risk of acquiring an infection (or passing on an STD you may not know you have!) There are various strategies you can use. Some relate to whom you have sex with, others relate to what you do while you are having sex. Choose whichever strategies best suit your situation – they don’t all work for everyone.
- Have an STD check up after sex with a new partner. If you have picked up an infection it may be possible to treat it before complications develop, and the sooner you know you have an STD, the less likely it is that you will unknowingly pass it on to someone else.
- If you are in a stable relationship and neither you nor your partner have any other sexual partners, you can make sure that sex is safe by both having an STD check up. If all the results are negative (both yours and your partner’s) it may be OK to have unprotected sex. You should discuss this with a doctor or health adviser because sometimes extra tests are required.
- If you have sex with more than one partner or if you often change your partners, one way you can reduce your risk of exposure to an STD is to reduce the number of partners. The more people you have sex with, the more likely it is that one or more of your partners will have an STD.
- Be especially careful if you have sex with people you don’t know well. You are less likely to know if they have an STD or have had a check up recently.
- Unless you are certain that you and your partner do not have any STDs (i.e. by having a full STD check-up) use safe sex practices when you have sex.
Safe sex practices
Safe sex means not allowing your partner’s body fluids (blood, semen, vaginal fluids) into your body and vice versa. It can also mean covering up or avoiding contact with parts of the body that might be infectious (e.g. herpes sores or warts)
With some forms of sex, it’s possible to avoid any transfer of body fluids, e.g. massage and mutual masturbation (“hand jobs”).
Oral sex carries a lower risk of transmitting most (not all) of the STDs. If you have oral sex, you can reduce the risk of infection by following these guidelines:
- using condoms (flavoured ones are available!) or dental dams (see below)
- not getting semen or blood in your mouth
- avoiding oral sex if you have mouth ulcers or bleeding gums; not brushing your teeth immediately before oral sex
- if you get cold sores, don’t give your partner oral sex when you have an outbreak. (Cold sores are caused by the herpes virus.)
If you have vaginal or anal intercourse, use condoms. They have the added benefit of helping prevent unwanted pregnancy. You can choose condoms which are textured, coloured and flavoured. Some condoms are non-allergenic, for those who have skin reactions or find latex uncomfortable.
|Use a good quality condom that conforms to Australian and International Standards. Check the use by date on the packet. Open the packet carefully; don’t snag the condom with rings or fingernails. Check which way the condom unrolls.|
|It is very important to use the condom for the entire time you are having intercourse. Put the condom on before the penis comes into contact with the vagina or anus and only when the penis is hard and erect. Don’t unroll the condom before putting it on.|
|Squeeze the teat on the end of the condom between two fingers (this is to expel the air so there is room for the semen) and hold it against the tip of the penis.|
|Gently unroll the condom all the way down to the base of the penis. If you don’t get it on the first time, throw the condom away and start again.|
|Use a water soluble lubricant. This is essential for anal intercourse. Rub it on the outside of the condom. The lubricant makes intercourse more comfortable and helps prevent breakage of the condom. Use only water based lubricants such as Wet Stuff, KY, Lubafax, Le Gel, Glyde or Muko.|
|The penis should be withdrawn immediately after ejaculation with you or your partner holding the rim of the condom to stop any spillage. Slip the condom off carefully.|
|You can only use a condom once. If you want to have sex again, put on a new condom. Don’t flush used condoms down the toilet. Wrap them in paper and put them in a bin.|
Looking after condoms
Condoms that break put you at risk. They may be damaged by:
- Heat: Condoms must be kept in a cool, dry place (i.e. not the glove box of a car).
- Oil: Oil-based lubricants cause condoms to perish. Never use baby oil, vaseline, petroleum jelly.
- Teeth: During oral sex teeth may cause the condom to break. Do not use your teeth to open the condom package.
- Friction: Always use a water-based lubricant to prevent condoms breaking.
- Expiry date: Always check to make sure the use by date has not expired.
The other barrier for oral sex
Latex barriers or ‘dental dams’ are squares of ultra-thin latex that can be put over a partner’s vulva or anal area during oral sex. Some are thin and silky and come in a variety of flavours. Alternatively you can cut an unrolled condom to the tip and make a latex barrier.
Condoms are available from:
- vending machines
- Family Planning Association
- youth services
- Aboriginal Medical Service
- AIDS Council