Safe sex is all about protecting yourself and your partner(s) against sexually transmitted infections (STIs or STDs) and unwanted pregnancies. It’s all about having good communication and making sure that barrier protection is a priority.
Protecting yourself doesn’t have to be boring or difficult. Check out these safe sex tips from the pros to see how you can make sex safer and more fun.
Wash your hands
Hands contain many germs that are happy to transfer to your vulva, vagina and urinary tract, spreading things like yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis. These germs can also be transferred via oral sex, so washing your hands is a non-negotiable when it comes to safe sex.
Condoms prevent bodily fluids, including semen, from coming into contact with your partner’s penis, anus or mouth and can help reduce the risk of STIs, like chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. However, they do not prevent all STIs and can break or tear.
Practice safer sex by using a barrier, like condoms, internal condoms or dental dams every time you have oral, anal or vaginal sex. It’s also a good idea to get tested regularly for STIs and STDs.
Don’t share sex toys
It may sound obvious, but sharing sex toys increases your risk of catching or transmitting an STI. The bacteria on the toy can remain even after cleaning, causing infection. This can also lead to other health issues like urinary tract infections, especially if the bacteria from the toy makes its way up into the urethra.
Instead, opt for sex toys that are made from non-porous materials, such as glass, silicone, and Pyrex. This is a safer choice, and it will be easier to sterilize or disinfect. Using a condom in conjunction with cleaning is always recommended. This will provide the most protection from STIs. Also, avoid dildos that are more than 1.5 inches wide.
Don’t touch your partner’s genitals
STIs (sexually transmitted infections) can spread through bodily fluids like semen and vaginal fluids. They can also spread through skin-to-skin contact, which often happens when people touch each other’s genitals and mouth.
Condoms reduce but do not eliminate the risk of STIs because they can break or tear. Using lubricant with a condom can help reduce the chances of it breaking or tearing.
Sharing sex toys can also spread STIs because they may have blood or vaginal fluids on them. Instead, use a barrier like a condom or internal condom, a dental dam, or latex surgical gloves. This will help protect you and your partner from sexually transmitted infections and make sex safer.
Don’t touch your partner’s mouth or eyes
Many older adults are staying sexually active thanks to improved health, longer lifespans and more open attitudes toward sexuality. But sex in older adulthood may be different from sex in younger years and could be affected by disabilities, illnesses or surgery-induced changes in body structure.
Touching a partner’s mouth or eyes increases the risk of spreading certain STIs like gonorrhea, chlamydia and herpes. This is because these infections can be spread through the lining of the mouth, anus and vagina or skin-to-skin contact such as hand-mouth, genital touching and body rubbing. Touching a partner’s mouth or eye also increases the chance of contaminating a condom with semen, vaginal fluid or blood.
Use a barrier
Using a barrier (like condoms, internal or “female” condoms, dental dams, or latex or nitrile gloves) each time you have oral, vaginal, or anal sex and before any sexual activity that may spread STIs is crucial. Barrier methods protect against pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
It is also important to discuss your sex history with any sexual partners, get regular STI testing, and use protection consistently. Practicing safe sex helps reduce the risk of infection, while still allowing you to enjoy pleasure. If you have any questions about safe sex, speak with your healthcare provider or contact a sexual health specialist. They will be happy to help you stay informed.
Don’t drink alcohol or take drugs
Having sex under the influence of alcohol or drugs reduces your ability to use safer sexual practices. This can lead to non-consensual sex, STIs, or unwanted pregnancy.
It’s also important not to have oral, vaginal or anal sex without protection. This can spread STIs, including HIV, herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, hepatitis B and warts.
It’s always smart to talk openly with your partner about sex, their behaviors, their history and choices for protection. This prevents making heat-of-the-moment decisions that could result in long-term regrets. It also opens the door to talking about getting tested for STIs. This is an essential step for all sex partners. Getting tested for STIs is easy and anonymous.
Get tested for STIs
Getting tested for STIs is an important part of practicing safe sex. Some STIs can cause serious damage over time, even if you have no symptoms or don’t know you have them. STIs can also spread to other people, especially during unprotected sex or through non-penetrative activities like finger play and oral sex.
It’s not always easy to talk about sexual health with a partner, but it can help prevent heat-of-the-moment decisions that lead to regret. Don’t rely on your partners to remember condoms or birth control, though. Everyone is responsible for their own health. See the STI page [Link] for more information about testing and treatment options.
Don’t share condoms
Whether you learned about safe sex in Sex Ed class or from your healthcare provider, it’s important to remember that protection is essential.
Condoms can help prevent pregnancy and the spread of STIs such as HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, herpes and HPV. They can even help stop a woman from developing an HIV-resistant strain of the virus.
Make sure you carry a pack of condoms at all times, and that they are stored away from heat (for example, don’t store them in your wallet). Check the use-by date, and avoid using lotions or petroleum jelly, which can break down latex condoms. Practice inserting and removing internal condoms to get comfortable with them before you start sexual activity.