Safe Sex

Safe Sex – Making Sex Safer

Sex is, as we know, great fun and very tempting. You meet a new person, you both feel attracted, you have a few drinks, and before you know it you’re in bed together hopefully having a great time.

Unfortunately, a few days later, you find you have an itchy vagina or a discharge from your penis – and alas, it’s off to the sexually transmitted infections clinic for you.

Unfortunately, the above could also be true if you are in a (long-term) relationship. Some lovers are unfaithful.

Aside from the inherent betrayal that this entails, if you are unfaithful to your partner, at the very least have protected sex using a condom.

You may be willing to take risks by having an affair, but remember your partner has not been given a choice at all. At the very least, be responsible and protect his or her health!


A few decades ago, this common scenario might have been inconvenient but it could be rapidly sorted out with a dose of antibiotics if you were lucky enough to have access to free health care.

Nowadays, though, things are not so simple: unprotected sex can kill you if you catch HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This is a disease in which your immune system stops working effectively and you die of horrible infections of the lungs, brain or other organs.

Think about that. In the moment when you decide to have sex with someone you don’t know or who had unprotected sex with someone, who wasn’t trustworthy recently, without a condom, you can be signing your own death warrant.

And its not just about trusting the person you are with at that point, but also about how careful the person was your new lover has been with before you. It’s a sobering thought, or at least it ought to be, but unfortunately the facts seem to suggest that the message about safer sex isn’t getting through to the groups most at risk.

Among men who have sex with men, one recent study by the Center For Disease Control in seven US cities showed that 25% were infected with HIV, and 48% of those infected were unaware of their infection. Many of these men will also have sex with women, which may be why the total number of people diagnosed with HIV in the USA is fast approaching one million. This total increases by more than 40,000 each year. 

Around half of all people with AIDS were probably infected with HIV through male-to-male sexual contact. People exposed through heterosexual contact comprise around 16% of the total. However, the number of heterosexual infections has recently increased dramatically.

Reliable sources suggest heterosexual contact led to about one third of new AIDS diagnoses and new HIV diagnoses in 2003. Just to scare you a little more, in New York one in every thirty adults is estimated to have HIV. More than 18% of all adults and adolescents diagnosed with AIDS have been female. Among new AIDS diagnoses in 2003, and among new HIV diagnoses, this proportion was 27%. (Source.)

And in case you think a bit of a fling on vacation is harmless fun, in countries outside of North America, Europe and Australia, the majority of sexual transmission of HIV takes place by the heterosexual route. (Source.)

“But I’m not in a high risk group,” you may say, “and in any case, I won’t get infected, I don’t meet that kind of person.”

The truth is that anyone and everyone can be carrying a sexually transmitted infection – including the HIV virus.

There are even some people who have it who won’t tell you they’ve got it before you have sex with them. “Ok,” you say, “but these days no-one dies from catching HIV – there are drugs to stop AIDS.”

And that’s true up to a point, for even though they are expensive and have a lot of side-effects, these drugs can indeed extend your life by inhibiting the deterioration of your immune system through the HIV virus into full-blown AIDS. However, no-one knows what the long term effects of taking them may be.

And while some doctors regard HIV infection as just another chronic illness which necessitates taking drugs and constantly seeing doctors (reducing it almost to the status of an inconvenience), others take a different view.

Jeffrey Lennox, Professor of Medicine at Emory University, for example, says: “People are getting infected in their early 20s and 30s. It is hard to predict that in 20 years they will still be alive. People like to say HIV infection is like having adult-onset diabetes, where you can live for 40 years with the disease. We certainly hope that this the case with HIV, but it is hard to predict. It is hard to say that will happen for sure.”

You also need to keep in mind that HIV/AIDS may be in the news at the moment, but apart from this virus there are many other sexually transmitted infections, which can also be very unpleasant and incurable.

Please read our page on sexually transmitted diseases to get the full picture. None of these diseases are pleasant and some may leave you with ongoing health problems such as chlamydia, which can cause infertility in women, genital herpes which is incurable or genital warts and the HPV virus that can cause cervical cancer.

Unless you want to play Russian Roulette with your life, what this all amounts to is that your sexual choices outside a regular relationship are these: (1) no sex with partners whose sexual history you’re unsure about or who may not be completely open with you and who hasn’t recently been tested for STDs; (2) sex without intercourse; (3) intercourse with a condom.

Having unprotected sex doesn’t just mean risking your own health right now. It can also mean creating complications for your entire future, any person you will deeply love and any children you might want to have. Remember that you and your health are important, you deserve proper care and consideration!

No sex please, we’re keeping safe

Abstinence is not a choice we support. Temptation is all around us, so thinking you can stay abstinent can be a way of you setting yourself up to fail. Besides which, in my view, not having sex is an unnatural way of life, even if it suits some people (Catholic priests and ascetics, for example. Hmmm…).

The practical problem is that if you decide to stay abstinent and you get into a situation where you have the option of sex, you may not be prepared for it (for example, by not carrying a condom) if you opt to take this route. So plan ahead: decide what you’ll do and say if the opportunity for sex arises and you don’t want to take it.

Additionally, although sexually transmitted diseases are unpleasant and dangerous, that is no reason to feel scared and avoid sex all together. Living always entails risks, but with the right information and some easy precautions, such as using a condom, sex can be great fun, good for your health ( as a cardiovascular work out), and very beneficial to your emotional well being.

Don’t let people scare you from enjoying sexuality. However, do inform yourself and make good, responsible decisions for yourself and your lover.

