When we think about safe sex, the first thing that often comes to mind is the use of condoms. Whether we use them consistently, had one rip, dealt with awkward fumbling over packaging or made some dumb condom-less decisions in our lives, it is often one of the only things we are taught to consider when it comes to safer sex and sexual health. Well, there is more to it than just a lubricated rubber.
1. Type of Condom
There are three main types of condom materials on the market: latex, synthetic and natural membranes (think: lambskin). Latex is the most popular type, and when used consistently it is highly effective in preventing pregnancy and transmission of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). If you’re adding lube, you should stick to water-based lubricants as oils can weaken the latex. Synthetic condoms (often polyurethane) provide similar protection as latex ones, except you are free to use water or silicone-based lubes. Natural membrane condoms are great for pregnancy prevention, but actually allow certain STIs to pass through the pores. Although there is less research available, women’s condoms (often made of latex) provide protection from STIs. Always remember to check the expiry date.
2. Oral Sex & Finger Play
If there is an exchange of bodily fluids, then it is important to protect yourself. This includes oral sex (genital/anal-oral contact) and finger play (genital/anal-finger contact). Lucky for us, there are protective barriers made just for these purposes! Dental dams are typically used to cover the vulva or the anus. Latex or nitrile gloves are typically used to prevent the transfer of bodily fluids between orifices or partners. Male condoms should also be used during oral sex and often come in flavored options.
3. STI Testing
STI testing should be performed for two reasons: if you are symptomatic or if you are asymptomatic but meet certain criteria like engaging in sexual activities with a new partner or multiple partners, forced sexual activity, or follow up of a previous STI treatment. Asymptomatic STIs can still be transmitted to partners. Untreated STIs (whether or not you have symptoms) can lead to all sorts of complications like infertility, chronic pelvic pain and facilitation of HIV transmission. If you aren’t sure, then it is safer to get tested.
4. Birth Control
While a major topic in itself, we can’t fail to mention how important birth control is for safe sex practices. Male and female condoms are the only forms of birth control that can also prevent STI transmission (except natural membranes). If you are capable of getting pregnant, don’t want a child and are in contact with semen, then you should consider your preventative options.
5. Sex Toys
Firstly, you need to know that there are sex toys made from safe materials (silicone, metal, glass, ABS plastic and treated wood) and unsafe sex toys (porous materials and toxic materials). For obvious reasons, you should stay away from toxic toys. Secondly, any sex toy that you use – regardless of material – needs to be sterilized when sharing amongst different people. They also need to be sterilized if going from anal to vaginal on any person. Protective barriers like synthetic condoms can be used to help reduce bacteria and make them easier to clean.
There are two types of communication with safe sex. It is necessary to discuss which safe sex practices you will be using: which barrier methods, any STI concerns and which birth control methods. You also need to take care of emotional health by discussing consent and any limits that need to be adhered to. Everyone should feel comfortable engaging in sexual activities. Communication is an essential part of safe sex.
Safe sex isn’t just about condoms, but it definitely keeps everyone healthy, feeling good and safe to have some fun!
Rebecca from A Couple of Kinks
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