Safer sex practices like active communication with your partners, regular sexual health exams, and using the right protection are your seat belt — so buckle up before you ride!
Written by E. McDonald, UF student
Valentine’s Day is coming up, which is enough to get anyone thinking about protecting yourself while getting intimate. But practicing safer sex is a year-round thing!
First things first: Open, honest communication is key in any relationship. While it might be awkward at first, making your sexual boundaries, limits, wants and needs known to your partner(s) is essential before the heat of the moment. Communication is also important for preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Talk to your partner about your sexual history and past exposure to STIs, and be specific — after all, your definition of sex might be different from your partner’s.
“Everyone under 25 should get tested for STIs at least once a year no matter what.” SHCC Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Donelan
Getting tested is crucial as well. “Everyone under 25 should get tested for STIs at least once a year no matter what,” recommends Jennifer Donelan, Family Nurse Practitioner and Supervisor of the Women’s Clinic at the UF Student Health Care Center. It’s also worth taking advantage of the Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination, which can help prevent the types of cancers that HPV can cause.
A common misconception about STIs is that they are only transmitted during penis-in-vagina sex. In reality, various STIs can be spread through multiple types of sex. For example, herpes and HPV can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact between genitals, and chlamydia can be transmitted through oral sex. Many STIs are also asymptomatic and can go undetected. Most cases of STIs are manageable with the proper care, but some STIs can cause serious consequences if left untreated — as serious as infertility or cancer. That’s why it’s so important not to hesitate to see a healthcare provider if you ever have any doubts about your sexual health. Don’t be shy, it’s what they’re there for!
Bedsider.org: Free daily, weekly or monthly text or email reminders for birth control and/or health center appointments. (Operated by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.)
ItsYourSexLife.org: Learn how to best protect yourself, as well as talk to your partner and health care provider comfortably about how you feel about sex and protection. (Official website of MTV and the Kaiser Family Foundation’s It’s Your (Sex) Life public information campaign.)
SexPositive App: It’s difficult to predict when you may need access to sexual health information. With SexPositive, judgement-free information about STIs, safety, communication tips and healthy advice are available on your smartphone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
SHCC.ufl.edu/sex: The “Sexual Health” area of the UF Student Health Care Center website provides information on STI prevention, testing and treatment options, as well as tips for a healthier you and related campus resources.
For vaginal-oral and anal-oral sex, dental dams are thin squares of latex that make for really great physical barriers. You can make your own dental dams out of regular unlubricated condoms by simply cutting one vertically to make a rectangular sheet. Non-microwavable saran wrap works just as well. And gloves or finger cots, which are basically finger gloves, are perfect for digital sex (the kind with fingers, not with a computer.) Just remember to keep it clean: Don’t ever reuse any type of barrier for another body part or for another time.
At the end of the day, being sexually active usually involves some degree of risk. NP Jennifer Donelan says it’s like driving a car: Seat belts can’t protect you from all of the dangers that come with driving, but they greatly lower the risk of getting hurt. Safer sex practices like active communication with your partners, regular sexual health exams, and using the right protection are your seat belt — so buckle up before you ride!