Sex without intercourse

There are many ways to make love without penetrative or oral sex. Mutual masturbation, ejaculating over your own or someone else’s body, provided your semen or vaginal fluids don’t enter your partner’s body, can be fun, especially if you use a lube to make masturbation easier (a water-based lube for her vulva, and either a water-based or oil-based for his penis. But remember oil-based lubes rot condoms pretty quickly, so you don’t want to mix this type of sex-play with vaginal or anal penetration).

Oral sex is another good approach to avoiding penetration of the vagina or rectum; even so, some people still think there may be a  risk of HIV transmission through oral sex.

If a man ejaculates into his partner’s mouth and she has a cut or abrasion in her mouth or gums that is certainly risky: many people bleed slightly when they brush their teeth, so it’s probably best not to ejaculate inside a partner’s mouth unless you’re sure of each other’s sexual history.

HIV can be found in saliva, but there seems to be no recorded case of infection through saliva. Reasons why? Probably because the lining of the mouth is less prone to infection than the wall of the vagina or rectum; it’s also been suggested that saliva inhibits the virus.

Current thinking is that HIV is transmitted when blood, breast milk, vaginal fluids, semen or menstrual blood get into your blood stream through a mucus membrane (lining of the mouth, nose, vagina, rectum) or a cut in your skin. HIV can also be transmitted by sharing needles if you’re injecting drugs intravenously.

However, other STDs are perfectly capable of being transmitted through oral sex, so don’t be complacent about oral sex. Genital herpes or genital warts may not be as deadly as HIV/AIDS, but they are also incurable and can create a lot of ongoing health problems for yourself and your future partners.

Juts in case you don’t know, the greatest risk of infection is from unprotected anal sex: the lining of the rectum is thin and unsuited to the rough and tumble of penile thrusting – it bleeds easily. 

Finally, if you want more non-penetrative sex fun, try massage, frottage (rubbing your bodies together), masturbation, kissing, and using other parts of the body as stimulation – men may like to get off by rubbing their erect penis between their partner’s breasts or buttocks, for example. Women can enjoy getting off as their partner masturbates them or gives them head. 

Sex with a condom

During the war, so my father tells me, the troops were issued with a condom in a hard-wearing box, complete with instructions to wash and dry it after use, ready for next time.

I guess sex with a rubber tire around your penis didn’t strike horny young soldiers as much fun, which probably accounts for the high levels of gonorrhea and syphilis among the troops.

It’s a legacy of those days that makes us think condoms are still thick enough to reduce pleasure and make sex much less enjoyable. 

What’s the truth?  First of all, condoms are effective in preventing pregnancy and transmission of HIV and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) when they are used correctly. This means

  • Putting the condom on after you get an erection, preferably as part of sex-play so you don’t lose your erection. Always put on the condom before you get close to your partner’s vagina or rectum. It’s not enough to put on a condom after some unprotected thrusting before you or your partner ejaculates.

  • Ensuring no air is trapped in the teat as you unroll the condom onto your penis. You can avoid trapping air by squeezing and holding the teat as you put on the condom. This way you can fill it with your ejaculate without shooting the condom off with the force of your massive ejaculation.

  • Unrolling it all the way down your penis. Keep unrolling the condom until all of it or most of it is unrolled. As you thrust the condom will probably move a bit, but if there is plenty of unrolled condom at the base or your penis, it will not come off all together.

  • During thrusting, just stop once in a while and check the base of your penis to make sure the condom is still there. You don’t have to withdraw your penis completely to do this. Although this might feel like a bit of an intrusion, taking things a bit slower during sex may do a lot for your partner and your own enjoyment of sex.

  • Withdrawing from the vagina or rectum before your penis collapses after you have ejaculated or if your erection is fading, and hold the condom on while withdrawing so no semen leaks out.

  • Use a new condom for each penetration even if you haven’t come before and you just needed to take a break to let your erection recover.

  • Using the right sized condom (it’s not true that one size fits all. At least look for “snugger fit” or “tight fit” if you are less well-endowed and “maxim” or “gold” or other such euphemisms if you are well-endowed).

For men: Having conducted a lot of research on a personal basis, I can promise you that the supposed loss of those glorious sexual sensations you get when enjoying vaginal or anal thrusting will be minimal if you use the right sized condom made of a modern thin and extra sensitive latex.

Most importantly, condoms will work well for you and your partner as they will allow you to enjoy safer sex without worrying. Both men and women need to be prepared by working out in advance which condom brand suits you and then carrying it with you into those situations where casual sex might occur.

A man can get the size that fits him best, but it’s harder for a woman to do this, as she doesn’t know what size penis her lover may pull out of his pants.

Even so, if as a woman you enjoy sex and youi are not in a long term committed relationship, then you have a responsibility to be prepared to protect yourself. So even though you may not quite know which condom might fit your lover, as a woman you can still carry an average size condom that works for you.

A few other pieces of advice: 

Always use water-based lubricants with condoms never oil- based substances as they will rot the latex. Also, you may want to use lubricants quite generously to get rid of any unpleasant rubbing sensations for your lover, who isn’t wearing the condom.

If you’re allergic to latex condoms, use polyurethane ones like Durex Avanti. 

An interesting alternative to the male condom is the female condom, which slips into the vagina and is held in place by a ring outside the vulva (see below).

And there’s a new breed of condom with a huge head (known as “pleasure shaped”) which is designed to allow the glans to move around freely inside its latex coat.

These condoms are reputed to improve the experience of sex with a condom to the point where the man wouldn’t know the couple’s using one.

Quite how the experience is for his partner, I’m sorry to say I can’t report!

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