What’s better than sex? Safe sex! Of course, most of us know the risks that come with sex, but do you really do everything that you can to protect yourself and your partner(s)? For many couples, pregnancy is a risk, but even if you and your partner don’t have to worry about babies, everyone needs to think about STIs and STDs.
In a perfect world, sex would only result in pregnancy when it was intended and no one would get STDs, but we’re not quite there yet. So how do you protect yourself? There are so many ways! Take a look below to find the method(s) that work best for you and your partner(s).
CONDOMS (MALE): Male condoms are the most popular barrier method. They are 92% effective with perfect use, but that drops down to 82% with typical use. Make sure you know how to put one on properly! Most condoms are made of latex, but if you’re allergic there are many non-latex options. To keep your condoms in good condition, be sure to check the expiry date, don’t keep them in hot places like your car, or in cold places. Also, don’t keep your condoms in your wallet or purse unless they are in their own separate container. Condoms help to prevent both pregnancy and some STIs/STDs.
CONDOMS (FEMALE): These are less common, but quickly becoming popular. The femalecondom goes inside of the vagina and provides some external coverage. They are 95% effective with perfect use (more than male condoms!) and 79% effective with typical use.
DENTAL DAMS: Dental dams are a barrier method for oral sex. Dams are applied to the vulva/vagina or the anus (for analinus or “rim jobs”) to protect both partners from STIs/STDs during oral sex. Dams can be found in stores, but if you don’t have one, you can cut the tip of a regular condom off, then cut vertically to create a rectangle.
ORAL CONTRACEPTIVE (THE PILL): By far the most popular method of hormonal birth control. A pill is taken at the same time every day to prevent ovulation. The pill has been around for a little over 50 years and is very safe to use. It’s important to find a brand that works well for you, so inform your health care provider if you have any concerns (ie. Acne, depression, history of breast cancer etc.) The pill is 99% effective (almost perfect!) with perfect use and about 91% effective with typical use, but it’s not hard to keep that 99% if you take it at the same time every day! *Offers no STI protection on it’s own
THE PATCH: If you’ve seen someone use Nicotine patches to quit smoking, you understand the basics of the patch. It’s a little plastic patch that sticks to your skin and sends hormones that keep you from ovulating, into your body through your skin. You put a new patch on each week and remove it completely for one week each month during your period. Like the pill, the patch is also 99% effective with perfect use and 91% effect with typical use. *Offers no STI protection on it’s own
THE SHOT: If you choose the shot, your health care provider will give you a shot (yes, a teensy needle!) that contains something called Depo-Provera. “Depo” contains a hormone called progestin, which will stop you from ovulating while also thickening your cervical mucus to prevent sperm from entering your cervix. The shot is 99% effective with perfect use, or 94% effective with typical use. Remember to get your next shot when you’re due! *Offers no STI protection on it’s own
IMPLANT: The implant is a small stick of plastic that contains hormones that, like the shot, will keep you from ovulating and will thicken your cervical mucus. Your doctor will implant the small stick (smaller than a match!) under the skin in your upper arm, on the side that touches your body. No one will know you have it! The implant is 99% effective across the board with very little margin for error. *Offers no STI protection on it’s own
IUD: The IUD is a copper or plastic (depending on the brand) device that is inserted into the uterus. The copper IUD is hormone free and prevents pregnancy naturally. The plastic version relies on hormones to keep you baby free. The IUD is amazing! It can last anywhere between 5-8 years, or up to 12 depending on the brand. It is 99% effective once inserted and is a great option for people who are looking for longer term protection. *Offers no STI protection on it’s own
THE SPONGE: Although it’s not a super popular or talked about option, the sponge is a good addition to with drawl. It’s a small, round piece of plastic that is inserted into the vagina before sex. It sits at the mouth of the cervix to keep sperm from getting into the uterus. It also constantly emits spermicide, to kill sperm. The sponge is MUCH better than using no protection at all, but it’s only 80-91% effective with perfect use, and 76-88% effective with typical use so be sure to insert it properly. *Offers no STI protection on it’s own
THE RING: The Nuva ring is a flexible ring of hormones that is inserted into the vagina. The ring emits hormones to prevent pregnancy. You leave it in for 3 weeks, then remove it for a week for your period and then insert a new one! Super simple. The ring is 99% effective with perfect use, and about 91% effective with typical use. *Offers no STI protection on it’s own
