Safer Sex is not called Safe Sex because there are no guarantees of sex being risk-free from STDs and other unintended consequences that can result in emotional pain or unplanned pregnancy. There are some general guidelines that reduce these risks, such as using condoms or engaging in sexual play but not intercourse, which will be discussed in a moment.
But first, why is safer sex important? Because it means you care about your own health and the health of your sexual partners, as well as what experiences you will be able to participate in later on. The choices you make about safer sex can also influence your financial situation and priorities in life. There was an old condom commercial I remember watching where a man and a woman in bed are about to have unprotected sex. Suddenly they get a knock on the door and one of the woman’s past partners comes in the room, “you don’t mind if I join you, do you?” Then one of the man’s past partners walks in saying the same thing. Then a flood of people cram through the doorway until there is no standing room. It’s chaos! But that is what is happening when you have unprotected sex – all of your previous partners, and your partner’s previous partners and all their previous partners are all indirectly part of your experience.
Did you know that 1 in 2 people will get an STD by 25 years old? That’s a lot of people – half of us – and most won’t even know it. It may seem awkward to pause in the heat of the moment to put on a condom or have a discussion about safer sex, but it’s 2 minutes of your life. What’s far less fun is having an unplanned pregnancy or telling a potential new partner that you have an STD. Which way would you rather start off the conversation?
Here are some tips on having a safer sex conversation with your partner:
- When you think you are going to have sex with someone, ask them when they last got tested for STDs during a neutral non-sexual situation, like during a meal, exercise, or after a movie. This gives both of you time to consider your options and make intelligent decisions without the presence of crazy hormones that throw logic out the window!
- If they have had any partners since their most recent test, suggest you both go to an STD testing location together to get tested. The same advice applies for people that have never gotten tested, or have not gotten extensive STD testing (a typical STD test only covers chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV). If they have an STD, tell them what you are and are not comfortable with. If you haven’t thought about what STDs you are okay or not okay with your partner having, think about it now. Certain STDs have cures, and some are more manageable than others. Be honest with them if you have an STD, and be prepared to answer their questions as well as be able to explain ways to minimize their exposure. Here are some resources for people that have an STD or want to date someone that has an STD and want to talk with their partner about how to proceed.
- Before having intercourse, discuss preferred methods of protection and contraceptives. If you are unsure of what you prefer, you may want to go to an adult store or visit one online that supplies a variety of barriers.
Note: If you feel strange about bringing up safer sex, you’ll be happy to know it gets easier with practice. Talk about consent and boundaries and lead into a safer sex conversation from there. You can practice a conversation with a friend if you have no idea where to begin. Some people are worried about being judged promiscuous by potential partners if they bring up condoms. Tell them it’s about safety and that you’re trying to set expectations. If they can’t appreciate that you care about your health and theirs, you shouldn’t be having sex with them. If you’re a guy that worries about performance issues while wearing condoms because it doesn’t feel as good, one option is to masturbate with a condom on, which can allow you to adapt to those sensations.
Safer sex doesn’t mean no sex or boring sex, it means educating yourself about the options available to you so every experience can be pleasurable while unwanted souvenirs are minimized. For those interested in satisfying sexual activities that don’t involve oral sex, intercourse, or anal sex, here are some that offer no risk of STDs or pregnancy: masturbation, mutual masturbation, cybersex, phone sex, and sharing fantasies. There are also lower risk activities like kissing, fondling (using hands to grope or manually stimulate a person, like fingering or a hand job), massage, body-to-body rubbing (i.e. frottage, grinding, or dry humping), playing with sterilized sex toys alone or with a partner. The reason why these activities are lower in risk is that they either do not include or limit skin-to-skin contact of the genital areas as well as the exchange of sexual fluids, which are the two ways STDs are spread.
Oral sex is borderline high risk because it eliminates the possibility of pregnancy, but it still involves skin to skin contact and an exchange of sexual fluids. Genital warts, HPV, Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Gonorrhea, Hepatitis B, HIV, Herpes, and Syphilis can still be spread via unprotected oral sex. For protected oral sex, people have a couple options: dental dams (for oral sex – “going down on” – a woman) and condoms (for oral sex – “blow job” – on a man).
Dental dams are a thin rectangular piece of rubber made out of silicone or latex that is placed over the labia or anus during oral sex play. Many people actually use plastic saran wrap as a dental dam or a cut-open condom, which can be effective barrier methods.
Condoms range in size in both length and diameter from a snug fit (for smaller girth penises) to XL sizes (for larger penises). Just like how a lot of women wear the wrong bra size, a lot of guys are choosing the wrong size condom. Wearing a condom that is the wrong size can be more than uncomfortable, for example, wearing a condom that is too big can leak or cause friction that sometimes breaks the condom. Here are the basic measurements of the condoms you’ll find in stores:
- Snug: 7 to 7.8 inches in length, 1.75 inches in diameter (Click here to see condom choices in snug size)
- Standard: 7.25 to 7.8 inches in length, 1.75 to 2 inches in diameter (Click here to see condom choices in average size, here for average with a larger head)
- Larger: 7.25 to 8.1 inches in length, 2 to 2.25 inches in diameter (Click here to see condom choices in all around larger sizes, and here for large sized condoms with extra head room)
You may have noticed the overlapping measurements; it should be noted that different brands have different standards, so a snug fitting condom in one brand could be the same size as a standard condom in another brand. The main difference between the condoms is girth size rather than length size; a thicker penis will need a larger condom size. The company Condomania has an extensive condom sizing chart here. It is worth it to try on several different kinds of condoms to find the best fit and feel.
Remember: condoms should be stored in a cool, dry place. Don’t carry condoms in your wallet, back pocket, glove compartment, or any place where they will be subject to friction, heat, and pressure, which all weaken the condom and make it less reliable. Do not use oil-based lubricants with a latex or non-latex rubber condom. Only use water or silicone-based lubricant with latex and non-latex rubber condoms. Also, check the expiration date before using a condom; don’t use a condom if it is old, dried out, sticky, or brittle. Read more about how condoms work as well as how to put one on here.
Female condoms also exist, though are more difficult to find. Read more about them here. If you are embarrassed about buying condoms or other protective barriers, buy them online, talk to an older sibling about getting some, or visit a location that has free condoms available, like a planned parenthood, certain youth centers or school counseling offices. Enter your zip code in Condom Finder and the nearest locations with free condoms available will pop up.
Finally, here are some tips on using all the kinds of barriers discussed – male condoms, female condoms, and dental dams.
To sum it up, practicing safer sex can provide you and your partner with an opportunity to get more creative and add variety to sexual pleasure, make sex play last longer, deepen and strengthen relationships by increasing intimacy and trust, and improve communication. It will also increase the chances of a long and fulfilling sex life, and who doesn’t want that?
Further reading: Having The STD Talk With A New Partner