Why We Need National Condom Week

HaveAcondom-1National Condom Week 2015 is here!  From Valentine’s Day to February 21st, we are celebrating by providing a new article every day by prominent sexual health advocates focused on condom use and education. To kick it off, here is a little trivia for you:

If National Condom Week started campaigning in the 1970s, a time when the birth control pill had come into fashion and the HIV crisis was just around the corner, how is it still relevant today?

Here are seven important reasons why Condom Week remains pertinent today.

This article was originally published here

BY LARA WORCESTER | CondomMonologues.com

What is condom week?

Condom week is a national campaign to raise awareness not only about the importance of safer sex, but also how condoms can add to your sexual pleasure. Yes, contrary to popular belief, condoms don’t make sex less good. Many studies have found that those who report condoms reduce pleasure are men and women who do not use condoms, or don’t use them often. In other words, people who use condoms often- because they approach it with a better attitude and because they’ve learned what condoms they like- report greater pleasure with protected sex. Attitude, condom education and experience all play a role in sexual satisfaction.

That, my friends, is why we need National Condom Week.

Condom Week lands at a time in our calendar when people are puckered up with Valentine’s sweets. From Valentine’s Day to February 21st, while the air is plush with intimacy, what better time to integrate safer sex into the national conscience and give out lots of free condoms!

Condom Week originally began at the University of California in the 1970s, and has grown into a educational event for high schools, colleges, family planning organizations, AIDS groups, sexually transmitted disease awareness groups, pharmacies and condom manufacturers. Planned Parenthood and Advocates for Youth are just a few of the hundreds of non-profit organizations who participate in Condom Week, setting up sex education booths at universities all over the country and distributing over 50,000 free condoms. These booths, as well as open public seminars, will discuss topics such as safer oral sex, using lube with condoms, internal condoms, consent, and how to talk safer sex with your lover.

So again, if National Condom Week has been celebrated to raise awareness since the 1970s, why do we still need it today?

Because…

– Only 19 states require that, if provided, sex education in school must be medically, factually or technically accurate. That leaves schools in 31 states without fact-based sex education oversight!

Over 19 million people in the United States are diagnosed with an STI. That number increases dramatically if we account for those who do not know their status.

Two-thirds of all individuals who acquire an STI are younger than 25.

– In 2013, 66 percent of sexually active male high school students reported that they or their partner used a condom at most recent sexual intercourse, compared to only 53 percent of females.

More than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection, and almost 1 in 7 (14%) are unaware of their infection.

– The United States continues to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world (68 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2008)—more than twice that of Canada (27.9 per 1,000) or Sweden (31.4 per 1,000).

If I haven’t convinced you yet to celebrate National Condom Week, jump over to this article by Heather Corinna which debunks all the condom myths you’ve probably faced.

Do your part in public health and stay aware.

condom ad condoms too loose

LARA WORCESTER is co-founder & editor at Condom Monologues and a Lucky Bloke contributor. She’s a published social researcher with a Master’s in Gender & Sexuality studies and has worked with various HIV/AIDS organizations including Stella and the HIV Disclosure Project.

condom-monologuesCONDOM MONOLOGUES Affirming safer sex and sexuality one story at a time… Condom Monologues dispel harmful myths about safe sex and sexual stereotypes that permeate our ways of understanding what is “healthy sexuality”. They accomplish this through sex-positive, pleasure-focused approaches to sexuality that affirm the diversity of people- genders, sexualities, kinks and relationships.
Find them on twitter @CondomMonologue

Happy International Condom Day!

This year the AHF is changing the way youth view condoms.

This year the AHF is changing the way youth view condoms.

What do you get when you combine condom appreciation with today’s global hit song, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams? The best International Condom Day song ever!

On February 13th, the AIDS Health Foundation (AHF) is hosting International Condom Day (ICD)- an annual celebration that promotes STI and accidental pregnancy prevention through free condom distribution and safer sex awareness events around the world, including the United States.

According to Lara Worcester of the Condom Monologues, this year’s celebration inspires a feel-good approach to condom use in exciting new ways. For example, this is the first year the AHF has launched a video series and a theme song to commemorate International Condom Day. Check out the article below for links to over 140 events, the innovative condom promotion video, and the condom song that will spice up your Valentine’s weekend.

This post was originally published here

BY LARA WORCESTER | CondomMonologues.com

Forget the Valentine’s Day candies and roses. What better way to gear up for Vday romance than celebrating International Condom Day! (#ICD2015 to you, Twitter.)

February 13th marks this holiday of awareness as a time to educate and celebrate safer sex. World, be prepared for thousands of free condom dispensaries and numerous safer sex events across 31 countries. In the US, the AHF (AIDS Health Organization) has organized 37 events in 12 states including some “hot zones” like the District of Colombia, which has the highest national rate of HIV in the country; and Mississippi and Texas, two states which have some of the strictest laws against public sex education and (by no coincidence) the highest national average of teen pregnancies.

Indeed, there is plenty to celebrate when it comes to condoms.

The first being that condoms are the most effective method available today that protects against both STIs and accidental pregnancy. Can’t beat that.

Each year, the AHF curates this holiday around a theme. This year’s theme is “Coolness”; that is, “Condoms Are Cool”. Now, before you roll your eyes and think, “Not another lame, out-of-touch attempt to get youth to use condoms,” I challenge you to check out the AHF corresponding video series. They launched a trio of videos related to young people buying condoms at a local corner shop or “bodega”.

Here is the first of the AHF’s “Bodega Nights” video series. Trust me, you have never seen a condom commercial like this one. Unlike traditional public service announcements (PSAs) that are overtly serious and fear-based, this one actually combines condoms with confidence, fun and sexiness.

The coolness doesn’t stop there. In addition to their “Bodega Nights” video series, the AHF also released a catchy party song. It is a condom-related parody of one of today’s global hits, Pharrell Williams’s “Happy”. The hope is to renew attention of the importance of safer sex in a way that will never go out of style.

Because I wrap it
Put it on and get in on, if that’s what you want to do.
Because I wrap it,
Cause you know that you are hot, and these condoms sure are cool.
Because I wrap it
Wrap it, put your hands up, and let yourself be free,
Because I wrap it
Just love your self enough to know that protection is the key.
– “Because I Wrap It” by Danny Fernandez

You can listen to the song and download the lyrics for your Karaoke pleasures here.

View more domestic and international Condom Day events here.

LARA WORCESTER is co-founder & editor at Condom Monologues and a Lucky Bloke contributor. She’s a published social researcher with a Master’s in Gender & Sexuality studies and has worked with various HIV/AIDS organizations including Stella and the HIV Disclosure Project.

condom-monologuesCONDOM MONOLOGUES Affirming safer sex and sexuality one story at a time… Condom Monologues dispel harmful myths about safe sex and sexual stereotypes that permeate our ways of understanding what is “healthy sexuality”. They accomplish this through sex-positive, pleasure-focused approaches to sexuality that affirm the diversity of people- genders, sexualities, kinks and relationships.
Find them on twitter @CondomMonologue

Monogamous? This STI Doesn’t Care

From the award winning documentary, "Under Our Skin" (2009)

From the award winning documentary, “Under Our Skin” (2009)

New research published this year suggests that Lyme disease may be sexually transmitted between humans. These new findings could fundamentally change the way we think about STIs.

The study (headed by microbiologist Marianne Middelveen and an international team of medical researchers) is the first to officially investigate sexual transmission between partners. However, it has been suggested for over a decade that Lyme disease could transmit sexually. The bacteria that causes Lyme is a type of spirochete which is related to the same cork-screw shaped bacteria of syphilis.

“It would certainly explains why the disease is so common,” Dr. Raphael Stricker, one of the researchers of the study stated. According to the CDC, there are 300,000 new cases of Lyme each year and this rate is rapidly increasing making it one of the most urgent epidemics today.

In this article, Melissa White interviews Lyme literate doctors who have recommended patients to use condoms to prevent transmission. She also reached out to people living with Lyme who believe they have transmitted the infection to their sex partner and who wish that their doctors informed them earlier about this possible risk.

This post was originally published on The Good Men Project

BY MELISSA WHITE | LuckyBloke.com

If there were a new sexually transmitted infection (STI, aka STD) on the rise –-say, one that was an unexpected concern, especially to monogamous couples– when would you want to know about it?

Say, when it’s a scientifically proven possibility with mounting evidence –even if it took three to five years before it could be officially confirmed?

And when would you expect government and medical organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) to share this information with you? At what point does a serious potential threat warrant disclosure?

Finally, to what extent and at what point should doctors inform patients? When does it become their responsibility to do so?

It’s important to note that this potential new STD may initially be transmitted even without sexual contact. Your partner may pick it up from a tick in the woods –or be born carrying it. And while currently a “silent” epidemic, the numbers of cases have been climbing so rapidly that it won’t be kept under the radar for much longer.

Perhaps most alarming is the lack of a reliable test or conclusive go-to cure for this infection. Also, with over 300,000 new cases a year in the United States alone, a global epidemic is perhaps already underway.

In fact, leading researchers are likening it to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, due to similar rapidly rising infection rates, as well as a widespread lack of comprehensive testing and treatment. Many conclude that a majority of those infected do not get properly diagnosed until years after contracting it, when chronic stages have already set in.

The infection gains traction in the body in much the same way syphilis does. Also, like syphilis, the symptoms of the infection are so varied that it has been called “the great imitator”, making it perhaps the most complicated, multilayered infectious disease today. Some researchers, such as Dr. Raphael Stricker, are proposing a nationwide HIV-style “Manhattan Project” in which a uniform standard of testing is established and long-term treatment is the norm.

