Americans’ awareness of sexual health has improved significantly in recent decades, as some of the cultural taboos around talking about sexual matters have been broken. The identification of HIV/AIDs during the 1980s also had a major impact, encouraging all Americans to take their sexual health more seriously. But there is still a lot of misinformation out there, and many people still feel reluctant to discuss their sexual health, even with medical professionals.
If you are concerned about your sexual health, it is a good idea to contact one of your local STD testing centers, and it is particularly important to find a center if you have been exposed to any form of sexual health risk. In the long term, safe sex is primarily about awareness.
What is safer sex?
Practicing safer sex is the most effective way to avoid contracting a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD). STDs are infections or viruses that are spread as a result of sexual activity. In theory, if you have any form of sexual contact with another person, including oral, anal or vaginal sex, or genital skin-to-skin contact you could be at risk of contracting a STD.
Understanding the risk
The risk of contracting an STD varies depending on the form your sexual activity takes. Some sex acts such as masturbation are risk free, while others, including touching a partner’s genitals, using sex toys or oral sex are considered to be low risk.
Oral sex is not risk-free, as it is still possible to contract STDs such as herpes, HPV, hepatitis B and syphilis, but the riskiest form of sexual activity is vaginal or anal sex without the use of a condom. This is because many STDs are carried in body fluids, so unprotected sex can in theory expose you to every form of STD and is therefore extremely unsafe.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Unprotected vaginal or anal sex involves a high risk of contracting a number of STDs, some of which can be life-inhibiting or even fatal. STDs spread in this way include:
- Hepatitis B
- Pubic lice
In addition, some STDs can infect your mouth, lips and throat as well as your genitals, so unprotected oral sex can put you at risk of contracting the following:
- Hepatitis B
Practical safer sex methods
Safer sex is about being responsible with your sexual health and minimizing risk, rather than eliminating it entirely. The only way you can be completely sure of never contracting any STD is never to have sexual contact with another person. But most of us will be intimate with another person at some point in our lives, so total abstention is unrealistic advice.
One practical method is to stick to sexual activities that can’t spread STDs or that are very low risk, such as mutual masturbation. But for any sexual activity that involves touching another person’s genitals or having any form of sex, you should take steps to protect yourself.
The most effective form of protection is to use barriers, such as condoms, female condoms or dental dams, every time you have vaginal, oral or anal sex. These methods work by forming a barrier, protecting you from the risk of STDs that are spread by bodily fluids and certain skin-to-skin contact.
Another important component of sexual health is to be tested regularly, even if you practice safer sex consistently. While some STDs can result in recognizable symptoms, often there are no signs of infection, so testing is the only way to be certain whether you have contracted an STD, and by making it a regular part of your health regime, you will have extra peace of mind, as well as the assurance that you are being responsible and not inadvertently putting others at risk.
Alcohol and safer sex
Another important factor in maintaining your sexual health is to refrain from drinking too heavily or taking drugs. Being intoxicated can lead to you making poorer decisions and taking part in sexual activities that can put you at risk. When you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it is harder to remember the basics of good sexual health, and this increases the chances of contracting STDs.
Sexual health isn’t something that many of us feel comfortable talking about, but if you are sexually active, it is important to take the issue seriously. Practicing safer sex and getting tested on a regular basis will go a long way to ensuring that you avoid contracting STDs and stay safe.