Your safer sex toolbox
Being sexual with someone carries risks—risk of rejection, of unintended pregnancy, of contracting an STI, or even a simple cold. But being sexual also provides physical, emotional and spiritual benefits.
Here we will examine some of the things you can do to assess your own risks and benefits so that you can enjoy the benefits important to you while decreasing your chance of contracting an STI, having an unintended pregnancy, or being coerced into sexual activity.
Talk with your partner(s) about STIs, sexual health, and prevention before sexual activity. Open communication encourages trust and respect among partners. Also, don’t be afraid to talk honestly with your health care provider about your sexual practices or to ask about STI tests.
Decide on your boundaries
It’s not possible to make an accurate, generalized statement about the “ideal” number of partners or the “best” choices to make about condoms or other barriers. When deciding on your boundaries, you may consider such things as religious beliefs, cultural standards, personal desires and comfort levels, the type of relationship in which you’re involved, the level of trust, communication and commitment within a relationship, and the physical, emotional, spiritual benefits of sexual choices.
If you or your partner has ever had sex with anyone else, then testing can help you learn whether you may have contracted an STI. You can’t rely on symptoms to know whether you have an STI—many STIs can be “silent,” causing no noticeable symptoms. Also, some STD/STIs may not be detectable through testing for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, so talk to your healthcare provider about the right time to get tested.
Condoms (both external and internal) work really well in stopping most STIs from being passed from an infected partner to another when they are used consistently and correctly every time a person has oral, vaginal or anal sex. Consistently and correctly means that a person makes sure they use a condom every time they have oral, vaginal or anal sex. PrEP can also prevent HIV. Together they can help protect your sexual health.
Vaccines can prevent many diseases, including some that are sexually transmitted. Currently, vaccines are available to protect against infection with HPV, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B. Talk to your health care provider to see which vaccines might be recommended for you.
A Few Questions to Consider
- What are your reasons for choosing to have sex? What are the “benefits” you are hoping to enjoy? (Physical health benefits? Pleasure? Emotional connection? Fun? Spiritual connection?)
- When and how often will you be tested for STIs?
- When and how often do you want your partners to be tested for STIs?
- Which sexual activities are you willing to try? Which are you unwilling to do? Which might you be willing to try in some situations and/or with some partners but not others?
- What barriers do you want to use? Under which circumstances?
- What barriers and other precautions do you want your partner(s) to use when being sexual with others, if you are in a sexually non-monogamous relationship?
- Are you willing to risk a possible pregnancy? If not, what method of birth control will you use?
- Do you have a plan of action that you intend to follow if, in spite of precautions, you are faced with an unintended pregnancy, or an STI?
Once you have decided on your own “safer sex” boundaries, you will need to gather the tools you will need to stick to your decisions.