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Safer Sex

Safer Sex

Alternate Names

  • safe sex
  • Diaphragm
  • Female condom


Safer sex practices are sexual practices that lower (but do not completely reduce) the risk of catching or giving a sexually transmitted infection (STI), sexually transmitted disease (STD) or becoming pregnant.

What is the information for this topic?

Sex is designed to be an enjoyable, life-enhancing experience. Everyone must recognize, though, that many sexual activities carry potential consequences, such as:
  • unwanted pregnancy
  • STDs
  • emotional and psychological trauma
Abstinence for sexual activity is the only sure way to prevent pregnancy, STIs and STDs. Some sexual activities are much safer than others, though. These include:
  • hugging
  • kissing
  • touching
  • holding hands
  • intimate conversations
Other types of sex are more risky. Touching the genitals of another person, mutual masturbation, and vaginal, anal or oral sex are all sexual activities that can spread viruses, bacteria and parasites present on the skin, in the genital hair or in bodily fluids.
Some activities may cause tiny tears in genital or rectal tissues. This allows bacteria and other organisms to penetrate the skin and cause infections.
Pregnancy is a consequence, too, of heterosexual intercourse—whether protected or unprotected.
According to the CDC, practicing safer sex by using a male latex condom 100% of the time, can lessen, but not eliminate the risk of getting an STI, such as:
  • herpes
  • chlamydia
  • gonorrhea
  • syphilis
  • chancroid
  • human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS
  • trichomoniasis
There is no evidence that practicing safer sex can lessen the risk of getting:
  • hepatitis B,
  • pelvic inflammatory disease (PID),
  • pubic lice,
  • scabies, or
  • human papilloma virus, also known as HPV or genital warts. Some types of HPV increase a woman's risk of cervical cancer or precancerous changes of the cervix, called cervical dysplasia. Even so, correct and consistent condom use has been associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer, an HPV-associated disease.
So, safer sex only reduces and does not eliminate the risk of STIs and STDs. For example, the CDC reports that condoms can reduce the risk of contracting HIV by 85%, but only if correctly and consistently used. Unfortunately, this is less likely to be the case when teenagers or individuals who are high on drugs are involved.
Women who have unprotected sexual intercourse are more likely to have recurrent yeast infections. They are also at higher risk for bacterial vaginosis, which is an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina.
Although unwanted pregnancies often can be prevented by using birth control with modern, natural family planning, hormonal birth control, cervical caps, intrauterine devices (IUDs) or diaphragms, none of these methods protects against STDs.
Latex and probably plastic male and female condoms provide some protection against some STD. But no condom can offer complete protection.
With male condoms, for example, skin surfaces like the scrotum and labia, or outer lips of the vagina may still touch. And any condom may break or slip during sexual activity.
To use a male condom correctly:
  • Hold the condom at the tip to squeeze out air. Roll it all the way down to the base of the erect penis.
  • After intercourse, withdraw while the penis is still erect. Hold onto the condom while doing so to prevent leaks.
  • Use only water-based lubricants, such as K-Y Jelly, with latex condoms. Oil-based lubricants like petroleum jelly or solid vegetable shortenings can weaken these condoms and make them break.
  • Refer to the manufacturer's instructions to use the female condom correctly.
Other important safer sex practices:
  • Limit the number of sexual partners. Monogamy, or an exclusive one-to-one relationship with a noninfected partner for life, helps lower the risk of catching an STD.
  • Do not have sex when either partner has sores on the penis or vulva, genital warts or unusual discharge.
  • Avoid partners who use IV drugs or have had many other sexual partners, an STD, or unprotected homosexual intercourse.
  • Do not mix sex with alcohol or illegal substances. Doing so lessens the ability to practice safer sex.
  • Seek healthcare right away if an STD or exposure to an STD is suspected.
Do not hesitate to call a healthcare professional:
  • if an STD or exposure to an STD is a possibility
  • if unprotected sex occurred and pregnancy or an STD is suspected
  • if sexual activity causes emotional or psychological stress

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