Safe Sex vs. Safer Sex
For a time, the use of condoms and other contraceptives was often referred to as "safe sex". It was thought that, as long as you used condoms along with another method of birth control, you were virtually immune from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy. Nowadays, the only type of safe sex is no sex at all.
What is Safe Sex?
When people speak of "safe sex" today, they are referring to abstinence. Abstaining from sex and sexual play is the only sure method to avoid catching an STD and to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Although it may not prevent a pregnancy, having sex within a committed, monogamous, long-term relationship with someone who has tested free of any STDs is also generally considered to be safe sex.
What's the Big Deal About STDs Anyway?
While some sexually transmitted diseases, like chlamydia, can be cured, others cannot. HIV is one of the most serious STDs out there and women are one of the fastest growing groups being infected. Moreover, according to UNICEF, half of all new HIV cases worldwide occur in people between the ages of 15 and 24. So if you're young and sexually active, you're automatically at a higher risk of being infected with HIV. Although it can be managed through medication, the HIV virus does eventually develop into AIDS leading to death. Other incurable STDs include human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the cause of genital warts and can lead to cervical cancer and even death, hepatitis B and herpes.
Sexually transmitted diseases are dangerous for anyone but they can have especially severe consequences in women. Many STDs can seriously damage your reproductive organs causing you to be infertile. Some, like HPV, have been linked to an increased risk of cervical cancer, a type of cancer that men do not need to worry about. Additionally, if you have an STD while you are pregnant, it is possible to pass the infection on to your baby causing her to become sick or possibly even die.
If you are sexually active, it is imperative that you use condoms each and every time you have sex even though they cannot protect you from every STD. Latex or polyurethane condoms are the most effective at protecting against STDs. However, they cannot provide protection against infections that are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. Additionally, condoms can break or fall off during sex, putting you at risk of catching an STD. While it was once thought that condoms treated with spermicide helped to kill off STD infections and viruses, current research suggests that spermicides have no such effect. In fact, using spermicides multiple times throughout the day has actually been shown to increase your risk of STDs because the chemicals can irritate your vaginal lining thereby making it easier for an infection to get into your system.
Talking with Your Partner
When you are considering becoming sexually active with someone, talk to them about their sexual history. Remember, when you have sex with someone, you are having sex with every person they have ever had sex with. It is a good idea for both of you to go get tested for STDs so that you can be sure you are both free of any infections. However, some STDs can take as long as six months before they begin to affect you. If your partner has had sex with someone else in the last six months, it is a good idea to either put off having sex or use condoms until he can be retested.
If your partner refuses to get tested or has no desire to talk about his sexual history, you may want to reconsider your choice to have intercourse with him. Never feel guilty for asking about his sexual past. Your health, as well as his, is on the line and you both have a right to know what you're getting into. Never allow yourself to be pressured, coerced or bullied into a sexual relationship. Do not hesitate to say no. If a your partner forces you to have sex after you've said no, that is rape and should be reported to the authorities.
Signs of an STD
If you notice any of the following symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor or gynecologist right away to be tested for STDs:
- Vaginal itching
- Burning sensation when you urinate
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Blisters around the genital area
- General pain in the pelvic area