When considering safer sex it is perhaps useful to think about what is meant by sex.
Most people think of an erect penis going into a vagina when they think about sex. Sex can be about other types of physical intimacy – oral sex, anal sex, erotic massage, french kissing – just to name a few. Safer sex, in its fullest meaning covers all of these.
Safer sex is all about looking after yourself and your partner. It is about avoiding unwanted pregnancy, reducing the risk of sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and staying emotionally healthy.
Achieving this can seem difficult, but with respect and good communication safer sex can be great. Respect enables both people in a relationship to feel safe to be themselves, talk about the likes and dislikes.
The only totally sure way of never getting an STI or having an unwanted pregnancy is to not have sex. For many people this is a considered decision, and the right one for them.
Safer sex is sex that you enjoy with a partner with whom you feel safe. It is free of coercion and can include laughter, experimentation and play. Good sex comes through good communication.
Safer sex can help keep you physically healthy. It can also help with your emotional well-being. Thinking and planning for safer sex helps you to make considered decisions about:
- when to have sex for the first time;
- how frequently you want to have sex;
- who to have sex with;
- how to have sex;
- who to tell about your sex life; and
- having safer sex.
Choosing to have safer sex means thinking about:
- the use of alcohol and/or drugs and how alcohol and drugs may increase your risk of engaging in unsafe sex;
- privacy, trust and communication when engaging in sexual activity; and
- the use of barriers to prevent STIs.
If you have sex, you can make it as safer for you and your partner by making a number of changes.
What is meant by safer sex?
Safer sex means not letting your partner’s body fluids (semen, vaginal fluids, blood) get into your body and vice versa. You can reduce these risks by:
- using barriers like condoms or dams with water based lubricant;
- having a sexual health check before having unprotected sex with a new partner; and
- reducing the number of partners you have.
Condoms, when used according to the instructions, are very effective at preventing pregnancy, transmission of HIV, Hepatitis B, Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea.
However, using condoms and dams does not give you 100% protection against all STIs.
Infections such as Genital Warts, Genital Herpes and Syphilis may affect the genital skin in an area that is not covered by the condom/dam, or you and your sexual partner may have genital contact prior to using a condom or dam. Condoms and dams do significantly reduce the risk of acquiring Genital Herpes, Genital Warts and Syphilis.
Just because someone looks healthy doesn’t mean they do not have an infection that can be sexually transmitted. Even if you ask your partner if they have a STI they may say no because they do not know they have a STI. Not everyone who has an STI has symptoms.
It all sounds too hard
Negotiating safer sex can be difficult. If you need help you can talk with the staff of the Sexual Health Service.
Signs of a relationship based on respect and good communication include:
- you are free to say no to things you don’t want to do
- you feel safe and never scared or threatened
- you are free to see other friends and family when you want
- you can express your opinions and beliefs
- you are able to change your mind
- you feel like you can be yourself – even if you are different to the other person
- you feel good about yourself and the relationship
- you are supported to make your own decisions
- you are free to end the relationship if you want to
Give and take are important in relationships. The people we love and care for can have some interests and values that are a bit different to our own. Learning to talk about them respectfully and to show interest in the likes of your partner is important in building a good relationship.
Useful questions to ask going into a new relationship are:
- What do I want from a relationship?
- What don’t I want in a relationship?
- What qualities do I like in a person?
- What don’t I like?
- Do we want the same type of relationship (casual, romantic, sexual)?
It is reasonable for you to expect to be respected and to treat others the same way.
Reference: expect respect, Full Voice, issue seven, 2005