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How to stay safe sexually the best ways to protect yourself from stds

How to stay safe sexually the best ways to protect yourself from stds

If you're tempted to skip this chapter because sex toys pose little threat to your sexual health, please don't! Sure, when you enjoy sex toys alone, you can't give or get a sexually transmitted disease, but if you are using toys with a partner, you'll want to know how they can be shared safely. And because sex toys are often incorporated into other types of sex play, it's helpful to review basic safer sex guidelines.

WHAT IS SAFER SEX?

Let's just start with a brief primer. Safer sex is intended to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). There are more than fifty known STDs, the most fearsome of which is HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, a life-threatening illness. STDs are either bacterial (chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea), which can be treated and often cured with antibiotics, or viral (herpes, HIV, genital warts), which can be treated but aren't always curable. Safer sex practices minimize the exchange of bodily fluids like semen, blood, and saliva, as these provide the conduit for viruses and bacterial infections to pass through. Activities like dry humping, dry kissing, and massage are considered absolutely safe, but other sexual activities, usual variations of oral, anal, and vaginal sex, require some kind of latex barrier (condoms, gloves) for them to be considered safer sex. (It's called “safer” because even with a barrier, you're still at risk of it possibly failing.)

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ARE YOU AT RISK FOR AN STD?

Basically, if you're sexually active you are at risk for contracting an STD. Currently, one in five people has an STD, so your odds of hooking up with someone who has one are pretty good. Given that a lot of folks have STDs and don't always know it because some symptoms aren't detectable (chlamydia and genital warts, for example), practicing safer sex just makes good sense, as does getting tested once a year. If you're in a monogamous relationship and you've both tested negatively recently, your risk is negligible. If you are taking an HIV test after unprotected sex, bear in mind that HIV can live in the body for up to six months without being detected, so for definitive results, the test should be taken after this period.

BREAK OUT THE CONDOMS

You may not have realized it before, but one of the key components to safer sex is a well-known if little appreciated, sex toy: the condom. How many other sex accessories do you know that can prevent pregnancy and disease transmission, while also coming in a splendid array of sizes, colors, textures, and flavors? Condoms are the star players in a lineup of safer sex accessories that also includes dental dams (used for oral sex), latex gloves (used for anal finger penetration), or finger cots (used externally, if you have cuts on your fingers). But for a lot of people, condoms still feel like a necessary evil. Most of us are familiar with the old wearing-condoms-is-like-taking-a-shower-with-a-raincoat analogy, but isn't it really all about attitude? Consider the man for whom condoms elicit an erotic thrill because they remind him of his youth, when carrying condoms in his pocket meant he might be getting laid soon!

So give condoms a break, and give them a chance. If you want more sensation on your penis, try a thin one (Kimono) or one with a pouchy tip (Pleasure Plus or Inspiral). If you're allergic to latex, try one made of polyurethane (Avanti). If you want more friction, get an unlubed condom, and if you want more glide, add extra lube to your condom. If you hate the taste of latex, get a fruit- or mint-flavored condom, or add your own flavor. If you're a woman and you want to take control, try a female condom (Reality). Finally, make sure you know how to put the condom on correctly. Always unroll it the right way, put a dab of lube in the tip, and, before you start unrolling it down the shaft, squeeze the air out of the tip. Hold on to the base when you're done, so the condom doesn't slip off.

SEX TOYS AND SAFE SEX

If you're using your sex toys alone, just remember not to insert a dildo into your vagina after it has already been in your anus, as this can transmit bacteria. Toys made of rubber, cyberskin, or other porous materials are best used with condoms over them, as dirt and bacteria can be difficult to scrub out of the material. Toys made of nonporous materials like silicone, plastic, latex, and acrylic can be cleaned with hot soapy water and left to air dry. If you have any questions about the toy material or cleanup requirements, contact the company where you bought it.

If you're planning on sharing a toy like a dildo, put a fresh condom on it each time you use it. Or consider investing in two toys one for each of you. Keep in mind that while sex toy play is a pretty safe activity, it becomes unsafe if you are engaging in other forms of unprotected sex. For example, if you like wearing a butt plug during intercourse, you still need a condom over that penis if you intend to practice safer sex

SAFE SEX IS SMART SEX

Safe sex is smart sex because you're taking responsibility for your own and your partner's sexual health. This is a sign of respect, self-confidence, and sexual agency. It's too easy to let passion overwhelm your common sense, so make a commitment to yourself beforehand to practice safer sex. If you need some practice asserting your desires, there are some good websites and books to help you role-play. I've given you only the most basic facts about STDs and safer sex here. If you want more information, contact the Centers for Disease Control or a sex information hotline (see Resources). Smart sex also involves advance planning about birth control, so please take some time to research your contraceptive options.

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