The term safer sex refers to a number of techniques used to reduce your risk of pregnancy or contracting an STI in a sexual relationship.
There are a few key ideas in safer sex if people want to reduce their risk of contracting an STI:
This means knowing your own status and your partner’s status. Regular STI screening (testing when you do not have symptoms), and STI testing (when you do have symptoms) are the only ways to know your status. You must make sure that the STI screening is actually accurate by making sure that you have reached the correct incubation period for each STI that you are screened for.
It is very important to maintain open and honest communication with your partner/s. This can include, but is not limited to: talking about each other’s sexual histories, discussing whether or not your relationship will be sexually monogamous, disclosing your status to your partner/s, and discussing the use of barrier methods. Talking about and using barrier methods is extremely important if you do not know your STI status and/or if you or your partner/s has multiple sexual partners.
Barrier methods form a physical barrier that reduces or prevents the sharing of potentially contagious bodily fluids (blood, semen, vaginal fluids), that reduces bodily fluid-to-open skin contact (such as small cuts or scrapes), and that reduces skin-to-skin contact in the genital area. Barrier methods include male condoms (latex or polyurethane), female condoms (polyurethane), latex dental dams, latex gloves or non-microwaveable plastic wrap. Barrier methods should only be used with water or silicone based lubricants. Do not use oil-based lubricants such as petroleum jelly (Vaseline), baby (mineral) oil, cold cream, butter, or vegetable oil.
Numerous studies report that latex male condoms are highly effective in protecting against HIV and STIs in vaginal/penile, and anal/penile sex. With respect to the other barrier methods, and the many other sexual practices, there is not much research as to exactly how effective they are in reducing the risk of contracting or transmitting HIV or other STIs. However, consistent and correct use of these methods as a barrier is certainly much safer than having unprotected, fluid-exposed sex when you do not know your partner’s STI status.
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