Safe sex practices
When both the partners engaged in sexual activity have taken precautions to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), they are referred to as having safe sex. The sexual activity involved can be vaginal, anal or oral sex. Viruses and bacteria are responsible for a host of STIs, whose effects can range from mild to extremely severe. Common STIs include HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, herpes, gonorrhea and chlamydia. There are many precautions one can take to lower the risk of STIs, that in no way hinder the pleasure experienced from sexual activity. While safe sex does not completely eliminate risk of STIs, it can considerably lower exposure to sexually transmitted pathogens.
Safe sex is a preventive measure that has become necessary because of the widespread prevalence of STIs among the population. STIs are responsible for major diseases such as cancer, infertility and even death, apart from the psychological and emotional toll of debilitating illnesses. While not hundred percent effective, safe sex practices can greatly reduce the risk of STIs such as HIV, herpes, gonorrhea and chlamydia.
The age at which young people are becoming sexually active is now lower than ever before. It is therefore imperative that sex education be imparted at schools, so teenagers are better equipped to prevent STIs.STI prevalence has also increased in the elderly population who are far less likely to use condoms and engage in other safe sex practices. Awareness programs addressing safe sex are therefore needed for all age groups.
Safe sex practices include all the following:
- Condom usage: Condoms act as a physical barrier and prevent the exchange of bodily fluids such as semen, pre-cum and vaginal fluids between the partners. This not only helps in preventing unwanted pregnancies but also prevents viral or bacterial pathogens from being transmitted. Typically male condoms are commonly used, but female condom usage is also increasing. The female condom is a pouch that is inserted deep into the vagina during intercourse. Flexible rings on either end of the condom hold it in place inside the vagina. It may also be inserted into the anus during anal intercourse. While using condoms, one has to make sure to check that they are not past the expiry date and that they do not have any cuts or breaks in them. Water based lubricants can help ease friction and prevent tears in condoms.
- Screening: Regular testing for STIs lowers risk of infection. While it may not always be possible, it is a good practice to ensure that one’s sexual partner is also tested for STIs before engaging in sexual intercourse.
- Dental dams: While oral sex is less risky compared to anal or vaginal penetrative sex, STIs can still be transmitted if there are sores or breaks in the skin in the mouth or genital area. Dental dams can be used as a physical barrier to prevent exposure to pathogens. Dental dams are thin, square latex sheets and can be used with water-based lubricants during oral-anal and oral-vaginal sex.
- In the case of some STIs, protection is available in the form of vaccines. The hepatitis B vaccine and the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine can help prevent occurrence of hepatitis B and cervical cancer respectively.
- Limiting the number of sexual partners: The more partners one has, the more likely they are to encounter someone with an STI. People with multiple partners may also be far less likely to wait a sufficient amount of time before consummating the relationship. When one does not know a person for very long, it is unlikely that they will know their sexual history well.
- Monogamy: While this may not be an ideal choice for many, monogamy greatly reduces risk of STIs. However even within a monogamous relationship, periodic testing for STIs should be done to prevent STIs, especially if one of the partners has been unfaithful.
- Individuals who abuse alcohol and drugs are considered high-risk for STIs. This is because they are more likely to engage in irresponsible and risky sexual behavior such as sex with unknown partners and sex without condoms. Therefore one should drink responsibly and refrain from abusing drugs.
- Open communication with one’s sexual partner is essential to a healthy and safe sex life. Either partner should feel comfortable enough to disclose information about high-risk behaviors such as intravenous drug use, sexual intercourse with prostitutes and possible STIs, so as to prevent further spread.
- Sex education can dispel ignorance about safe sex practices. The ability to identify STI symptoms can also ensure that they are detected quickly, making sexual activity while infected less common.
- Abstinence: It is only hundred percent effective way to be safe from STIs. While it may not be entirely practical, many young people especially those with religious leanings are choosing to stay celibate until they get married. This can dramatically reduce risk of STIs. In fact many countries have instituted abstinence education programs in schools to control the rise of STIs.