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Safer sex

Safer sex describes ways of reducing the risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as herpes or syphilis.

What is the safest sex?

Of course, the safest sex is no sex at all. However, the next best thing is sex between two people who are not infected with any STIs (including HIV), who only have sex with each other and who don’t use injectable drugs. If your partner is infected with HIV or another STI, or you don't know your partner's sexual history, the safest sexual activities include:

  • Fantasising or having phone sex
  • Touching your own body erotically ( masturbation) or having each partner touch his or her own body (mutual masturbation)
  • Caressing your partner using nonsexual massage
  • Rubbing against your partner's body with clothes on
  • Kissing

What is safer sex?

Safer sex carries some risk, but it is much, much safer than taking no precautions at all. Safer sex means not allowing your partner's semen or vaginal secretions to get inside your vagina, anus, penis or mouth. It also means avoiding genital skin-to- skin contact. That's because some STIs, such as genital warts, are spread just by skin-to-skin contact. Safer sex also means taking precautions if you have cuts, sores or bleeding gums as these can increase the risk of spreading HIV.

Safer sex is protected sex during each and every sexual encounter. It includes:

  • Oral sex with a condom, dental dam or plastic wrap
  • Vaginal sex with a male or female condom
  • Anal sex with a male or female condom

Using condoms and other barriers for safer sex

Barriers work by blocking many viruses, bacteria and other infectious particles. Male latex condoms are the most common barrier used for safer sex. If your partner refuses to use a male condom, you can use a female condom which fits inside the vagina. These are more expensive than male condoms and take a little more practise to learn how to use.

Here are some basic things you should know about buying and using condoms and other protective barriers.

  • Always use a new barrier each and every time you have sex.
  • Only buy latex condoms that are designed to prevent disease. These are available in pharmacies without a prescription.
  • Only use water-based lubricants with latex condoms. Don't use oil-based or petroleum-based lubricants or hand lotion as these can cause the rubber in latex condoms to break.
  • If you are allergic to latex, use a polyurethane condom with an oil-based lubricant.
  • Store condoms in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Don't keep a condom in your wallet for more than a few hours at a time.
  • Never use a condom that is brittle, sticky, discoloured or in a damaged package.
  • During oral sex, cover the entire genital or anal area with a barrier. You can use a "dental dam" (latex squares, which are available in medical supply stores, some pharmacies, or adult shops) or a large piece of plastic wrap. You can also use an unused condom cut lengthwise.

What if you and your partner are both HIV positive?

You might think you don't need to practise safer sex if both you and your partner have HIV. However, practising safer sex will help protect you from other STIs. It will also protect you against other strains of HIV which might not respond well to medication.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on November 08, 2016

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