Whether you sat through abstinence-only sex ed or an ever so slightly better version, your given options of safe sex probably consisted of “don’t have sex”, or “use a condom”. But safe sex is itself an inaccurate term–it should really be “safer sex”. There are ways to reduce spread of STIs and unwanted pregnancy, but there is no way to completely reduce risks. Don’t let that stop you from having fun though! The important thing is to be aware of your risks, do what you can to prevent them, and know what to do if mishaps occur. Here’s our top 10 tips for having safer sex to keep you and your lovers healthy:
1. Get tested frequently & regularly
Many STIs are asymptomatic, meaning they won’t show symptoms–leaving you unaware of them unless you are regularly tested. Being tested every 3 months keeps you aware and healthy, but also your partner(s) as well. Ash makes this process easy and convenient by sending you a kit to your home every few months. Subscribe now for 50% off your first kit, and you won’t need to worry for the rest of the year!
2. Use barrier methods
Male condoms aren’t the only barrier method that can make sex safer. Female condoms, dental dams and spermicide are other methods that can be used to prevent pregnancy and STIs. They are important for not just anal and vaginal sex, but oral too!
3. Use preventative medications as necessary to have peace of mind
There are a few meds you can preventatively take to prevent the spread of STIs. If you have a high risk of being exposed to HIV, consider pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a once daily pill, to decrease your risk of getting HIV. If you have HIV, make sure you’re receiving care from your doctor and receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART), to make the viral load in your blood is undetectable. This will keep you healthy, and prevent spread of HIV to your partners as well!
If you have herpes (HSV-1 or HSV-2, AKA genital herpes or cold sores), consider taking an antiviral medication if you’re prone to outbreaks, or if you feel the onset of prodrome (symptoms indicating an outbreak is about to happen). This will decrease the chances of spreading herpes to your partner(s). Medication can give you peace of mind especially if you know you have sex planned in the near future!
4. Don’t brush your teeth immediately before or after oral sex
Yes, first off, you can spread STIs to your mouth, it’s a thing (and spread STIs from your mouth to other areas as well). Brushing can cause gum irritation or small cuts that can increase your chances of STI exposure. Use mouthwash instead if you need to freshen up.
5. If you decide to go for anal play, don’t switch back to vaginal or oral play without cleaning first
Before transitioning from anal to vaginal or oral sex, make sure to switch out your barrier method and clean the areas on contact. This prevents STI spread between the different areas, and prevents other infections from happening (i.e. UTI)s) by making sure butt bacteria doesn’t hop over to the vaginal area or mouth!
6. Be generous with the lube
Lube helps reduce friction and prevent injury during sex. It also prevents tearing of barrier methods and microscopic abrasions of the skin, which lowers your chances of spreading STIs. Use lube to not only have safer sex, but to increase pleasure!
7. Communicate with sexual partners about STI status and testing
Communication is key! Discuss with sexual partner(s) about their STI status, the last time they have been tested and their usual sex safe practices. These conversations can be awkward and , especially if you have an STI. But–find tips on how to have these conversations in our guide to disclosing your STI status.
8. Clean your sex toys
Whether you’re using them for masturbation or during sex, it’s essential to clean your sex toys. This includes when switching between your own body parts, between partners, and at the end of every use. Most toys can be thoroughly washed with soap and warm water to reduce STI transmission and increase cleanliness.
9. Engage in activities that don’t involve intimate touching with others
Sex can’t be defined in a single way. Solo masturbation, mutual masturbation, talking dirty, and phone sex are all great no-risk options to engage in intimacy when you just don’t feel like having penetrative sex, when you’re having an outbreak, or…whenever really. We love a good cuddle sesh!
10. Be aware of your options so when mishaps happen, you’re prepared
In the instance that a condom breaks, or something else goes wrong, know there are options that can assist in preventing pregnancy and HIV/STIs! Emergency contraceptives, such as Plan B, can prevent pregnancy. PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) is an option if you think that you have been exposed to HIV, which can prevent infection with 72 hours of exposure.