What does “safe sex” mean? It can mean many different things to many different people.
It can mean protecting yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Syphilis, and many more.
It can mean feeling secure and safe around the person with which you are intimate.
It can mean using contraception to prevent pregnancy.
It can mean being intimate in other ways besides traditional penis-vagina sex.
Today’s blog will address each of these ideas.
Most of us are aware that condoms can help prevent STIs, especially diseases like Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, HIV/AIDS, and Hepatitis. But condoms can’t protect you from things like Herpes (which, once contracted, stays with you for life) or genital warts. That is because a condom covers the penis, but not the testicles. And viruses like herpes and HPV (the virus that causes genital warts, among other things) are spread through contact. The testicles aren’t covered and anywhere they touch, the virus can be spread. Did you know that there is such a thing as a female condom? A woman can take steps to protect herself by purchasing a female condom. It is like a piece of Saran wrap that lays over the perineum (the vagina, buttocks, etc) and prevents any skin-to-skin contact of the male genitals to the female genitals.
What about feeling safe around the person you are going to have sex with? With the “hook up” apps available today, it is a tricky thing. Apps like Tinder and Grindr allow the customer to find a random partner for a quick introduction. Obviously, the couple can do what they like once they meet. It is risky to do this, but not a new idea. The apps make it quicker and easier and the customer just uses the cell phone instead of prowling the streets.
Contraception to prevent pregnancy is a fabulous gift from medicine. It allows couples to plan children according to their timeline. There are so many choices today, including condoms, combined hormonal contraception (like “the pill”, “the patch” and Nuvaring), long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs, like the IUD, the depo shot, and an implantable rod that goes in the arm), and permanent sterilization for both men and women. Contraception is a HUGE topic and deserves its own blog, but just know that there are many options, so you should never have to go without.
Regarding having sex without penetration of the penis into the vagina, it seems that many couples are quite creative. Oral sex has grown in popularity (or at least the media makes it seem that way). It certainly takes away the risk of pregnancy, but it certainly DOES NOT take away the risk of STIs. One example is HPV. As mentioned above, HPV is a virus that is spread through contact. HPV can be on the lips, gums, and in the throat. It can cause oropharyngeal (head and neck) cancer. In fact, oropharyngeal cancer is expected to exceed cervical cancer (also caused by HPV) by the year 2020. Good news… the HPV vaccine can help prevent the virus and therefore help prevent all cancers associated with HPV.
Safe sex is a hugely important topic that requires much more time than I can give it in a blog. Talk to your doctor to get more detailed information. It could save your life.
Dr. Deborah Herchelroath