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STDWatch
Hannah Kingston

Mar 25, 20227 min read

How to have safe sex

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If you’re sexually active, then chances are that you want to have safe sex, in order to protect yourself as much as possible against getting an STD. Although abstinence does provide complete protection against STDs, sex is also an enjoyable part of many people’s lives and relationships, and most people would prefer not to avoid it. This is why many people are looking for guidelines on safe sex and STD prevention. 

If you’re wondering how to have safe intercourse, anal sex, or oral sex, we’d like to offer a few safe sex tips to help you stay protected while also enjoying your sex life.

What’s the best sex protection?

If you’re having any form of penetrative sex (including vaginal, anal, or oral sex), then it’s best to use a condom each time you have sex. Latex condoms provide the best protection and are the best way to have safe sex. Polyurethane (plastic) condoms are also an option for those who have an allergy or skin reaction to latex. They tend to break more often than latex condoms do, so latex is preferred, but using polyurethane condoms is a way to have safe sex even if you can’t tolerate latex.

Natural condoms (made from animal skin) are not a good way to have safe sex. They may help to prevent pregnancy, but they contain microscopic holes that can allow viruses and bacteria to pass through. This means that you can easily get an STD even when using a natural condom. To ensure that you’re having safe sex, choose latex or polyurethane condoms.

Studies have shown that one of the barriers to safe sex is that some people are worried that condoms will prevent sexual pleasure. However, condoms are very thin and are designed not to block sensation. In fact, some people find that the act of putting on the condom can even be enjoyable in itself. Safe sex is still enjoyable sex.

Can you get an STD from protected sex?

While condoms provide excellent protection against many different STDs, there are some STDs that can still be transmitted, even though you’re having safe sex. This is because these diseases are able to be transmitted by areas that aren’t covered by the condom. Herpes, HPV, and syphilis can all be transmitted like this, if the sores or warts caused by the disease are in areas that the condom doesn’t cover. This is why even very safe sex isn’t necessarily 100% protective against all STDs.

In addition, a condom can break, tear, or leak. Sometimes, the tears in the condom are so small that you can’t even see them, but viruses and bacteria may still be able to pass through. Even though you’re having protected sex, STD transmission can still be possible in this case. This is why it’s important to take care of your condoms by not exposing them to factors like heat that can damage them. Otherwise, you might think that you’re having safe sex when you’re really not.

Can lube carry STDs?

Lubricants are not a protection against STDs, and viruses and bacteria can be transmitted through the lubricant. There are certain spermicides that might provide some protection, but it’s not certain that they actually do. Using lubricants or spermicides on their own is not enough for haivng safe sex.

However, using lubrication along with a condom can help to reduce the risk of the condom breaking due to friction. It’s important to ensure that you use a water-based or silicone-based lubricant, because oil-based lubricants can weaken the latex of a condom and may cause it to break.

Certain lubricants can irritate the tissues of the vagina or the anus. Because of this, they may actually increase the risk of getting an STD. This is because the healthy mucous membrane of the vagina or anus provides a barrier against viruses and bacteria, but when it’s irritated, it can’t block these organisms as effectively. If you feel any irritation when using a particular lubricant, it’s probably better to stop using it. This will contribute to having enjoyable as well as safe sex.

How to have safe sex without using a condom

The best way to have safe sex without using a condom is to be in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner. As long as neither partner has any sexual contact with anyone else, and both partners were tested for STDs at the beginning of the relationship, then it’s safe to have sex without using condoms in this situation. Unfortunately, however, cheating does occur, and sometimes people who thought that they were in monogamous relationships actually aren’t. Because of this, even a monogamous relationship doesn’t actually offer 100% safe sex and protection against STDs.

While the only completely safe sex is within a monogamous relationship, there are ways to make sex safer, even without a condom. Having non-penetrative forms of sex is one way to have safe sex. If you don’t exchange bodily fluids when having sex, then you won’t be able to transmit STDs. Touching your partner’s genitals with your hands or other parts of your body is a way to have sexual contact without the risk of STDs, so this is a form of safe sex. It can be an enjoyable bonding experience to experiment with your partner to find ways of being sexual together that don’t involve penetration.

FAQ

Do condoms prevent 100 percent of STDs?

No intervention is perfect, and condoms are no exception. Condoms can greatly reduce the risk of getting infected with an STD, but they cannot eliminate it entirely. Even if you follow safe sex guidelines and use condoms correctly every time you have sex, there is still a small chance of getting an STD. Because of this, some people refer to sex with a condom as “safer sex” rather than “safe sex.” No matter how careful you are, no sex is 100% safe sex. This is why it’s a good idea to choose your sexual partners wisely.

Can condoms fail without breaking?

While a large hole or tear in a condom will generally be obvious, it’s also possible for a condom to develop microscopic holes. While these are too small for you to see, they may be large enough for viruses, bacteria, and even sperm to pass through. You might think that you’re having safe sex, but really your condom isn’t protecting you. This is why it’s important to take good care of your condoms. Ensure that they aren’t expired and have not been exposed to excessive heat or other factors that can make the latex weaker.

Why do condoms burst?

Anything that weakens the latex of a condom increases the chances that the condom will break. This includes using oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly (Vaseline), cooking oil, or lotion. Instead, use water-based or silicone-based lubricants. In addition, heat can weaken latex and make a condom more likely to break. Storing condoms in a place that gets hot, like a car, can damage them. Even your body heat can be too much when the condom is exposed for a long time, so it’s not a good idea to keep your condoms in your pocket. Instead, keep them in a purse or bag, or in your nightstand. This will help to ensure that your condoms work well, so that you can truly have safe sex.

Can you get an STD if both partners are clean?

If neither partner has an STD before having sex, then there is no risk of STD transmission during sex. This is why some people simply ask their new partners whether they’re clean, and then if the partner says they are and has no obvious symptoms, then they just assume that they’re having safe sex. 

However, this isn’t a good assumption. Just because a person has no symptoms of an STD, this doesn’t mean that they don’t have one. Many STDs cause no symptoms in many people who are infected, so someone could have an STD for many years and not know. This is why it’s important to practice safe sex, even if your partners tell you that they’re clean.

To be sure that neither of you has an undetected STD, the best idea is for both partners to get an STD test before having sex for the first time. You can each visit an STD clinic, or you can use an STD home testing service. This allows you to test in the convenience of your own home. Once you know that neither of you has an unknown STD, then you can have safe sex without worrying about it.

Sources

Cook MA, Wynn LL. 'Safe sex': evaluation of sex education and sexual risk by young adults in Sydney. Cult Health Sex 2021 Dec;23(12):1733-1747. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2020.1805797.

Dezzutti CS, Brown ER, et al. Is wetter better? An evaluation of over-the-counter personal lubricants for safety and anti-HIV-1 activity. PLoS One 2012;7(11):e48328. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0048328

Gorbach PM, Weiss RE, et al. The slippery slope: lubricant use and rectal sexually transmitted infections: a newly identified risk. Sex Transm Dis 2012 Jan;39(1):59-64. doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0b013e318235502b.

How You Can Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/default.htm. Accessed 9 Mar 2022.

Male (External) Condom Use. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/external-condom-use.html. Accessed 9 Mar 2022.

Sherr L, Strong C. Safe sex and women. Genitourin Med 1992 Feb;68(1):32-5. doi: 10.1136/sti.68.1.32.

Zaneva M, Philpott A, et al. What is the added value of incorporating pleasure in sexual health interventions? A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One 2022 Feb 11;17(2):e0261034. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0261034.


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