WITHDRAWL: Also known as the “pull out method”, is exactly what it sounds like. Before ejaculation, the partner with the penis removes themselves from the vagina to prevent semen entering the vagina. The with drawl method is widely used and is 96% effective with perfect use and about 78% effective with typical use. With drawl is only effective if you pull out before ejaculation each and EVERY time so it requires a lot of communication between partners as well as a high level of self-awareness. It’s also important to note that although you may pull out before ejaculation, pre-ejaculate or pre-cum can contain semen in it (so it can get you/your partner pregnant!), especially if you have ejaculated recently. *Offers no STI protection on it’s own
FERTILITY AWARENESS: People have used fertility awareness for almost as long as they’ve been having sex. If you or your partner tracks their period, you’re already practicing part of fertility awareness. There are many different methods that generally consist of keeping track of body temperature, cervical mucus and when menstruation occurs. In this way, a person with a uterus can better determine when they are ovulating. Couples who use fertility awareness will avoid penetrative sex during a women’s ovulation cycle (or have sex especially during this time if they are ACTIVELY TRYING to get pregnant). When done properly and accurately, fertility awareness can be 95-99% effective and 76-88% effective with typical use. It is important to consult your health care provider before jumping into this method. *Offers no STI protection on it’s own
STERILIZATION: Sterilization can be performed on anyone with a reproductive system. For people with testicles, the “tubes” inside of your testicles are severed so that sperm cannot leave the penis. For people with a uterus, the fallopian tubes are typically tied off so that eggs cannot be released into the uterus. In both instances, one sex cell is missing so that conception is impossible. Some procedures can be reversed, but not all. Sterilization is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. *offers no STI protection on it’s own.
GLOVES/FINGER COTS: Latex gloves and finger cots are important barrier methods when engaging in manual sexual activity (ie. Any activity where your hands touch another person’s genitals). Latex gloves can be found almost anywhere, and finger cots can be found at many sexual health clinics or medical supply stores. Why are these important? If you have a cut or open sore on your hands you risk contracting STIs/STDs from your partner through the sores. They also prevent your partner from contracting illnesses from you as well (HIV/AIDS can be transferred from a cut to a genital) as bacteria and pathogens such as e.coli that can cause different infections. Obviously, using a glove or finger cot will not protect you from pregnancy or contracting an STI/STD during genital contact.
ABSTINENCE: Abstinence is a fundamental aspect of the majority of sexual education programs in schools. Abstinence is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy and STI/STDs. Abstinence is when you decide not to have sex for personal, medical, or religious reasons. It can be difficult if you are in a relationship, but it is the most effective method!
Phew! I know that seems like a lot of information to take in, and that’s okay. Whatever method you choose, remember that no method by itself provides pregnancy protection as well as STD/STI protection. For the safest sex possible (for couples who can get pregnant) choose a barrier method (or more!) as well as a contraceptive. Ex. Male condoms (STI AND pregnancy prevention) and the Pill. This way, you have extra pregnancy protection and you’re less likely to have an “oops” moment.
STI/STD protection is ESPECIALLY important for people who have multiple partners or are in non-monogamous relationships (swingers, polyamorous couples), as well as people who are HIV+ or who know/suspect that they have and STI/STD. For the safest sex possible, people in all types of relationships should get tested after every partner. Getting tested regularly helps to stop the spread of STIs/STDs as well as protects you and your partner from having an infection that you don’t know about. Many STIs/STDs have no symptoms or have symptoms that are very subtle, so it’s possible to have an infection without being aware. Sometimes you can have an infection and not know until it’s made you very sick.
Okay… so this is a TAD dramatic. PSAs and articles like this can make it seem like you’re going to get pregnant or contract a disease every time you have sex. Don’t stress over it, if you’re being safe, you have little to worry about. Now that you’re informed, protect yourself and your partner(s). Again, I understand that thinking about this can be scary, but not being educated is scarier.
For more information on contraceptives go to http://www.bedsider.org