Commonly known as Lyme disease (aka Borrelia burgdorferi), you might assume this potential sexually transmitted infection (STI) can only afflict those bitten by a tick. Sadly, it may be time to ditch that notion. Emerging information indicates that, if you are having unprotected sex at all –even in a monogamous relationship– you’re at risk of infection.

Lyme symptoms have often been dismissed as stress or aging. They include fatigue, joint pains, muscle aches, headaches and flu-like symptoms. However, left untreated, the infection can travel to the nervous system, dwell in your tissue, and mimic chronic illnesses such as arthritis, paralysis, epilepsy or even Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) suggests that Lyme should be considered in diagnoses of chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and many other multi-system illnesses.

The work of Lyme-aware healthcare providers is being hampered by faulty testing and an outdated treatment protocol. As if that wasn’t enough, these professionals are also up against a medical community and agencies that seem rather averse to examining the rise of Lyme infection, with many institutional leaders clinging to the dangerous, antiquated notion that chronic Lyme doesn’t even exist. The status quo is making it incredibly difficult for severely ill patients to receive the treatment they desperately need.

I’ve interviewed many leading Lyme literate doctors and researchers, including microbiologist Marianne Middelveen and internist Raphael Stricker. Both are involved with the most recent study investigating Lyme as an STI.

For practitioners like Dr. Christine Green on the boards of ILADS and LymeDisease.org, it is important to assume patients wish to be fully informed:

I inform my patients that it is possible Lyme disease could be sexually transmitted as the bacteria has been found in sexual fluids. But I inform them that proving transmission has not been done, possibly because it is not sexually transmitted or possibly because those studies are expensive, controversial or/and we do not have an agreed upon test that confirms active Lyme.

On the other hand, I have been shocked to learn that it’s common practice to not discuss new research findings about Lyme in order to avoid fear and recrimination. Until more large-scale peer reviewed studies are published, some doctors simply disregard the latest findings.

Unfortunately, despite mounting evidence seen by doctors in their own practices, even leading Lyme organizations are hesitant to suggest barrier methods as a precaution.

Yet all of the above offers merely a glimpse of just how difficult it is to battle Lyme disease. People living with Lyme often have to navigate medical settings in which
mainstream doctors subscribe to the myth that Lyme is “hard to catch, easy to treat”.

Those affected are forced to do their own research. According to ILADS, the average Lyme patient sees five doctors within 2 years before being properly diagnosed. The CDC surveillance criteria used for diagnosis of Lyme are so insensitive that they miss more than half of patients with the tick borne illness.

After watching Under Our Skin (2009), an award winning documentary investigating Lyme as one of the most serious,controversial modern-day epidemics, I recognized that the stories of people living with Lyme need to be more widely shared. I have now heard from hundreds of people around the world living with chronic Lyme.

Most have been misdiagnosed due to false negative Elisa testing or doctors simply not considering Lyme. Many don’t recall a tick bite or telltale bullseye rash (in fact, the ILADS reports that fewer than 50% of Lyme patients recall being bitten by a tick); also, many are convinced they’ve transmitted the infection to their sexual partner or vice versa.

Joanne, who travels to Belgium from the Netherlands to see her doctor, strongly feels she transmitted the infection to her partner and expressed relief that her doctor informed her about this mode of transmission:

I am personally really glad my doctor said it is likely to be an STD. Because of this I had my boyfriend tested right away when I found out I had Lyme. He’s now also receiving treatment and is recovering much faster. With Lyme, the earlier you discover it, the better your chances of recovery, so no, I wouldn’t wait.

Barbara* has a story like so many Americans. Her infection wasn’t detected until many years after transmission:

I may have sustained a tick bite in 2008, but the circumstances were such that I brushed the incident off. I never had a bullseye rash. Lyme wasn’t identified until 2014 (after a year trying to find a diagnosis that explained my symptoms). Although Lyme crossed my mind my initial test was negative. My treatment might have been completely different if I had known and understood what IS NOT KNOWN about Lyme. I might have sought aggressive treatment for the tick bite, not ignored it. I might have been able to protect my husband who now also has Lyme.

Desi lives in Europe, and like Joanne, travels to Belgium to meet with her physician:

There are too many people with Lyme at the moment, it cannot only come from a tick bite anymore. Whole families are infected with Lyme. Including my family and my husband. I have Lyme. My husband never had a tick bite but had a positive test. He also has Lyme disease because of me. I think every practitioner has to tell their patients it’s sexually transmitted, there needs to be more information told about it.

According to Dr. Stricker and Ms. Middelveen, researchers of the 2014 study on Lyme as an STD, it was suggested over a decade ago already that Lyme disease could be sexually transmitted because the Lyme bacteria, called a spirochete, shows activity similar to the syphilis spirochete. Yet not until 2014 did research findings compellingly suggest this type of transmission may be possible in humans.

“It would certainly explain why the disease is so common,” Dr. Stricker stated in our phone interview. “This is a big game changer”, Stricker said. “It would mean we should no longer think of Lyme based on geographical high risk zones.”

Just this week, a woman diagnosed with genital ulceration was linked to Lyme disease for the first time. Based on a recently released abstract, it is now a possibility that women with Lyme are being misdiagnosed with genital herpes.

In our interview, Dr. Sticker said a more comprehensive study of sexual transmission of Lyme disease is currently underway. He is hopeful this will offer more conclusive results regarding how this epidemic is spreading at such a rapid rate.

Given all the uncertainties with Lyme, prevention is more important than ever. We know condoms will be the most effective way to protect against its spread as an STI. Drawing from what people living with Lyme have voiced, my personal opinion is that if there is any chance whatsoever that Lyme could be sexually transmitted –and the evidence is rapidly increasing– more people need to be made aware of this possibility.

Everyone has the right to choose how they protect themselves and their partners. This is not about inciting panic or stigma. It is about encouraging an up-to-date public discussion regarding Lyme. It’s about allowing people an informed choice. And finally, for safer sex educators, it’s about informing people on how they can enjoy sex and remain infection free, and for those who are infected, how to best protect their partners.

*Some names are changed, at patient request, to protect privacy.

Warts and Worries. What To Do?

Photo credit: Jamelah E.

Photo credit: Jamelah E.

If you were recently exposed to genital warts would you know what to do? Do you know what to ask your doctor? What tests and treatments are available? Are genital warts curable?

As part of their weekly Q&A series, the CSPH (the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health) explains what to do if you think you’ve been exposed to genital warts, a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is so common, it has been called the “common cold” of STIs in the United States.

According to the CDC, the United States is facing an HPV epidemic, in which 50% of sexually active adults carry some form of HPV without any symptoms. Yet not enough people know what is HPV, what are it’s sympotoms (if any!), and how it can be treated and prevented.

In this post, the CSPH explains that:

  • About one person in 10 will have genital warts at some time in their life.
  • Because genital warts spreads by skin-to-skin contact rather than an exchange of bodily fluids, condoms are not 100% effective at preventing transmission.
  • Unlike many STIs which can be diagnosed with a simple blood test, genital warts are detected primarily through visual inspection. However, not everyone shows symptoms.
  • About two-thirds of people who are exposed to active genital warts will develop them, usually within three to six months after contact.
  • You can reduce the risk of HPV with consistent use of sex dams and condoms, creative outercourse that doesn’t put you in direct contact with genitals (dry humping, vibrator play, etc.), and regular STI testing to keep your status up-to-date.
  • Still confused about testing? Check out our post about when to get tested for STIs.

This post was originally published on the CSPH

BY THE CSPH | theCSPH.org

Image from the CSPH

Image from the CSPH

Each week, The CSPH answers questions asked on our site and through social media outlets like Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. This week’s question is:

Hi! I just recently found out that I was exposed to genital warts and might have it, though I am currently not showing any symptoms. I have a pap smear coming up at the beginning of August and I plan to bring up my concerns then (while abstaining from sex until then). Do you think that they’ll be able to test me although I don’t have any symptoms, only reasonable concern?

Genital warts is a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is spread by skin-to-skin contact rather than an exchange of bodily fluids. About one person in 10 will have genital warts at some time in their life. Unfortunately, this sneaky virus can be passed along even if you use a condom—for example, if your genitals touch during foreplay, or if your partner masturbates before fondling your naughty bits. Condom use is still recommended, as safer sex practices can significantly decrease risk, but it should be remembered that barrier methods are not a genital force field.

While HPV is a family of viruses often linked to cervical cancer, the particular strains that cause genital warts are different and distinct. With more than 100 permutations, the volume and variety of HPV could rival Nicki Minaj’s wig collection. Most genital warts, however, are caused by HPV types 6 and 11, which are lower risk but highly contagious. About two-thirds of people who are exposed to active genital warts will develop them, usually within three to six months after contact.

Thanks to high school health class, some people might associate genital warts with magnified images of mutant cauliflower, but in most cases these warts are inconspicuous, subtle, and benign. They can be flesh-toned or gray, raised or flat, singular or in clusters. For vulva-owners, these growths tend to appear on the vagina or cervix or around the labia majora, anus, or inner thighs. A pelvic exam is often necessary for diagnosis, since warts do not usually cause pain or discharge and can reside internally. Genital warts in penis-owners may surface on the shaft, scrotum, testicles, anus, or general groin area.

Unlike HIV and syphilis which can be diagnosed with a simple blood test, genital warts are detected primarily through visual inspection. No lab results can indicate the presence or absence of HPV 6 or 11 before genital warts appear. Once a skin growth is present, a biopsy may be required for confirmation since smaller warts can be difficult to distinguish from normal genital bumps or ingrown pubic hair.

Although there is an HPV test on the market, it was designed to detect high-risk, pre-cancerous strains of the virus (types 16 and 18) in women over thirty. Similarly, a pap smear would not reveal whether or not someone has genital warts. Due to a lack of effective screening and testing, it is hard to know if you or a potential partner might have this contagious, but harmless, skin condition; an estimated 50% of sexually active adults carry some form of HPV without any symptoms.

