Santa Clara University

Wellness Center

10 Tips for Safer Sex

Let's Talk About Sex--
What to Know BEFORE you DO IT! 

Sex has always been a popular topic. Who's having it, who's not, where they are having it and how often. But in all that sex talk, the basics sometimes get lost. Talking about sex - with your partner, a peer educator or a healthcare professional - before you actually have sex is smart.

Deciding to become sexually active or practice abstinence is a personal choice and it is important to discuss your reasons with your partner. Communication is the key to becoming informed about sex and to making the right decision.

Abstinence

Abstinence is defined as refraining from sexual activity. But in reality, abstinence means different things to different people, cultures and religious groups. For some, it means choosing the total absence of any type of sexual activity with another person, and for others, it simply means choosing not to have vaginal or anal intercourse.

Technically, abstinence is a form of contraception. The two types of abstinence covered here are:

  • Periodic abstinence is a way that sexually active women prevent pregnancy by becoming familiar with their fertility patterns and abstaining from vaginal intercourse on the days they think they could become pregnant. This is also known as the "rhythm method."
  • Continuous abstinence is not having vaginal intercourse with a partner at all, but potentially still engaging in sexual activity that does not involve penetration. This type of abstinence acts as a contraceptive to prevent pregnancy by keeping sperm out of the vagina. Traditionally, continuous abstinence is the type of abstinence discussed in sexual education classes.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE:

  • Even without vaginal or anal penetration, other sexual activity such as oral sex can expose you to STIs, and awareness of this is important.
  • If semen spills on or near the vagina, pregnancy is still possible, even without penetration.

There's nothing weird or "uptight" with choosing abstinence - it's just like choosing to use a condom or hormonal contraceptive. It's about what you want for you, your body and your life. Practicing abstinence does not mean you can't or don't have sexual feelings. Just because you choose not to have sex doesn't mean you can't date, have feelings for another person, find somebody incredibly sexy or be in a serious relationship. You can still be emotionally and physically intimate with your partner and not have sexual intercourse. In fact, exploring different physical ways to bring sexual pleasure to yourself and your partner without having intercourse can not only help couples become more intimate, but it can help you learn more about yourself sexually. Again, it's up to you to decide what you want to do and experience.

Advantages of Abstinence:

  • Abstinence from vaginal and anal intercourse is free and available to everyone.
  • If adhered to, it is extremely effective at preventing both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
  • It has no medical or hormonal side effects.
  • Abstinence may encourage people to build relationships in other ways.

Oral Sex

Oral sex is defined as using your mouth to stimulate your partner's genitals. Many people see oral sex as a safer, acceptable alternative to vaginal or anal intercourse - especially those who want to prevent pregnancy. It is important to discuss with your partner whether or not you are comfortable giving or receiving oral sex, as well as each other's sexual history before making any decisions about oral sex. Like sexual intercourse, oral sex does have risks that can affect your health.

Risks of Oral Sex
The primary risk of oral sex involves coming in direct contact with vaginal or seminal fluids that can transmit HIV or sexually transmitted infections. While not as risky as unprotected anal or vaginal sex, it is still possible to get STIs from having unprotected oral sex. The risk to contract HIV and other STIs is much lower for the receiver than the person performing the act. For the person performing the act, the risk of transmission is much lower if gums are healthy and if semen or vaginal fluids do not enter the mouth. However, such preventative measures aren't always enough to prevent infection since you may have cuts or ulcers in your mouth that you may not be aware of. There is no pregnancy risk associated with oral sex - women cannot get pregnant by swallowing semen.

HIV
There have been a few documented cases where HIV has been transmitted through oral sex since HIV is found in blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. The virus can also be transmitted through cuts, openings, sores, and mucous membranes (mouth, anus, vagina) on the body.

Herpes
Herpes can be transmitted from genitals to mouth or mouth to genitals during unprotected oral sex.

Gonorrhea
While not always listed as an oral sex risk, experts have seen a recent increase in the number of gonorrhea infections of the throat. Exposure to vaginal or seminal fluids infected with gonorrhea are the cause of these infections.

More Sexual Health Information

How to Make Oral Sex Safer

10 Things to do BEFORE you Have Sex

1. Talk smart sex first. Have smart sex later. STIs and unintended pregnancies affect both partners, not just one person. If you feel uncomfortable discussing sex and birth control with your partner, then you shouldn't be having sex! Be straightforward and talk about sex beforehand so both partners know what to expect. It's easier to be rational and reasonable before you're in the "heat of the moment!"

2. Two are better than one! To help prevent both pregnancy and STIs, you should correctly and consistently use a birth control method like the Pill, Depo-Provera Contraceptive Injection or diaphragm (for pregnancy prevention) and a condom (to prevent STIs). Condom use is essential, especially in relationships that are not monogamous. If your partner says no to contraceptives that may prevent STIs, like condoms, it's probably time to rethink your relationship. Nothing is worth the potential lifetime consequences of a few minutes of unprotected fun.

3. Don't feel pressured to have sex. Or have sex out of fear - fear of hurting someone's feelings by saying no or fear of being the "only one" who isn't doing it. Virtually everyone wants to fit in with his or her friends, but you should never compromise your values to be "part of the crowd." If you don't want to have sex, be honest, discuss the reasons behind your decision with your partner and stay true to you.

4. Don't abuse alcohol/use drugs if you think things could get physical. Drug use or alcohol abuse interferes with decision-making, which can lead to date rape, forgetting to use contraceptives or contracting an STI. The lowering of inhibitions that often accompanies alcohol use might make you think you'll enjoy sex more, but in fact, for a variety of biochemical reasons, too much alcohol actually makes sex less enjoyable for both men and women.

5. Use the buddy system. If you go to a party or a bar, go with friends and keep an eye out for each other. Agree that you won't leave with another person without telling someone. Sometimes a friend's "second opinion" could help prevent you from making decisions that you might regret later.

6. Remember that "no" means NO and passed out doesn't mean YES. Being drunk isn't a defense for committing sexual assault or a reason for being a victim of sexual assault. If you are too drunk to understand a person trying to say no; if you are too drunk to listen and respect a person saying no; or if you have sex with somebody who is passed out or incapable of giving consent, it can be considered rape.

7. Respect everyone's right to make his/her own personal decision - including yourself. There is no imaginary "deadline," no ideal age, no perfect point in a relationship where sex has to happen. If your partner tells you that he or she is not ready to have sex, respect his/her decision, be supportive and discuss the reasons behind it. It is everyone's ultimate right to decide when and how they have sex - be it the first time or the tenth time.

8. Be prepared for a sex emergency. Consider carrying two condoms with you just in case one breaks or tears while it's being put on. Both men and women are equally responsible for preventing STIs, using contraceptives and both should carry condoms. Sometimes things go wrong even when you try to do everything right. Maybe the condom broke or you forgot to take your birth control pill. Whatever the reason, women should know about emergency contraception or EC. Taken within 72 hours of intercourse, EC may prevent pregnancy.

9. The best protection doesn't mean less affection. Abstinence is actually the most effective way to protect against STIs and prevent pregnancy. But practicing abstinence doesn't mean you can't have an intimate physical relationship with someone - it just means you don't have vaginal or anal intercourse. There are many other ways to be intimate and not have intercourse - just be aware that alternatives, like oral sex, carry their own risks.

10. Make sexual health a priority. Whether you are having sex or not, both men and women need to have regular check-ups to make sure they are sexually healthy. Women should have annual gynecological exams. In fact, most campus doctors book months in advance - make your appointment today!

Source: http://smartersex.org/index.asp

 
Printer-friendly format