Part I: An Introduction to Safer Sex

This is Part I of a larger resource, The Authoritative Guide to Safer Sex.  

What Exactly is Safer Sex?

The definition of sex itself can be confusing. To many, sex has long been thought of as only intercourse itself. However, the definition is changing. Medical professionals speak openly about sexual taboos as a whole, and social stigmas about different sexual preferences have gradually lessened. Sexual activity includes everything from kissing to vaginal, anal or digital penetration. And protecting yourself is necessary in every scenario.

“Safer sex” (or “safe sex”) is essentially a misnomer, as the only way to be 100% sure of safety from pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is to be completely abstinent. Sexuality is a fundamental part of the human experience; for many people abstinence is not a viable solution. Safer sex, however, is certainly possible, and responsible individuals will benefit from a proper education.

What Do I Have to Be Afraid Of?

A few decades ago pregnancy was the worst risk for heterosexual couples. Today careless sexual activity can lead to contracting HIV or other STIs that may carry long-term or fatal consequences. Teens and young adults who have just become sexually active face a somewhat germy playing field. Since decision-making in the heat of the moment can be difficult, a thorough understanding of one’s sexual health is necessary before you enter the sexual playground.

Sex today has plenty to do with the meteoric rise in online dating. Dating sites are now populated with adults from all walks of life, and most of them are just getting used to digital dating. Such a widespread online scene has made a whole new world of compatibility and casual dating very real. Long term relationships, casual sex, even experimentation are all packed into online dating. While it is an exciting, arguably essential part of today’s sex culture, safety remains crucial. Eagerness to meet someone new should never displace safety. These relationships, just like any other, require a heavy dose of common sense.

Whether you are taking the leap online or simply looking for a chance encounter, a healthy sex life is more than possible. Just remember that some activities are safer than others. Sex play that carries near-zero risk includes masturbation, cybersex, phone sex or sharing fantasies. Activities like kissing, fondling, body rubbing, playing with sex toys and oral sex carry a higher risk of STI exposure, though none are as potentially dangerous as vaginal or anal intercourse. Any exchange of bodily fluids, whether saliva, semen, urine, feces, vaginal secretions, breast milk or blood can pass along an STI. High-risk behaviors like having sex with multiple partners also increase your odds of contracting an STI.

Sexually transmitted infections are often invisible, and, at a glance, there is no way to accurately assess a potential partner’s sexual health. Some infections may lie dormant for months or years after the initial exposure, increasing the likelihood that they will be shared unknowingly. And according to Planned Parenthood, 1 in 3 people admit to having lied about their STI history or previous partners so that they could have sex. In best-case scenarios, both partners are screened for infection prior to any sexual activity.

Maintaining one’s sexual health is not only a medically sound practice – it’s a matter of self-respect. When you educate yourself about risks and have open, honest discussions with a partner about sexual wellness, you are taking care of your body. Practicing safer sex is not only about your own body; it is also an act of respect and love for your partner. Preventing the emotional and financial fallout of an unplanned pregnancy or STI should be a high priority for every sexually active adult.

Continue to Part II: You Need to Be Emotionally Ready.
Return to The Authoritative Guide to Safer Sex: Table of Contents.