Fortunately, the Gardasil vaccine can protect against the HPV strains responsible for 90% of genital warts, in addition to the high-risk types associated with 75% of cervical cancers. No longer restricted to empowered women and girls who engage in radical activities like playing drums, skateboarding, or living in designer lofts, this vaccine is now available to members of all sexes and genders. While there are risks and benefits associated with Gardasil (or any vaccine), the recommended age of inoculation is 11 or 12, or prior to becoming sexually active.

The CDC recommends that vulva-owners ages 13 through 26 get HPV vaccine if they have not received any or all of the three doses when they were younger. Likewise, CDC recommends the vaccine for penis-owners aged 13 through 21 years if they have not been received it already.

If you happen to have genital warts, there are several treatment options available, including podophyllin solution, cryosurgery (freezing), and electrocaudery (burning). You can also wait and give the warts some time to disappear on their own; within three months, 20 to 30 percent of all cases of non-cervical warts usually clear up without medical intervention.

When genital warts are treated, symptoms often resolve within one to nine months. Although the virus is most easily spread when active warts are present, you may still be contagious following treatment or removal, especially during the six months immediately afterwards. If you have been with your current partner since a few weeks before the genital warts appeared, more than likely your partner has already been exposed to the virus and abstaining would not prevent an outbreak. However, before engaging with new partners, it would be important to discuss the risk of viral transmission (in addition to what turns you on!), and to use condoms until everyone is comfortable with the potential consequences.

Unfortunately, there is no way for your doctor to conclusively diagnose you with genital warts unless physical symptoms are present. However, it’s wonderful that you’re being responsible in the meantime by abstaining from sex and initiating dialogue on these important issues. Through consistent use of barrier methods, creative outercourse (dry humping, vibrator play, etc.), open communication, and annual exams with a qualified healthcare provider, you can take several proactive measures to help reduce your risk of genital warts and other STIs, while enjoying safe and sexy pleasure adventures.

Special note: Human papilloma virus (HPV), the underlying agent that causes genital warts, actually has over 100 strands, about forty of which can lead to genital warts. Other strains of HPV can also lead to cell division, which may be responsible for a number of throat, genital, cervical, and anal cancers. According to the CDC, nearly all sexually active adults will get at least one strain of HPV at some point in their life; however, when we state the “one person in ten” statistic, we were referring to having genital warts specifically.

condom ad condoms too loose

csphThe CENTER for SEXUAL PLEASURE and HEALTH (The CSPH) is designed to provide adults with a safe, physical space to learn about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues. Led by highly respected founder and director, Megan Andelloux, The CSPH is a sexuality training and education organization that works to reduce sexual shame, fight misinformation, & advance the sexuality field.

When to get Tested for STIs/STDs

Photographer Helmut Hess

Photographer Helmut Hess

Did you know that when you’ve been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection (STI) there is a duration of time in which the infection cannot be detectable through testing? This is referred to as the window period. During this window period, the infected person can pass on the STI to others.

This is why, when you get tested, you are asked to fill out a questionnaire that asks for details about when you last had sexual contact, unprotected sex, etc. The clinic will help you gauge whether or not you’ve cleared the window period for various STIs. Very few STIs have the same window period. Compound this with the fact that clinics only test for STIs that are showing symptoms (unless you specifically request otherwise), makes it crucial that you know your window period for which STIs are being tested.

There is also the incubation period, which is how long the infection takes to show signs/symptoms. During both the window and incubation period an infection is contagious. An infection may never show noticeable signs or symptoms (most don’t), but they are always transmittable to others, and that’s why testing is so important.

As a safeguard against false negative tests due to these two very different periods- window and incubation -it is recommended that you get re-tested three to six months after your initial negative results.

Sound confusing? The following list will help. It’s a clear and organized way to identify STIs and their corresponding window periods.

As a side note from Jenelle Marie: This article is addressing unrine/blood tests and talks about infections for which there are common tests available. However, in instances where visual diagnosis occur (because there are no tests for the infection – low-risk HPV in men, commonly known as genital warts, for example) the incubation period and the window period are the same, thus diagnosis isn’t possible until symptoms are present. 

Read the full article here.

BY JENELLE MARIE | theSTDProject.com

Typical STI/STD Testing Windows Are:

Chlamydia Urine Test:
Possible Detection – Within the first week
Most Likely Detection – 2 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 4 Weeks

Gonorrhea Urine Test:
Possible Detection – Within the first week
Most Likely Detection – 1-2 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 2-3 Weeks

Herpes Simplex 1 & 2 Blood Test:
Possible Detection – 2-4 Weeks
Most Likely Detection – 6-12 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 12-16 Weeks

Syphilis Blood Test:
Possible Detection – 1-2 Weeks
Most Likely Detection – 6 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 12 Weeks

HIV Antibody Test *:
Possible Detection – 3 Weeks
Most Likely Detection – 4-6 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 12 Weeks

HIV Early Detection Test **:
Possible Detection – 1-2 Weeks
Most Likely Detection – 3 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 3-4 Weeks

Hepatitis A Blood Test:
Possible Detection – 2-3 Weeks
Most Likely Detection – 3-6 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 6-7 Weeks

Hepatitis B Blood Test:
Possible Detection – 1-6 Weeks
Most Likely Detection – 6-10 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 12 Weeks

Hepatitis C Blood Test:
Possible Detection – 4-5 Weeks
Most Likely Detection – 6-9 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 10-12 Weeks

*According to the CDC, most people infected with HIV will develop detectable antibodies within 25 days of exposure and 97% of people will have HIV antibodies by three months after exposure.

**STD testing experts recommend confirming this with the ELISA HIV test , which is considered the gold standard in HIV testing, at 3 months post-exposure.

 

1533882_446848112083407_2051712922_n THE STD PROJECT is a multi-award-winning independent website and progressive movement eradicating STD stigma by facilitating and encouraging awareness, education, and acceptance through story-telling and resource recommendations. Fearlessly led by Founder, Jenelle Marie, The STD Project is committed to modern-day sexual health and prevention by advocating for conscientious and informed decisions. Find them on twitter @theSTDProject

Shaving and STIs: How to Minimize Risk of STI Transmission

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Do you wax, shave or trim your pubic hair? Even if you prefer the wild bushy look, this post by Jenelle Marie, is relevant to you because everyone, regardless of preferences, should be able to make informed decisions about their bodies. Yet medical facts about shaving and how to manage the risks involved tend to get muffled among all the summer party and craze.

The fact is, genital hair has biological purpose. It acts as a barrier to protect abrasions caused by rubbing and friction. When hair is removed it opens up your skin and forms microscopic entry points for STIs and other pathogens.

But let’s be clear: We are not advocating for or against pubic perfection. As Jenelle Marie states, what you do with your body is your own business.

Here we share her article about important medical factors to consider and the ways to manage risks of shaving.

Here are points to remember:

  • Any kind of hair removal can increase one’s risk of contracting STIs.
  • Some professional services reuse the waxing spatula or do not change the wax often enough, both of which violate health codes and can spread bacteria.

Here is Jenelle Marie’s list of what you can do to reduce your risk and shave safely.

The original post is featured on The STD Project.

BY JENELLE MARIE | theSTDProject.com

So, how do you achieve pubic perfection without winding up with an unwanted infection?

Here’s a list of things you can do to minimize inflammation, microscopic cuts, abrasions, and your overall risk of contracting or transmitting STDs:

  • Consider shaving or waxing less of the area you previous manicured or less often
  • Apply hydrocortisone cream or an OTC antibiotic cream after your maintenance routine
  • Only book professional services at salons with fully licensed estheticians and stringent health policies, like soaking tools in hospital-grade disinfectant between procedures
  • Apply pure aloe vera to freshly shaven and waxed areas to speed healing time
  • Don’t shave, wax, etc. directly before engaging in sexual activities – allow time for your body to heal the small wounds that occur but are not always noticeable to the naked eye
  • Always use fresh, clean and sharp razors
  • Moisten the area before shaving with warm water to help soften hair follicles

Yes, you can have the lightning bolt or landing strip of your dreams, but be smart, aware of your risks, and consider some additional steps to negate your risk of infection.

1533882_446848112083407_2051712922_n THE STD PROJECT is a multi-award-winning independent website and progressive movement eradicating STD stigma by facilitating and encouraging awareness, education, and acceptance through story-telling and resource recommendations. Fearlessly led by Founder, Jenelle Marie, The STD Project is committed to modern-day sexual health and prevention by advocating for conscientious and informed decisions. Find them on twitter @theSTDProject

What Is An STI/STD?

In the days before STDs, there was venereal disease, and sex workers where considered the blamed of transmission. Image from TheDailyMail.co.uk

In the days before STDs, there was venereal disease, and sex workers where considered the blamed of transmission. Image from TheDailyMail.co.uk

There are lots of names for it that have come and gone throughout the decades. During WWI and WWII, it was the euphemistic-laden “venereal disease” or VD (and some people still use it today). By the 1980s, the term “sexually transmitted disease” (STDs) became generally accepted. Now medical terminology have progressed to “sexually transmitted infections” (STIs). There is not a lot of difference between these two terms and most people use them interchangeably. (To learn more about the difference between STIs and STDs, visit the Condom Monologues for a semantic breakdown.)

Despite all these different names, the meaning of STI/STD remains fundamentally the same.

From The STD Project, Jenelle Marie defines STIs as “infections that are commonly/have a high probability of being spread from person to person through unprotected intimate contact…Some STIs can also be transmitted via the sharing of IV drug needles after their use by an infected person as well as through childbirth or breastfeeding.”

STIs do not “prefer” one gender over another- no matter your gender, race, economic class, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, or relationship type- we are all susceptible to infections when we engage in sexual contact. Read more on what sexual activities put you at risk for different infections.

