Safer-Sex-&-STI-Risk

Safer sex can be really sexy. Although you can never completely get rid of all risks, by playing safe, you reduce your risk of getting an STI or having an unplanned pregnancy. Having safer sex will make it easier to enjoy all the pleasures that sex has to offer.

Click here to view our comprehensive STI information.

Plan ahead

Are you worried your safer sex plans will fly out of the window when things get hot and heavy?  In that case, have your safer sex tools such as condoms, dams, lube and gloves ready and close at hand where you often have sex, or in your purse or backpack. If you are planning to use other forms of birth control, make sure that you know how to use them correctly and how long it takes for them to start being effective.

Abstinence

Abstinence means different things to different people. For some people it means no touching at all and for others, it means everything but sexual intercourse. If you want to be 100% safe when it comes to sex, then total abstinence is the way to go. If there is no exchange of fluids (semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid, vaginal fluid, menstrual blood, blood or breast milk), or contact with another person’s genitals, even with your mouth or hand, it can be 100% effective against pregnancy and STIs.

You can choose abstinence at any time, regardless of previous sexual experience with the same person or a previous partner. You can also be abstinent for any length of time – a week, a month or years. It’s really up to you.

You can choose abstinence for many different reasons. Your culture or religion might forbid sex before marriage, or you just might not feel like you have the time or energy for sex right then. You can choose abstinence because the situation you are in doesn’t feel right for sex, or you want to avoid pregnancy and STIs. Whatever the reason, you have the right to choose abstinence any time, any place, in any situation.

Sometimes choosing abstinence is not easy. Pressure from friends, partners, family and the media, or your own sexual desire, can make abstinence challenging. Using drugs or alcohol can cloud a person’s judgment and lead to decisions that they may later regret. If you are feeling pressured to have sex and don’t want to, talk to someone you trust about how to communicate your boundaries. See Sexual Boundaries. Use your own values to guide you and make a plan about how you will cope with these pressures.

Am I ready for sex?

Some people who have chosen abstinence in the past find themselves unprepared for protecting themselves against pregnancy and STIs when they do decide to become sexually active. It’s a good idea to learn about all the safer sex and birth control options regardless of whether you are choosing abstinence at the moment. See Birth Control.

Being ready for sex is about more than physical protection against pregnancy and STIs. It’s also about being emotionally, mentally and spiritually prepared to deal with potential consequences. Take the time you need to consider how you feel about it before you go ahead and “do it.”

Using Protection

The only way to be 100% safe is to choose abstinence, but some sexual activities are considered safer than others. To help protect yourself and your partner from STIs:

  • Wash your hands before and after any sexual contact.
  • ALWAYS use barriers (condoms or dental dams), and use them correctly
  • Don’t ever share needles for drugs, steroids, tattoos or body piercing.
  • Talk to your partner about their testing history and encourage them to get tested
  • Avoid having sex while drunk or high.
  • Get tested often, and before starting a new sexual relationship if you can.

Dental Dams

A dental dam is a piece of latex that can be placed over an anus or vulva to prevent direct mouth-to-genital contact during oral sex and reduce the chances of sharing STIs. Non-lubricated or dry condoms can easily be made into good substitutes for dams. With scissors, carefully snip off the elastic band part and tip of the condom and then cut down its length. Now you have a rectangle that is stretchable. Put some oil-free lube on the vulva or anus, and hold the dam in place. Dental dams are also sold at pharmacies or at your local birth control or sexual health clinic.

Condoms

Some people masturbate using a condom to help them get used to the new sensation. If you are sexually active, condoms are the best available protection available to prevent both unintended pregnancy and the transmission of STIs. Latex and polyurethane condoms protect against STIs, but lambskin condoms don’t. Always use a water-based lubricant with latex condoms. Oil-based products such as petroleum jellies, creams and massage oils break down the latex and will break condoms. They may also irritate your skin.

