Safer Sex Practices
What do we mean by Safer Sex?
Safer sex refers to anything we do to lower our, and our partners’ risk, of sexually transmitted infections (a.k.a. sexually transmitted diseases). Below are some ways to engage in safer sexual activity. We've also included some bonus categories that might make sexual experience more mentally or emotionally safe as well.
It can feel unsexy to think about sexually transmitted infections (or even unplanned pregnancy). But, thinking about how safer sex practices align with your values or beliefs or how having open and honest conversations brings more satisfaction to sexual activity or how you can add lube to condoms for more pleasure can all help you make choices that are safer in you sexual life.
Abstinence is the practice of not engaging in sexual activity. Although, that can mean a lot of different things for different people. For some it only refers to vaginal sex, for others it refers to any form of sexual activity. For abstinence to be 100% effective at preventing STDs and pregnancy it must be done for all forms of sexual activity - all the time, every time.
Substances like alcohol and other drugs often reduce inhibitions and can lead to increased risk-taking. People become less likely to use barrier methods, more likely to engage in sexual activity with someone they don't know, and can lead to less sexual desire and sexual response.
Lube is one of the easiest ways to make sex less painful and more pleasurable. It can help keep condoms from breaking (if it's not oil-based lube) and help prevent micro-tears in the vagina or anus which can be a place for sexually transmitted infections to enter the body. Check out this great Buzzfeed list to learn more about lube.
Communication is sexy. Clear communication before and after sex not only makes the experience more pleasurable and satisfying for everyone involved it also helps keep everyone safe physically and emotionally. Not sure where to start or are afraid it will be embarrassing? Don't worry! Scarleteen has some great tips for you. Or visit our Communication is Key page.
Barrier methods cover part of the genitals, protecting you and your partner from body fluids and some skin-to-skin contact, which can both spread STIs. Learn how to properly use external condoms, internal condoms and dental dams to help protect you and your partner(s). And you can get free external condoms at GVSU.
Pregnancy tests are easy, accurate ways to find out if you or your partner is pregnant. They are usually inexpensive and can be found at many pharmacies and grocery stores. You can also get a pregnancy test at Kent County Health Department, Ottawa County Department of Public Health, GV Family Health Center or the Campus Health Center.
While not all birth control methods protect against STIs, they can help prevent unplanned or unintended pregnancy. Check out Bedsider.org to learn more about birth control methods. Talk to your health care provider, the Ottawa County Department of Public Health or Planned Parenthood in Grand Rapids to see which birth control option is best for you.
Mutual masturbation can come with some risk of STDs because there can be contact with bodily fluids of the other person (vaginal fluids or semen). But, solo masturbation is risk free and has some benefits as well: you can be more comfortable with your own body, it can relieve headache pain, and it can increase sexual self-esteem. Check out this Masturbation 101 for more info!
If you use sex toys, whether alone or with a partner, it's important to clean them properly! Without doing so, toys can cause bacterial infections or sexually transmitted infections. Brown University has a great resource on how to properly clean your sex toys depending on which material they are made from.
Many people watch, read or look at porn. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. It's also not wrong to not approve of porn and not want to be exposed to it. Most people can use porn with few negative consequences. However, watching porn can also create issues like unrealistic expectations and, with that, relationship dissatisfaction.
If you are sexually active, getting tested for STDs is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health! There are many locations near campus that offer STD testing. And, there is a partnership with Ottawa County Department of Public Health to offer monthly testing on campus during the school year. Find out more about getting tested at GVSU.