What is sexual contact?

The key is to understand what is meant by “sexual contact”. Now, this term is much broader than vaginal or anal penetration. Here Jenelle Maries unpacks its meaning:

BY JENELLE MARIE | theSTDProject.com

Sexual contact can encompass kissing, oral-genital contact, and the use of sexual ‘toys’, such as vibrators.

Most people think that kissing is a safe activity.

Even so, herpes, mononucleosis and other infections can be contracted through this relatively simple and often harmless act.

The use of condoms is commonly thought to protect against STIs, but it’s important to remember, all forms of sexual contact carry some risk. Although condoms can be very useful in decreasing the spread of certain fluid-borne infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, they do not fully protect against other infections contracted via skin-to-skin contact such as herpes, genital warts, syphilis, and molluscum contagiosum.

Many STIs are treatable or manageable, but effective cures are lacking for others, such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), HPV (human papillomavirus), HSV (herpes simplex virus) and hepatitis B & C. Even gonorrhea, once easily cured, has become resistant to many of the older traditional antibiotics.

STIs can be present in and spread by people who do not have any symptoms of the condition and have not yet been diagnosed.

Therefore, decreasing stigma via public awareness and education about these infections and the methods used to help prevent them is incredibly important.

Read the full article here.

1533882_446848112083407_2051712922_n THE STD PROJECT is a multi-award-winning independent website and progressive movement eradicating STD stigma by facilitating and encouraging awareness, education, and acceptance through story-telling and resource recommendations. Fearlessly led by Founder, Jenelle Marie, The STD Project is committed to modern-day sexual health and prevention by advocating for conscientious and informed decisions. Find them on twitter @theSTDProject

What Is It Like to be Tested? STI/STD Testing in 5 Simple Steps

Easy-button

With all the stigma and fear surrounding sexually transmitted infections (STIs), going out of your way to specifically get tested can seem like a burden. According to the CDC, less than half of Americans ranging from 18 to 44 years old have never EVER been tested for STIs. This is a serious obstacle that cannot be overlooked when talking about sexual health.

Jenelle Marie, founder of The STD Project, takes on this social fear of getting clinically tested by demonstrating just how easy (and shame free!) it really is. She walks us through her real-life experience of going to the clinic (with her boyfriend):

Here are key points to learn from her STI testing experience:

  • Health practitioners don’t test for all STIs. You need to ask for specific test to be done, particularly for those which do not always show symptoms, like HPV, Gonorrhea and Syphilis.
  • STD testing is available for free!
  • Test results are strictly confidential. In most states, once you are 13 years old, you can get tested without a guardian’s involvement. The clinic cannot share your identity and results with anyone.
  • Depending on the STI, you may be asked to give a blood sample and a urine sample.
  • No single procedure or test will detect all STIs.
  • Getting tested is simple, quick (depending if it’s walk-in or appointment) and the trained staff do not make moral judgement on your sexual behavior.

This article was originally published here.

BY JENELLE MARIE | theSTDProject.com

Are you wondering what it’s like to be tested for STIs/STDs?

 Step One: Decide whether to schedule an appointment or go on a ‘walk-in’ day (wait is usually much longer, so patience is a virtue should you choose the latter) – I made an appointment as I have little patience 🙂

Step Two: Fill out some paperwork (this is the government we’re talking about) – HIV testing is the only test they can do completely anonymously (if they do rapid-tests onsite) where they do not require a name (they give you a number) or a lot of other information – this health department did their HIV tests on-site (which means results in 15 minutes), but I was also testing for 3 other STDs, so the paperwork was still required.

For those clinics that do not have rapid-tests, HIV tests will only be confidential. Confidential testing means you must fill out your name and birthday and answer questions about your sexual experiences. This DOES NOT mean they will call your parents or your partners and tell them your test results – test results are strictly confidential. The health department asks that you tell all future partners but does not make you retro-actively tell people, because, presumably, you wouldn’t have known you were positive for an STD until now.

Also, it is very important you answer the questionnaire with complete honesty – depending on the type of sexual activities in which you engage, they may do STD testing for additional types of STDs or they may test different areas of your body for STDs – chlamydia and gonorrhea can both be in the throat or anus, for example.

Lastly, the women my boyfriend and I met made no assumptions or judgments about the types of activities we enjoy – they simply share the risks and make sure you’re safe in all directions (your mind is whirling now, I’m sure). 🙂

Step Three: When your name gets called, a nurse takes you back, asks some additional questions, sometimes does a little preventative counseling and starts the tests by giving you a finger prick.

The finger prick begins the rapid blood test for HIV which is complete 15 minutes later.

Next, a traditional blood sample is taken from your arm for Syphilis testing. The Syphilis is sent to a lab and results are available 7 business days later along with your Chlamydia and Gonorrhea test results.

Step Four: Pee on your hand while attempting to pee into an impossibly small cup for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea testing (you do this in a private bathroom, so no one has to watch you wonder whether to pull up your pants with pee on your fingers or waddle over to the sink for washing – pants still at your ankles).

Important to note: the longer you hold your pee, the better – anything over not having urinated in an hour should be good.

The nurse said chlamydia and gonorrhea bacteria flush out and are harder to detect when having urinated recently; however, after a longer duration of time, they come back again.

Unfortunately, peeing profusely will not make your STD go away. Dang it!

Step Five: Meet the nurse back in the testing room, get your HIV results, and your FREE CONDOMS!!!! YEY!!!

Who doesn’t love free condoms?!?!

I say, you might as well go get STD tested just for the free condoms!!! (I’ll say anything – obviously – to convince you STD testing is totally harmless and will make you feel much much better!)

condom ad condoms too tight

1533882_446848112083407_2051712922_n THE STD PROJECT is a multi-award-winning independent website and progressive movement eradicating STD stigma by facilitating and encouraging awareness, education, and acceptance through story-telling and resource recommendations. Fearlessly led by Founder, Jenelle Marie, The STD Project is committed to modern-day sexual health and prevention by advocating for conscientious and informed decisions. Find them on twitter @theSTDProject

The CSPH: Q&A Safer Oral Sex

25- Q&A safer oral sexMany (both teens and adults alike) believe oral sex to be the safe alternative to vaginal and anal intercourse. However, the truth is that although less risky, it certainly is not completely safe. STIs, like HPV and Herpes are the top risks when engaging in unprotected oral sex.

A little education goes a long way though, and it only takes a few necessary steps to keep yourself protected.

This article by The Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health (The CSPH) covers the following points:

  • HPV and Herpes are contracted through skin-to-skin contact.
  • HPV is the leading cause of throat cancer above even tobacco use.
  • Gonorrhea and chlamydia are common STIs transmitted during oral sex but are relatively easy to treat.
  • HIV can be transmitted during oral sex although it’s extremely rare. There are only a few proven cases of this mode of HIV transmission in the world.
  • A cut or sore in the mouth greatly increases the risks of infections passing during oral sex.
  • Many STIs show very few symptoms.
  • Condoms, internal condoms or dental dams can be used to prevent skin-to-skin contact. A dental dam can also be made form saran wrap or a condom.
  • According to studies, up to 82% of people practice oral sex without protection, meaning that unprotected oral sex is a societal norm.
  • Lack of knowledge and worry that sensation may be lessened could be the reason why unprotected oral sex is so highly practiced.
  • Flavored lubricants could be a good solution to cover the taste of latex.
  • Safe oral sex could increase sexual pleasure.

This article was originally published on The CSPH website.

BY The CSPH | theCSPH.org

What precautions one must take to enjoy oral sex healthily?

Ahh, the good ol’ Lewinski, giving dome, eating peaches, carpet munching, knob-polishing, and court-addressing.  Many of us are familiar with oral sex (and its various slang affiliates!), but considerably fewer of us have a comprehensive understanding of how to safely engage in mouth-led southern explorations.

Image from the CSPH

Image from the CSPH

The common perception of oral sex is that it is a risk-free sex act.  This belief is most accepted among young adults and adolescents, many of whom engage in oral sex before other forms of intercourse as a deliberately risk-preventative measure.  Indeed, while penis-in-vagina sex is often understood as potentially resulting in exposure to sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy, oral sex is mostly contextualized as wholly safe.  This results in people of all ages being less cautious in their oral sex forays by not utilizing safer sex materials, thereby putting them at greater risk for STI transmission.

With that said, it is in fact true that oral sex is less risky than other sexual activities insofar as pregnancy and STI transmission.  However, this doesn’t mean that we should all be giving and receiving oral sex without appropriate safety measures.  Unprotected oral sex can result in the contraction of a number of sexually transmitted infections, and while there has yet to be research published on the risk of all STIs during oral sex, a closer look at individual infections proves to be enlightening.

There are two primary STI risks in engaging in unprotected oral sex: herpes simplex and human papillomavirus, also known as HPV.  As I discussed in Q&A: Herpes, some 50 to 80% of adults have herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), also known as cold sores.  Despite its colloquial framing as “oral herpes,” HSV-1 can also be transmitted to genitals, with up to half of new genital herpes contractions occurring as a result of HSV-1.  Unlike most STIs, herpes is not curable, and while there is no shame in contracting HSV, which is in many ways a simple skin condition that flares up occasionally, most individuals would prefer to not deal with it.

Like herpes, HPV is contracted through skin-to-skin contact as opposed to the sharing of bodily fluids, such as semen and vaginal secretions.  Oral HPV affects approximately one in 15 Americans, and is much more commonly contracted genitally, with a projected 80% of people having HPV in their lifetime.  While HPV generally doesn’t require treatment since the body’s immune system tends to be well-equipped in fighting the infection, it’s noteworthy that HPV is the leading cause of oral and throat cancers, more so than even tobacco use.