Even if you use other birth control methods to protect against an unplanned pregnancy, a condom can add some extra assurance.

 

Common Condom Complaints (and what you can do about it)

“I can’t feel anything.”

Some people find that condoms reduce their pleasure because there’s less friction on the head of the penis and inside the vagina. Most people don’t notice a big difference. If you are noticing a big loss of pleasure or serious discomfort, try a different brand or type of condom.

Using a condom designed with more space at the tip will increase friction on the head of the penis. Thinner condoms can give a more skin-to-skin feel. Putting a few drops of water-based lubricant or just some saliva on the end of the penis or in the tip of the condom before putting it on can also help increase friction (you still have to squeeze the tip as you roll it on). Some people like having the sensation slightly numbed because it gives them more control over when they climax. Some condoms have a numbing lubricant built in.

“I hate these condoms, they don’t fit right, they smell weird, etc. ”

Condoms also come in many colours and flavours, and some are ribbed or textured to give extra stimulation. If you hate the smell of latex use a polypropylene condom such as Avanti BARE or SKYN. Have fun shopping for different condoms and test drive a few until you find the one(s) that work for you.

“Condoms break the mood.”

Putting a condom on doesn’t bother some people at all, while others find it can interrupt the flow of things. This can be just a minor distraction, but some people lose their erection when they stop to put on a condom.

Here are some suggestions for making it a smoother ride:

  • Practice makes perfect. No one is born knowing how to put a condom on. Practice, practice, practice until you can do it in the dark with your eyes closed.
  • Keep them nearby and handy. Nothing kills the mood like getting dressed to run out to the car, or to the living room where your roommates are watching a movie.
  • Ask for a hand. Putting a condom on correctly usually requires two hands (one to pinch the tip and the other to roll it on the penis) but there is no rule saying it has to be one person’s job. Ask your partner to do it for you and make condoms part of your lovemaking!
  • Get creative. Condoms can be rolled on while stroking the penis and some people can even roll a condom on a partner’s penis with their mouths – although this takes a certain amount of practice to do properly while pinching the tip.
  • Slow down. There could be some other reasons why a small interruption really throws you off. It’s okay to slow down and rethink the situation. Maybe you’d prefer to do something else sexual that doesn’t require a condom.
  • Respect yourself and your partner. If you or your partner ever feel uncomfortable and want to slow down or stop you always have the right to say so. Your partner would probably like to know if you aren’t enjoying yourself. And likewise you have a responsibility to respect your partner if they feel uncomfortable. Stop, talk about it and change the situation.

“Condoms feel really uncomfortable.”

It’s important your condoms fit right – it makes sex feel better, and they’re less likely to break or slip off. If a condom feels uncomfortable then it might be time to try a different fit.

Condoms come in different sizes and thicknesses. Every penis has a unique shape – drugstores and online stores sell condoms in different sizes and shapes to fit the base, the head and the length.

“I’m allergic to condoms.”

About 10% of the population has an allergy to latex, the material most condoms are made from. Fortunately there are non-latex condoms made of hypo-allergenic plastics.

Brands of non-latex male condoms: Avanti and Avanti BARE, SKYN, and Trojan Supra Female condoms which are worn inside the vagina or anus.

“I’m allergic to the lubricant on condoms.”

Some people find the lubricant on condoms gives them yeast infections or other irritations. You have a couple options if this is the case:

  • Use non-lubricated condoms.
  • Add a glycerin-free and/or hypo-allergenic lubricant.

STI Risk of Sexual Activities

It is important to learn about the risks associated with various sexual behaviours so that you can decide what you feel comfortable doing and what you don’t. This section rates the STI risk of many sexual activities. After each activity is a safer sex suggestion.

If you know that you and your partner don’t have any STIs because you have both been tested, and you are having sex only with each other, then there is no chance of getting an STI. Testing is important!

Not all people are comfortable with the activities listed. No one has the right to pressure you into an activity you don’t want to do. It is your right to say “no” and to say “yes”.

