words by Rita Future
illustration by Shannon Wright
Most post-pubescent people are sexually active. It’s quite the normal human interest. Sex can produce highly positive outcomes: pleasure, stress and pain relief, human connection, exercise and an immunity boost (hence our draw to the activity). There are also potential outcomes that people do not directly sign up for: sexually transmitted infections (STIs), sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or unplanned pregnancy. Since you probably haven’t had a sex ed class in a while, here’s a refresher course on how to reduce unplanned outcomes so you can focus on the fun.
STIs are infectious germs that spread through sex. They do not care what type of sex you’re having or who you’re having sex with—they just want in our bodies because this is where they thrive. The tricky thing about STIs is that they hide (some can hide for years). We can’t always see them and that is how they spread. Don’t assume that when a person is infected they will know, most likely they will not! Think about it: if someone is experiencing itchiness and pain in their jewels, it’s fair to assume they’re not in the mood. Infections pass between people because germs want to sneak in, live, and travel to the next sexy host. Fortunately, there are simple methods to stop transmission.
Unplanned pregnancy is common in the United States. We’re getting better, but according to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, nearly half of the people walking around came as a surprise to their parents. Here, risk stems from basic factors. If sperm and egg cells are visiting the same house, they’ll be willing to extend their stay for nine months.
So Rita, how do GERMS get in?
1. Sexy Body Fluids Travel Through Mucus Membrane Skin
Most STIs spread this way. Mucus membrane skin is like a screen window to the body. It’s wet, thin, soft skin residing in the anus, vagina, vulva, tip of the penis, and the *mouth. This is where germs move in. Keep any semen, pre-cum or vaginal fluid off of mucous membrane skin - anywhere else is fine!
2. Sensitive Sexy Parts Touching
A vagina, penis, anus or mouth getting close to the same goods as an infected person can spread some STIs.
Okay Rita, so how do BABIES get in?
1. Vagina + Penis + Unprotected Sex
This is often what people do if they’re trying to have a pregnancy. The ovaries release an egg once a month. Sperm cells, however, can live in another person's body for five days! So if an egg releases while live sperm are inside—whoops!
2. Relying on the Withdrawal Method
Even though your pullout game is strong, the most practiced player may not win against determined sperm. Mistiming a release is a reality when people are swept up in the fun. Pre-cum is a small amount of fluid released from the penis before ejaculation and can contain sperm. Pre-cum releases anytime between an erection forming and ejaculation leaving, and it could be a baby-maker.
3. Drugs and Alcohol
From monogamous couples to one night stands, chemicals alter our state of thinking and being — hello, the whole reason why we partake. This can temporarily change a person’s judgement or skills, making them more interested in sex or ignorant to their risk. Someone might fumble with the condom, or maybe lower their standards and end up having sex with someone they otherwise wouldn’t have while sober.
In some states, a person under the influence is unable to consent to sexual activity. In these, cases if someone sobers up after sex and didn’t remember wanting to be sexual, that is considered sexual assault, which is serious, criminal business. When it comes down to it, the best sex is enthusiastic and fully consensual. If you’re at a party and this fine person coming on to you has been drinking, hit them with a “I’ll see you at a sober time, boo.” Turning down sex is not a big deal and it’s not your last chance. Especially if you’re the type to honor boundaries. Yeah, you getting laid.
What should we do Rita?
Bring on the barricades! It is sexy to consider safety. It shows people are knowledgeable and considerate. Of course, the more methods used together, the greater the impact!
1. Latex Barriers
There are two types of condoms to choose from: internal and external. Since most infections spread through bodily fluids, condoms protect most germs from spreading if they’re used correctly (more on that later). As a bonus, it’s a great pregnancy protection! Keep a stock at home (at room temperature) and a few with you at all times so you’re ready. Adding silicone lube inside and outside the condom keeps it slick and safe. This also increases sensitivity while showing off some sex skills.
For oral sex use condoms or dental dams (thin, stretchy, latex sheets held outside the body). Using plastic wrap is an easy and inexpensive alternative to a dental dam, use as much as you need.
2. Talk It Out
Communication before sex will give you insight on what y’all need to take care of. When was the last time you got tested? Is pregnancy a risk? What will you do to ensure positive outcomes for all? What kind of sex are you into, or not into? Talking can build trust and intimacy, which really makes sex better. Find a safe place to talk that won't leave you feeling pressured to start boning mid-conversation, though! It’ll be sexy and will still allow for people to have some distance to think clearly.
3. Get Tested
The two main types of tests (urine and blood) check for different infections. What you want to remember is that if someone had sex today, they can’t hit up the clinic tomorrow to find out if germs transferred. It takes a while for germs to live in the body so the test can find them. Every time a person gets busy, after two weeks they’ll need a urine test. After three months from that past sexy date they’ll need a blood test. Two weeks, three months. Remember that for each sexual experience that may create a STI risk. The longer the bacteria is in the body the the higher the risk of more severe outcomes. Get familiar with your goods. Know your body. Naturally, anytime something is different or feels abnormal, stop by a clinic. They are experts.
4. Birth Control
There are options (if you’ve got a vagina, that is). However —spoiler alert— there will be options for penis-having folks as soon as 2018! The current available methods can protect a person from pregnancy anywhere from one day to ten year’s time. It is common for people to try multiple methods before they find what they like. Don’t worry about what your sister is taking. Everyone’s body is unique. Talk with a medical provider to weigh the different options.
Our bodies have varying potential to experience pleasure; it’s not just in the genitals. Hands are convenient and useful sexual instruments. Be creative, and memorable!
When gauging risk during sex, most people focus on STI transmission or the potential for a pregnancy. Both of those realities do require attention, but there may be other points to cover for yourself. Keep it real about your emotional investment in sexual partners. Examine any potential physical risk (i.e. experimenting with toys or bondage equipment), and most importantly, respect everyone's boundaries.
Anytime you think “sex,” think “protection.” They go hand in hand. When partners bring up safety, it shows they care about their own health and in turn, who they’re with - that’s sexy!
Keeping these tips in practice will allow you to relax and feel confident about risk reduction. Now go and share your safer sexpertise with the world.
- Unintended pregnancy in the United States: incidence and disparities, 2006. Lawrence Finer - Mia Zolna - Contraception, 478–485, 2011.
- Sperm and Pre-Cum: What You Need To Know. Sam Dercon, SexEtc, 2013.
- http://www.fc2femalecondom.com/how-to-use-a-female-condom/english/. FC2 Consumer Site, Step by Step Instructions, 2016.