Other sexually transmitted infections that are more commonly contracted through oral sex are gonorrhea and chlamydia.  Unlike herpes, however, these STIs are usually fairly easy to treat with the use of antibiotics.  The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), may also be transmitted during oral sex, although this is incredibly rare.  Furthermore, hepatitis and other bacterial infections may be transmitted during unprotected mouth-to-ass play.

Regardless of the STI in question, there is a greater risk of transmission when there is a cut and/or sore in the mouth, which allows these infections to pass into the bloodstream.

It’s important to note that many sexually transmitted infections are asymptomatic, meaning individuals who have contracted the STIs show extremely minor or no signs of the infections.  Furthermore, while annual STI testing should be a tool in everyone’s sexual health arsenal, the fact is that patients are not regularly tested for oral sexually transmitted infections unless the individual is experiencing symptoms.

With all that said, it should come as no surprise that using safer sex precautions when engaging in oral sex is integral in limiting the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.  This translates into using external condoms during fellatio (blowjobs), and dental dams during cunnilingus (good ol’ muff diving) and even analingus (anyone want to toss some salad?).  If you don’t have any dental dams on hand, use saran wrap or make one out of a condom!  These barrier methods allow individuals to engage in mouth-to-genital action without direct skin-to-skin contact, limiting the chances of STI transmission.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of individuals who engage in oral sex do not, in fact, use barrier methods.  One study found that 82% of adults do not utilize these protective tools when engaging in oral sex, while another study suggested the same for 70% of adolescents.  This is significant, not only from a public health perspective, but also because it leads to the conclusion that safer oral sex is something out of the norm, potentially making it especially difficult to have important conversations regarding barrier methods as people may often feel uncomfortable introducing such safety precautions into their sex lives.  Furthermore, many people are resistant to the idea of condoms and dental dams during oral sex specifically, even if they welcome their use in other activities.

Although I can’t make sweeping generalizations on the topic, I’d hasten to suggest that there are two main reasons why people may be contrary to using barrier methods during oral sex: a lack of knowledge on the issue and a worry that protection will limit sensation.  The former reason can be addressed by a casual conversation regarding the potential risk of STI transmission, and,  if you’re regularly in contact with said sexual partner, by directing them to resources such as this Q&A.

Though the concern that barrier methods will make oral sex less “worth it” due to decreased pleasure also tends to be a common argument against using condoms during penetrative sex, just as with penis-in-vagina and penis-in-anus intercourse, safer sex is important in empowering people to care for their bodies, their health, as well as the bodies and health of their sexytime partners.  Besides, what would the individual rather have: oral sex with a condom/dental dam, or no oral sex at all?  When framed as a non-negotiable safety measure, I’d bet the resistant party will find themselves suddenly amenable to using protection.

Of course, like I previously mentioned, due to how relatively rare safer oral sex is practiced, it can be uncomfortable to introduce such measures into one’s sex life.  Feeling unsure as to how to go about having such conversations?  Try out these nifty scripts:

“I think you’re unbelievably sexy and would love to give you head, but I want to you to know that I make it a point to have safer oral sex.”

“I want you in my mouth so bad. Do you have a condom?”

“Have you ever had someone put a condom on you with their mouth?”

Another common concern regarding safer oral sex is the taste of latex; after all, not many people like a mouthful of plastic.  Flavored condoms and lubricants can do wonders in addressing this issue.  With that said, a note about flavored lubes: many of them contain glycerin, which may trigger yeast infections in those prone to them.  For this reason, either opt for a flavored lube without glycerin, or make sure to not apply it directly to the vulva.  Some great glycerin-free flavored lubricants include Sliquid Naturals Swirl and Nature Lovin’.  You can also opt for flavorless silicone-based lubes such as Gun Oil and Uberlube.  For lubricant and other sexual aid reviews, visit The CSPH Blog’s Center Stage Sexual Aid feature.

When you’re ready to go down, keep in mind that, just as with other forms of sexual play, safer sex precautions can be used to not only protect yourself or your partner, but also help to increase the sexual excitement from discovering the oyster, chewing brown, or licking a popsicle.

csphThe CENTER for SEXUAL PLEASURE and HEALTH (The CSPH) is designed to provide adults with a safe, physical space to learn about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues. Led by highly respected founder and director, Megan Andelloux, The CSPH is a sexuality training and education organization that works to reduce sexual shame, fight misinformation, & advance the sexuality field.

Love the Glove: 10 Reasons to Love Condoms

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The rate of STI infection among Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 is exceptionally high and this can be owed primarily to young people either not using condoms or other barriers, or failing to use them properly. Scarleteen, the internet’s source for comprehensive, inclusive sex ed and support for young people, is here with 10 reasons to  love condoms- reasons many of us never considered before.

This article is meant to help you understand the effects of inconsistent and unassertive condom use, and provide you with ten insightful reasons to use protection correctly, every time.

Here are the main points:

  • Correct and consistent use of condoms reduces the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by approximately 85%.
  • Proper condom use decreases transmission risk of human papillomavirus (HPV) to women by approximately 70%.
  • Issues like maturity, pleasure and communication all have an impact on one’s level of confidence using condoms.

View the original article here

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

lovegloveAt the present time, the United States now rules when it comes to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). And not in a Whoohoo, go USA! kind of way. You’ve probably also heard that the rate of sexually transmitted infections in people 15-24 years old is exceptionally high.

Figuring out why isn’t tricky for those who work in sexual health. Some people will say this is because teens are having more sex than ever (not true: you’re having less sex than teens a generation or two before you did), or because people are having sex outside marriage (a fine fairy tale for those who don’t see lab results for STIs among some married people or who don’t know about the history of STIs). But those of us who work in direct care know why STI rates are so high and why they’re so disproportionate in young people right now.

It’s primarily because so many young people — and namely those in the 18-24 group, as younger teens are often better with condom use than people of any other age group — are not using latex or polyurethane condoms and other barriers to protect themselves and their partners, or are not using them correctly and consistently. As someone who talks with people every day about their sexual behavior, and who also tracks young people’s sexual behavior and health over time, I know this all too well. We observe users who come to Scarleteen and see that those who have not used latex barriers at all or consistently are overwhelmingly the same users who eventually come to report an STI. Sure, every now and then we do hear from a user who always used condoms properly and who still got an STI. But that happens about as often as I find a $5 bill on the sidewalk.

There are other reasons the STI rate is so high in younger people. Cervical cell development of younger women isn’t complete, making the cervix more prone to infection. People in your age group often tend to have more sexual partners and shorter relationships than older people. The overall rate of STIs is higher than it used to be, making it easier to land one. But we know that the main reason is that overwhelmingly, many people in your age group are either not using latex barriers at all, or are not using them all the time, every time, correctly. While many older adults aren’t much better with condom use, it does matter more what you do because two thirds of all individuals who acquire STIs are younger than 25 years old.

It’s not complicated: most people who acquire a sexually transmitted infection are simply not using condoms or are not using them every time and properly.

A report from Child Trends DataBank in October of 2008 (based on data from the CDC) found “53 percent of teen boys say they don’t always use a condom. Among girls, about two-thirds say a condom isn’t always used. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS, and unintended pregnancy are major health consequences associated with unprotected sexual activity. Although a similar percentage of teens are sexually active in the United States as in western European countries, the U.S. has much higher teen pregnancy and STI rates than does Western Europe. This is due to lower consistency and effectiveness of contraceptive use in the U.S.” They add that “Condom use is higher among younger students than it is among older students. In 2007, 69 percent of sexually active ninth grade students, compared with 62 percent of eleventh graders and 54 percent of twelfth graders, used condoms. Part of this drop is due to higher levels of use of other forms of birth control among older students, although it is still a cause for concern since condoms are the only form of effective control against STIs for those who are sexually active.”

Condoms work very well at reducing STI transmission: According to a 2000 report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), correct and consistent use of latex condoms reduces the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by approximately 85% relative to risk when unprotected, putting the seroconversion rate (infection rate) at 0.9 per 100 person-years with condom, down from 6.7 per 100 person-years. Analysis published in 2007 from the World Health Organization found similar risk reductions of 80–95%. The 2000 NIH review concluded that condom use significantly reduces the risk of gonorrhea for men. A 2006 study reports that proper condom use decreases the risk of transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV) to women by approximately 70%.

You can read more about STIs all over Scarleteen, like here and here and here and… you get the picture. But you probably already know why you should use condoms. Our users generally report higher use of condoms than the overall demographic, so maybe you don’t even need to read what I’m about to say. But you’ve probably also heard or thought some things about condoms that might be keeping you or others from using them or from using them consistently, and I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard everything I’m about to say. Even if you’re already using condoms and using them every single time properly, I bet you know someone — a sibling, a friend, maybe even a sexual partner — who could stand to hear some of this. So, why use condoms and other barriers?

In a nutshell:

1. Because it can help you to get closer
2. Because barebacking isn’t as cool as you think.
3. Because chances are good that eventually, you’re going to either have to use condoms or knowingly be putting partners or yourself at a high risk of infection.
4. Because it pays it forward.
5. Because it feels good.
6. Because it helps you learn to be truthful in and with your sexuality and about sexuality in general.
7. Because it can keep you from proving people right who say you don’t have the maturity or the ability to have sex responsibly.
8. Because if you’re male, you can help to show men are better than the lowest common denominator.
9. Because being unassertive really isn’t sexy.
10. Because I love you.
For more details on all of these points, keep reading.

1. Because it helps you get closer

I know: I’ve heard some people say that condoms and other barriers keep people from getting close, too. But the folks I hear say that rarely seem to be the folks whose relationships are all that close or intimate. The people I hear from who DON’T say that about condoms, and who practice safer sex in their relationships seem to be the ones getting closer and feeling closer to each other.