Abstinence-Friendly Activities:

  • cuddling
  • massaging
  • kissing a partner’s body (not their genitals)
  • using a sex toy alone
  • masturbating
  • holding hands
  • hugging
  • dry humping
  • kissing

French Kissing

This means kissing with your mouth somewhat open so that your lips and tongue touch your partner’s lips and tongue. French kissing is considered very low risk for STIs. Herpes is the only STI likely to be picked up with a kiss.

Safer Sexy: Don’t kiss someone while they have a cold sore (Herpes sore), or if they feel one coming on.

Kissing or Touching Breasts or Nipples

Rubbing or kissing someone’s breasts or nipples is a totally safe activity.

No Safer Sexy needed!

Dry Humping

Also known as “grinding”, it means rubbing against one another with clothes on – no penetration. The friction created from rubbing can be pleasurable and a completely safe activity if people are wearing a reasonable amount of clothing! STIs like scabies, pubic lice, and herpes can be transmitted if people do this naked. But then it’s not really dry humping anymore is it?

Safer Sexy: Avoid ejaculating if both partners are wearing just underwear.

Fingering, Hand Jobs

This means using a hand to stimulate, rub and stroke the penis, vulva or vagina. Heavy petting will get your partner purring and is a safe activity if you’re careful about not sharing fluids. If vaginal fluid, pre-come or semen gets shared between partners there can be a risk of STIs or pregnancy. Be careful not to get your partner’s vaginal fluids, semen or pre-ejaculate on your own genitals.

Safer Sexy: Wash hands well with soap and warm water after touching a partner’s genitals. Trim hangnails so you don’t cut your partner and cover cuts on your fingers with Band-Aids or a latex finger condom (cuts are one way infected fluids can get into the body).

Rimming

Licking or kissing the anus. The anus is very close to the genitals, so fluids can easily be transferred accidentally. Herpes and some other STIs can be transmitted through anal rimming, as can bacterial infections that aren’t STIs.

Safer Sexy: A dental dam acts as a barrier to help make rimming safer.

Fisting

This is when someone puts his or her whole hand inside a partner’s anus or vagina.

Safer Sexy: Latex gloves cover any cuts a person might have on his or her fingers, and water-based lubricant helps reduce friction.

Sharing Sex Toys

When people share sex toys they also share fluids that can contain STIs.

Safer Sexy: Cover the toy with a new condom for each partner, or wash the toy carefully with warm water and mild soap between partners.

Anal Sex

Penis-in-anus contact, also known as anal penetration. It is also possible to have anal intercourse using a sex toy. There are many nerve endings in the rectum, as well as the prostate gland, and when the penis enters the anus, it can create feelings of pleasure if the person receiving the penetration is aroused and relaxed. STIs can be shared through anal sex.

Safer Sexy: Use a condom with lots of water-based or silicone-based lube (the anus doesn’t make much of its own lubrication). The friction of anal sex can weaken a condom, so put on a new one if you’re going for a while. Extra tough condoms can also be helpful.

Oral Sex

Licking kissing or sucking on the vulva, testicles or penis. Other terms you may hear to refer to oral sex are a “blow job”, “eating out” or “going down on someone”. People cannot get pregnant from oral sex but you can get some STIs including herpes, chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhoea.

Safer Sexy: Use a flavoured condom to cover the penis or a dental dam to cover the vagina and vulva. You can make your own dental dam by using scissors to cut from the base of a condom through its tip.

Vaginal Sex

Vaginal sex or “intercourse” is typically thought of as penis-in-vagina contact but it is also possible to have vaginal intercourse using a sex toy. Unprotected vaginal intercourse can lead to pregnancy, and the transmission of STIs.

Safer Sexy: Use a condom, and additional lubrication to prevent it from breaking. Lube must be water-based or silicone-based (oils and lotions will break down latex condoms). Stop once in a while to check that the condom hasn’t broken. Change condoms if having sex for a long time.