Closeness, touching, and intimacy are good for health. One way to experience these is through sexual contact. Some people decide to delay sex until they are in a long-term, committed relationship. Others decide to become sexually active without one. If you choose to be sexually active, consider your health and peace of mind by using “safer sex.”
Safer Sex to Help Prevent STIs
Safer sex means being intimate, but using measures that minimize the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Not having sex, including intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, and genital-to-genital contact is the only sure way to eliminate the risk for STIs. Caressing, hugging, dry kissing, and masturbation are no risk or extremely low-risk practices. So is limiting your sexual contact to one person your entire life if your partner is also monogamous and does not have an STI.
- Latex and polyurethane condoms can help reduce the risk of spreading HIV infection and may reduce the risk for other STIs. To do this, they must be used the right way for every sex act. Sex with condoms isn’t totally “safe sex,” but is “less risky” sex. Use condoms with “prevent disease” on the package label. Barriers made of natural membranes, such as lamb skin, do not offer effective protection against STIs. Unless you are in a monogamous relationship in which neither you nor your partner has an STI, carry latex condoms and insist that they be used every time you have genital-to-genital contact and/or oral sex. If you or your partner is allergic to latex, use polyurethane condoms.
- For oral-vaginal sex and oral-anal sex, use latex dams (“doilies”). These are latex squares.
- Using latex condoms with spermicides, such as nonoxynol-9 (N-9), are no more effective than other lubricated condoms in protecting against HIV and other STIs. Using spermicides with N-9 are not effective in preventing chlamydia, cervical gonorrhea, or HIV infection. Don’t use spermicides alone to prevent STIs/HIV. Also, using spermicides with N-9 often has been linked with genital lesions which may be associated with an increased risk of HIV transmission. In addition, N-9 may increase the risk for HIV transmission during anal intercourse. If you need to use lubricants, use water-based ones, such as K-Y Brand Jelly. Don’t use oil-based or “petroleum” ones, such as Vaseline. They can damage latex barriers.
- Don’t have sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Limit sexual partners. Sexual contact with many persons increases the risk for STIs, especially if no protection is used.
- Discuss a new partner’s sexual history with him or her before you begin a sexual relationship. (Be aware, though, that persons are not always honest about their sexual history.)
- Avoid sexual contact with persons whose health status and health practices are not known.
- Avoid sex if either partner has signs and symptoms of a genital infection, such as sores or a discharge.
- Wash the genitals with soap and water before and after sexual intercourse.
- After manual sexual contact in another person’s genital area, wash your hands with hot water and an antibacterial soap, especially before you touch your eyes or anyone else’s genitals.
- Talk to your health care provider about getting vaccinated for hepatitis B.
- Follow your health care provider’s advice to check for STIs.
If you have multiple sex partners, you may be advised to check for STIs every 6 months, even if you don’t have any symptoms.
Seek treatment for a sexually transmitted infection if you suspect or know your sex partner is infected. Your sexual partner(s) should also be contacted and treated.
For more information, contact:
Your schools’ Student Health Center, your health care provider, or your local health department.
CDC National STD Hotline | 800.CDC.INFO (232.4636)
American Social Health Association (ASHA) | 919.361.8488 | www.ashastd.org