Avoiding potentially sticky or difficult conversations doesn’t bring us closer: it keeps us apart. Asking someone to care for you in any way is not a barrier to intimacy: it’s not asking that keeps space between you and yours. Having to discuss sexual anatomy, sexual health or even just how to use condoms and use them in a way that works for both of you is not something that keeps people apart, but that brings people closer together. Talking about these things together, working through any misunderstandings or emotional issues around them and having something that adds extra communication to any sex you’re having are all the kinds of things that nurture closeness and real intimacy. Silence doesn’t bring people closer: communication does.

A lot of what we hear young people say about not using condoms has to do with one or both partners finding it hard to assert themselves, or being worried about a negative reaction: that’s not about closeness. Even more troubling is a conversation about condoms that starts with “I don’t want to use them because I want to be close,” and often leads to a bigger discussion in which what comes out is, “I’m scared to ask him to wear a condom.”

Being outright afraid to ask someone to do something to help safeguard the health of you both shows a serious LACK of getting close (or a desire to avoid getting close enough to find out if someone is or isn’t the person you currently think they are or hope them to be). We can’t say we and someone else are very close and at the same time say we feel scared of, with or around them. When we’re earnestly close to someone, we feel able to say or ask things when we don’t know if we’re going to get a positive response. If we want a close relationship, we have to not only say or bring up the things we know they’ll like hearing, or have a positive reaction to, but the things when we’re not so sure they’ll like or which we know are loaded, but that we need to say and talk about for our well-being and health and the quality of our relationship.

2. Because barebacking isn’t as cool as you think

I’ve been having a sense of déjà vu lately when hearing some hetero girls say they’re “not into condoms” with a wink and a grin, or that they, unlike those other girls who use condoms and who they tend to frame as killjoys, are willing to go without condoms, in this way that rings of trying to aim for a certain social status by being the one willing to risk health and life for… well, a whole lotta nothing much.

Why I’m having déjà vu is because I’m old enough to remember when some gay guys were all about that. I remember seeing how many of them died and were part of others dying because of it, as well as how many of the men who barebacked only because they didn’t know what we and you know now about how to protect ourselves died from barebacking. That trend in the gay community was not only lethal, it also resulted in those who were the least responsible defining a whole group of people culturally in a very negative way that is still strongly harming the GLBT community. It hurt all of us, not just the people it hurt directly.

On top of risking your life and health, any social status you might get from being the girl who’ll take big risks other girls don’t is likely to be temporary, and will also change very radically when you go from “That hottie who doesn’t make guys use condoms,” to “That [insert derogatory term for women of your choice here] who gave everyone Chlamydia.”

Not a pretty thing to say, I know. But it is what tends to wind up happening in the real world. The tide turns very quickly on girls who are sexually active PERIOD in our culture, even responsibly, but all the more so for those who aren’t responsible in their sexual behavior. I don’t like that or the misogyny it’s based in, as guys are rarely treated or talked about like that, but it’s out there. It’s tenuous enough to be a sexually active young woman, but when things go amiss and you do wind up with and spread an STI, it’s usually going to be framed as being YOUR doing, not the doing of everyone or anyone else who had sex with you and made their choice not to use condoms, too. Those are strongly sexist double standards, but they are out there and they can really hurt when directed at you, especially if you have to suffer in silence alone, knowing part of that result had to do with your own choices and actions.

From my point of view, what I see in these cases is a young woman having some big esteem issues and who seems to feel it’s worth it to risk her life and health for a temporarily increased sexual appeal. While our sexuality and our sexual relationships can support our self-esteem, they tend to be poor places to try and get self-esteem, especially if our sex lives involve a habit or precedent of not caring for ourselves and inviting or allowing others `to treat us without real care. Lack of self-care and solid self-esteem can’t coexist. If we have good self-esteem, we see ourselves as valuable and worthy of care. If your esteem isn’t so great, and you want it to be better, then insisting others treat us you care is one way to improve it: accepting or advertising yourself as open to being treated like a throwaway is a way to make sure your esteem gets even lower.

3. Because you are likely to end up with an STI if you do not use condoms and other barriers consistently and correctly

If you have sex with others without using condoms or other barriers correctly and consistently, you are likely to wind up with an infection at some point. And if you and your partner(s) don’t also get tested regularly, you — like most people with an STI — won’t even know you have one that you’re spreading around.

When we have users who interact with us at the boards talking about how they’re not using condoms, it’s a bit like being able to see into the future. Because inevitably, someone like that who sticks to that habit of going without will eventually post about an STI they wound up with within a few years, if not sooner.

A lot of people have a false sense of security based on not having gotten an STI yet. Mind, some of those people haven’t been tested to know their status, but some have. If you go without condoms or other latex barriers for a few months or a few years and didn’t get an STI, it can be easy to believe that not using condoms is going to work out fine for you. But because we don’t wind up with an infection in a month or a year or two of not using barriers doesn’t mean we won’t in time. The studies and statistics on STIs also tend to reflect that very clearly. The highest STI rates in young adults usually aren’t in the youngest sexually active teens: the group with the highest rates is usually those 18 and over who have often been sexually active for a year or two already.

And of course, if and when your luck runs out and you get an STI, especially if it’s one you can’t get treated and which is then out of your system via that treatment, you will then either need to use condoms or be purposefully putting others at risk (and yourself at risk of infections you didn’t get yet).

It’s a lot easier to establish your sex life in the habit of using safer sex practices than it is to add them later. If you start using condoms (and getting tested) early in your sex life, continuing to do so is a no-brainer. You get to be an ace at using barriers sooner, get to learn how to have conversations about safer sex as you’re learning to have all kinds of conversations about sex, and the more you do it and the sooner you start, the tougher it gets to space out safer sex, and the less and less it seems like any big deal. When it’s a solid habit, you just reach for that condom instinctively. And when you reach for it like that? Partners tend to react just as instinctively and just put it on with no fuss.

Most people will need to use condoms at some point to avoid infections. If you’re going to need to eventually anyway, why put it off, especially during the time in your life when you’re at the highest risk of infections and most likely to get one?

4. Because it pays to go forward

Younger people are particularly prone to monkey-see/monkey-do. In other words, if you and yours don’t use condoms, your friends are also less likely to. And then so are their friends. And theirs. And all young people.

Using condoms not only protects your health, it protects and can improve our global health. If you don’t get and spread an STI, you’re part of the solution to the problem: you, all by yourself, literally can help improve the public health just by not getting sick. Sexually transmitted infections impact our public health deeply. While many are easy to treat (once you get tested to know you have one, that is), and many won’t impact the individual health of most who get them, we’re not all at the same level of health nor do we all have the same level of access to healthcare and treatment. Some STIs that are no-big to most of us can be life-threatening to others because of preexisting conditions or suppressed immune systems. You might be able to get something treated easily because you have health insurance, but someone who winds up with an STI from your now-ex you gave one to might not have those same resources.

One thing I’ve always liked about using condoms is that I not only get to know I’m caring for my health and that of my partners, but that I am caring for your health, her health, his health and everyone’s health. Using condoms is one way I can to care for the whole planet while at the same time caring for myself. And that’s pretty awesome to be able to do with just a little piece of latex and an orgasm.

5. Because it feels good

Say what? You thought condoms made things feel less good, right? Actually some studies (Sexual Pleasure and Condom Use, Mary E. Randolph, Steven D. Pinkerton, Laura M. Bogart, Heather Cecil, and Paul R. Abramson) find that those who report that are often those who do not use condoms, haven’t in a while or who don’t use them often. They have also found that men believe this is so (even without any actual experience) more than women do, and that belief influences men’s experiences with condoms and whether or not men will use condoms. While yes, many people do report that unprotected sex feels better than protected sex, overall, people who use condoms and are used to using them tend to report experiencing greater pleasure with protected sex than those who often go without protection. In other words, people who use condoms often — most likely because they have better attitudes walking in the door, and because they learn what condoms they like and how to use them well — don’t really express that using condoms decreases their overall pleasure or satisfaction. The more you use them, the more they feel good, and it’s the people who don’t use them at all who tend to complain about them the most.

Even for males who report a difference in pleasure between condom and no condom, though, the differential is pretty minor between them and those who don’t report a difference. And in studies on women, there’s most often no real difference in sensation reported at all. Physically — when we’re talking only about physical sensation — for most men, condoms slightly decrease sensation. For women, that’s rare, which isn’t a shocker since unlike the clitoris, the vagina has few sensory nerve endings. The vagina tends to feel pressure, but not fine sensations, like the diff between a condom and bare skin. Mind, for some men, that decrease can be a bonus: for those who are looking to keep an erection around for longer, a decrease in sensation and the pressure a condom puts at the base of the penis can extend erection time for some men.

People who say they “can’t feel anything” with a condom on are either a) being dishonest or b) not using condoms properly. While a lot of people are dishonest, a lot of people also don’t know how to use condoms properly and what can help with pleasure. For instance, thinner condoms are just as safe as thicker ones. There are more condom types than what your average drugstore carries, and some kinds of condoms have all kinds of neat stuff going on to help increase pleasure, like extra headroom, textured dots on the inside, the works. Putting a few drops of lube inside the condom before it goes on as well as some lube outside the condom makes a big difference with sensation and can make sex feel better, full-stop. Having a partner put on a condom for you as part of the sex you’re having — rather than as an interruption — is something a lot of people find enjoyable and sexy.

How something makes us feel with sex is also bigger than physics. A Kinsey Institute study in 2008 (Relationships between condoms, hormonal methods, and sexual pleasure and satisfaction: an exploratory analysis from the Women’s Well-Being and Sexuality Study, Jenny A. Higgins, Susie Hoffman, Cynthia A. Graham and Stephanie A. Sanders, Sexual Health, Volume 5, Number 4) found that women who use both hormonal contraception (for those with male partners who need it) and condoms report higher overall sexual satisfaction than women who go without condoms or only use a hormonal method of birth control. In that study, women who used hormonal methods alone were least likely to report decreased pleasure, but they also had the lowest overall scores of sexual satisfaction compared with condom users. What does that mean? That pleasure as a whole is more than just mechanics or vaginal/penile sensation.

Sex is about our whole bodies, as well as other parts of our genitals than a condom touches and it’s also about how we feel emotionally and intellectually and how sex is part of our whole relationships and our whole lives. It feels good to know you’re taking care of yourself and others, and to have a partner give a hoot about your health and peace of mind. It feels good to have the self-esteem and the confidence to stand up for ourselves and what we need to stay healthy, and to only be in relationships where caring for ourselves is in alignment with what a partner wants: if that’s at odds with what they want, we can’t possibly expect to have a healthy, happy relationship with that person.

It feels good to approach partnered sex smartly and soundly. Knowing we’ll be protected well before sex even starts is going to incline us to be more interested in having sex in the first place. When we know our risks of infections are highly reduced, it’s much easier to relax before, during and after sex, and being able to relax more means our sexual response systems work better so we can get more sexually aroused and enjoy sex more. Worry and anxiety inhibits sexual response and limits pleasure.

6. Because it helps you learn to be truthful in and with your sexuality and about sexuality in general.

Let’s tell the truth right now. You don’t want to risk getting an infection. You don’t want to feel like you can’t ask to be cared for and treated with care with anyone you’re sexually intimate with. You don’t want to argue about condoms when you want to be sexual. You don’t want to be with someone even casually who cares more about getting themselves off than if they make you really sick in the process of doing it. You don’t want to have a sex life where it’s not okay to press pause for a sec for any reason, whether that’s about a condom being put on or adjusting to find a position that feels best. You don’t want to have to risk your health to prove your love to someone else.

There are some fictions that avoiding safety behaviors like condom use holds up, like the lie that sex should be all about either what pleases men, first and foremost, or about men calling all the shots, just because they can. Again, we’re dropping denial here: many guys who say they can’t get off with condoms are not telling the truth. Some haven’t even used condoms, and are just saying what they think they’re supposed to or because they’re embarrassed to admit they’re newbies with condoms, but some are outright lying. They have used condoms before and gotten off just fine, and they haven’t refused to use them with other partners who they know won’t have sex with them without a condom. And some, when they say they can’t get off with condoms mean something else: that what they get off on is seeing if you’ll sacrifice your health and life just to get them off. Not only does anyone want to avoid having sex without a condom with a partner like that, you don’t want to sleep with someone like that, period. Heck, you probably are safest just staying off their block.

Many people still believe the propaganda that there are microscopic holes in condoms that pathogens can get through easily: but that isn’t true, and we have always had every evidence that wasn’t so. Some people have the idea that people only use condoms with partners they feel or think are “dirty,” with sex workers, or for extramarital affairs. But in fact, even many married couples use condoms: according to a Population Reference Bureau survey in 2008, in developed countries condoms are the most popular method of birth control: around 28% of married people use condoms.

Another whopper? Only “promiscuous” people get STIs. I put that in quotes because we don’t ever know what that term means. To one person, that means 300 partners, to another, 20, to another, anything more than one. Many people get an STI from just a first or second partner, and some people who have had 50 or even 100 partners have never had an STI. Plenty of unmarried people have never had an STI, while plenty of married people have: one of the first big waves of sexually transmitted infections here in the states after WWI was among marrieds. ALL kinds of people get STIs. The idea that no one can or is likely to get an STI through first-time sex, or sex with a first partner reminds me of the idea my mother’s generation had that no one could get pregnant with first-time intercourse. It’s understandable given how much cultural messaging cultivates this idea, but it’s also just not true. People of all stripes get STIs every day: good people and not-so-good people. People of all colors and genders and orientations. People who grew up on this side of the tracks and people who grew up on that one. People who have had five or twenty partners and people who have had but one.

Then there’s the fiction that it’s not young people, or people who with their first or second partnership have to worry about STIs, but older people. You already saw the stats about who has the highest rate of STIs, so we’ve hopefully shredded that myth already. How about the one that says only gay men need to worry about STIs? Nope: the highest rates of STIs are in young, heterosexual women. Even HIV, once ignorantly called “the gay plague,” is more likely to be transmitted via heterosexual partnerships than homosexual ones, and worldwide, heterosexual women account for around half of all cases of HIV: 98% of which are in developed nations like the U.S.

Let’s not forget the one about how as long as people love and trust each other, or as long as people are lucky, no one is going to get sick; that STI transmission is all about luck or love or trust and not about something much more tangible and less arbitrary.

We can love someone all we want, but there are some things we can’t control — like how many of us are exposed to STIs via rape before we ever chose to have consensual sex, like how often partners — even in otherwise loving relationships — are dishonest or unfaithful, like how many people have already had sexual partners before they met a person they want to spend a life with. It’s important that we don’t base our ideas about STIs on a minority group or an unrealistic or unattainable ideal.

Viruses and bacteria don’t care who loves who or who trusts who. If we’re exposed to the genitals or fluids of others, we’re potentially exposed to STIs. If we reduce that exposure either by not having genital sex or by using latex barriers when we do, we’re much less exposed. If we go without, we’re wide open to this stuff, just like we are when someone coughs in our face. If your partner has a cold, we may get it whether they love us or not. If our partner has Chlamydia, we may get it whether they love us or not.

If we can’t be truthful in our sexual lives about our sexual health and about how we want support from partners in staying healthy, we’re unlikely to be able to tell the much harder truths that are part of a great sex life: like to talk about what we like, what we fantasize about, what we’re afraid of, what we’re feeling emotionally, what we don’t like. If we can’t say no to sex without condoms, we also are unlikely to be able to say no to sex we don’t want, full-stop. Asking someone to put on a condom is one of the easier things to ask for in our sex lives. If we can do that, asking for the other stuff also gets easier. The more truthful we can be about all aspects of our sexuality, including things like STIs and condoms, the better our sex lives are, both when it comes to our health and also when it comes to our sexual satisfaction.

7. Because it can keep you from providing people right who say you don’t have the maturity or ability to have sex responsibly.

Abstinence-only initiatives, for instance, get away with what they do in part because some of the things they say are true. Some young people really don’t — they say can’t, and in certain numbers, it sure starts to look like a can’t — make smart choices with sex, even when they know better. If you read any newspapers or listen to any news, you know that the standard way teen and young adult sex gets presented is as a giant public health problem and a big, scary panic. When you face discrimination about your age and sexuality, that has a lot to do with that presentation.

Some of why it’s presented and interpreted that way is because it is that way: not because young people are having sex, but because so many are without using safer sex and contraception. Right now, and over the last ten years, as a generation your sex life really is becoming a serious public health problem, primarily because you have not been using condoms, or using condoms consistently and correctly.

Do you really want to prove those folks right? Really? Do you want to be the person or group of people who they can use as evidence to show that people in their teens and twenties should be treated like children? I sure wouldn’t want to help anyone disrespecting me to be able to keep on doing it, and doing it with evidence I’m handing right over to them wrapped in a bow. As a youth advocate, I can’t tell you how many times I have had to argue that despite the way some youth behave, I know in my guts that you are all capable of handling your sexuality with care and maturity. It’s so frustrating, because I really do know that you are that capable: I see plenty of young people doing a better job with their sexuality than plenty of older adults are, but what I see and know is continually overshadowed by those who don’t have sex with care and caution and the reality of the level of STIs in your age group. Yep: I admit, I am asking you to use condoms to help make my job of advocating for you easier on me.

Perhaps your competitive spirit might also get riled by knowing my generation did a better job than yours with condom use. From that same AAP report I linked to earlier: “Among sexually active adolescent males 17 to 19 years old living in metropolitan areas, reported condom use at last intercourse increased from 21% in 1979 to 58% in 1988. Reported condom use at first intercourse among adolescent women 15 to 19 years old increased from 23% in 1982 to 47% in 1988. Data from the 1988 and 1995 National Surveys of Adolescent Males indicate that these increases continued, with reported condom use at last intercourse among 15 to 19-year-olds increasing from 57% in 1988 to 67% in 1995. The CDC data indicate increases in reported condom use at last intercourse from 38% to 51% among females and from 56% to 63% among males for those in grades 9 through 12 between 1991 and 1997.”

What about after the mid-to-late nineties? By 2003 (when we were still around that 73%), those increases in condom use started to come to a standstill then backpedal. Current data shows that “only 45% of adolescent males report condom use for every act of intercourse and that condom use actually decreases with age when comparing males 15 to 17 years old with males 18 to 19 years old. Also, females report less frequent use of condoms during intercourse than males, presumably because many adolescent females are sexually active with older partners. Rates of pregnancies and STDs in females are unlikely to decrease beyond current levels unless condom use by adolescents and young adults continues to increase significantly in the years ahead. Condom use by one half to two thirds of adolescents is not sufficient to significantly decrease rates of unintended pregnancy and acquisition of STDs.”

8. Because if you’re male, you can help show men are better than the lowest common denominator.

In a nationally representative sample of more than 3,000 U.S. men interviewed about condoms, the most frequently cited negative reactions were: reduces sensation, requires being careful to avoid breakage, requires withdrawing quickly, embarrassing to buy, difficult to put on, often comes off during sex, embarrassing to discard, shows you think partner has AIDS, and makes partner think you have AIDS.

Let’s briefly deconstruct these:

  • Gander, meet goose. If we’re going to talk about condoms changing how sex feels, we need to remember that something like the pill does too, and, unlike condoms, it changes how a woman feels all the time, both during and outside of sex. And as someone who has had a barrier over a much more sensitive part than a penis (the clitoris) and has also used hormonal medication can tell you (and that’s on top of knowing the data I do as a sex educator) a latex barrier, when used properly doesn’t change sensations more than most methods do for women. Other methods of contraception can cause pain and cramping, unpredictable bleeding, urinary tract infections, depression and a whole host of unpleasant side effects. Condoms are the LEAST intrusive and demanding of all methods of contraception, even though some guys talk about them — without considering this perspective — like they’re the most. If guys could feel what life can be like on the pill, use a cervical barrier or get a Depo shot, they’d easily see condoms for the cakewalk they are.
  • You have to be no more careful to avoid condom breakage than you have to be careful with someone’s body during sex. If you’re engaged with someone’s genitals and treating them the way they need to be treated to avoid pain or injury, you’re already being just as careful as you need to be with condoms. And if you’re not treating someone else’s body with care overall, you need to step it up and start doing that anyway.
  • You also always have the option of putting a new condom on and going back inside the vagina if that’s what the both of you want.
  • Condoms are no more embarrassing to buy than tampons: at least someone thinks you’re about to get lucky. For that matter, they’re not more embarrassing to buy than the magazines some of you read. And as you grow older, your “embarrassing purchases” list will increase, anyway: from Rogaine to hemorrhoid cream, denture cleaner to adult diapers, condoms are hardly the only thing you’ll need to purchase in public sometimes you really wish you could buy privately. Welcome to adult life, folks. That said, you always have the option of buying condoms online if you want.
  • They’re only difficult to put on if you don’t learn how. Practice makes perfect.
  • They don’t come off often during sex unless you’re not putting them on properly, not adding lube when you need to (and when your partner would then likely need you to as well for them to still have sex feel good) and when you’re using a condom that isn’t too big or too small for you.
  • Again, if tossing a condom in the trash is embarrassing, how about tampons, the medication you’re taking for Gonorrhea or a dirty diaper?
  • Condom use does not say you think someone has AIDS. What it says to a smart partner is that you have a head on your shoulders, you care about them, and that you have the maturity to recognize that they shouldn’t carry the responsibilities of sex all by themselves.

While some of these attitudes come from guys who are simply uninformed or misinformed, for those who know better or should, some of this stuff is just plain foolish. And THAT’s embarrassing, no? Male attitudes about condoms have more influence on whether or not condoms get used than female attitudes do. That’s because a) women’s attitudes tend to be better, b) men as a class still have more power than women (and men influence other men more than women do), and c) you’re most often the ones wearing them or the ones who make a fuss about wearing them.

9. And if you’re all hung up on what’s sexy…

Being open about all parts of sex, not just about what you might do to someone to get them off, is sexy in most people’s books. Being all ooh-ahh about giving a blow job or going down on someone, but then recoiling like a kid with mushy peas on their dinner plate about condoms doesn’t tend to be a turn on for a lot of people. For some — including the person with that response themselves — it can be a pretty serious turn OFF. I’m older than our readers, but speaking for myself, when someone reacts that way when I pull out a condom (and they rarely do), I’m just done. It feels seriously uncomfortable, like I was about to be sexual with someone who isn’t really ready for all of sex; like I was about to be with someone who is emotionally and intellectually many steps behind me. That’s not sexy to me at all: it sends a very clear message to my brain — the organ that drives most of our sexuality — that turns all of my turn-on signals into turn-off signals in two seconds flat.

Assertiveness is sexy: look at who you and the world as a whole tends to find sexy and that’s obvious. Being confident about caring for yourself and the firm belief and insistence anyone else you are sexual with must treat you with that same respect and care is sexy. Caring about yourself and your health, and caring about the health of others is sexy. Having limits and boundaries you don’t let anyone else trample on is sexy. Coming to, addressing and responding to the things that keep everyone as safe as possible during sex is sexy. Being confident in yourself and someone else that they’ve got some real maturity and smarts when it comes to sex is sexy. And there is absolutely, positively, nothing UNsexy about handing someone a condom or a dental dam that you’re giving them as a way of cementing a great, big, wholehearted “yes” to you two being sexual together. What could be unsexy about that?

Sexy is as sexy does. There is no one way to be sexy, no matter what anyone says. Being sexy is about how you feel sexy and sexual, and how you project those feelings to others when you’re feeling them. So, for sure, if when it comes to safer sex you are a shrinking violet, that’s probably not very sexy. But if you pull out or put on a condom with confidence and a smile, and if you get it in your head firmly that this is sexy, then it’s likely to be perceived as sexy. If you feel sexy in it, and it’s sexy to you, it’s going to be to someone else. To everyone else? Probably not, especially since there is absolutely nothing in the world that is sexy to absolutely everyone. But.

People who claim their own sexuality in a real way and feel confident in it, which includes taking care of themselves and insisting on the same from others, tend to be the people who both express feeling the most sexy and who others perceive as sexy.

10. Because I love you.

I’d hope that at this stage of my career as an educator, it’s obvious that the primary reason I do what I do is simply out of love for all of you. The benefits are nonexistent, the pay blows chunks and sometimes I have to take a whole lot of crap from people who think I’m Satan incarnate for helping you out with sexuality: if I didn’t love you and think that a good way for me to express that was by doing what I could to help you take care of yourself and have a healthy, happy sexuality, I wouldn’t do this job at all.

Getting an STI is rarely the end of the world. While a couple are literally deadly serious, most are treatable and most will not have that great an impact on your life if you find out you have one early and get treated. But I don’t want you to be sick if you can avoid it. If it can be avoided, I don’t want you to have to deal with the negative feelings around an STI that are tough to avoid in a world that really stigmatizes STIs and the people who have them. I don’t want you to have to get extra pap smears, to have to endlessly experiment with new drugs for HIV or to have to tell a potential partner you have a genital herpes outbreak. I’ll support you if you do, and know that I don’t think anything different about you than I think about someone who has the flu or leukemia, but whatever I can do to help prevent it in the first place is something I want to do.

I know that if you just don’t have sex that you are even less likely to get an STI than if you use condoms. But I don’t just tell you not to have sex because a) I know that most people, once they are into or past puberty, will have and want a sexual life with partners, b) I think that sexuality is part of who we are and can be a great part of our lives and c) I know that you can reduce your risks of unwanted consequences very well and still be sexual when that’s what you want. I also know that a truly great sex life includes protecting yourself and others as best you can from negative or unwanted consequences of sex.

I know from my work and my own sexual life how much more enjoyable and less stressful sex is when you’re safe and smart about it. Not having to worry about the complications of an infection, about giving an infection to someone else, or about taking huge risks with infection is nice: it’s much less stressful than the alternative. It’s often amazing to me, as someone who has had more sexual partners than most of you ever will given generational differences, to talk with many of you who are terrified about the risks you’ve taken after the fact within sexual lifestyles and scenarios that are comparatively more conservative than mine have been, but far less safe as far as protecting your sexual health goes. I don’t panic after sex, and that’s not because I have some secret or don’t care about the bad stuff that can happen: I don’t panic because I know I can keep myself very safe and still have the sex I want to, and I have more than two decades of doing so to look back on and see how well that’s worked. I can see the same with the people I work with as users or clients in my sexual health work.

When it comes to sexuality, here’s what I want for the people I love: I want it to be great for them and anyone they are sexual with. I want them to feel good about their sexual lives, not scared, freaked out, panicked or upset. I want them to stay healthy. I want them to feel empowered by their sexual choices, whatever they are. And I’m not sure how all of that can happen if and when anyone is taking unnecessary risks or avoiding asking for, and insisting on, sexual partners treating them with care, which certainly includes not exposing them to illness when that can be avoided. Because I love you, if and when you want a sex life with others, I want you to have one that is wonderful and enjoyable, but also as safe as it can be so that it can keep ON being wonderful and enjoyable.

I love you, so I want you to use condoms and other barriers if you’re going to be sexually active, and to chillax with the genital sex that presents possible STI risks if you can’t. It’s just that simple sometimes.

Safer Sex Wrap Up

Safer sex is a group of practices of which condom/latex barrier use is one part. The standard guidelines for safer sex suggested by public health agencies are that any two (or more) people who are new partners use condoms or other latex barriers for all vaginal, anal and/or oral sex for at least six months, and then only ditch them (if you want to) AFTER each has had a new round of testing for all STIs with negative results AND those two people have been sexually exclusive for six months.

If you and/or a partner didn’t have previous sexual partners for ANY genital sex of any kind or it’s been longer than those six months since either or both of you did, then if you get tested straightaway w/negative results if you had no partners or tested when it’s been more than six months since a previous partner, then your risks are already very low. That doesn’t mean after all that you’ll have NO risks: rather, it means that so long as you both stay sexually exclusive afterward, at that point, your risks are likely very minimal.

To completely eliminate our risks of STIs, we need to not have sex. With anyone. Ever. We’d need to avoid the nonsexual behaviors that can transmit some infections, like IV drug use. We’d also need to avoid sharing towels and linens, kissing our aunt Mabel who has the cold sores sometimes, and a whole bunch of other things very few of us who live outside a hermetically-sealed bubble will be able to avoid.

If you want to see the safer sex guidelines other sound sexual health organizations advise, here are a few for you to peek at:

Very few people will not have sex with anyone in a lifetime: most young adults will also have at least one sexual partner before their 20’s. If we’re going to be sexual with partners, to reduce our risks and make oral, vaginal and/or anal sex safer we need to use latex barriers, get tested (and treated if we have any infections) and limit our number of sexual partners. Doing just one of any of those things can help some, but it’s all three of those together that public health agencies make clear have been shown to be most effective.

We have much bigger piece on safer sex here. You can also find out about how to use condoms properly here, and find out what all your options are with condoms here. Have questions? Come on over to our message boards and we’re glad to talk things over with you.

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