So, you want to have safe sex. We’ll give you the bad news first: There is no such thing as completely 100% risk-free sexual contact with another person. However, you can make safer sex the goal. There is a lot of misinformation out there about sex and safety (some of which we’ve written about before!), and it can be hard to tell what’s true and what’s not. Here are some of our top tips for having safer sex:
Get tested regularly
Getting tested for STIs regularly is the foundation for practicing safer sex. It’s also a fantastic way to practice self-care.. You may have to ask about testing, so be prepared to bring it up if your doctor doesn’t. Remember, your doctor may ask you questions about your sex life, to get an idea of the test you will need. Your doctor shouldn't make you feel ashamed or less-than because of your sexual practices, and if they make you feel that way, you are under no obligation to continue seeing them. It’s important you have a doctor you can be honest with so that you can get the care you need!
STI tests vary for different types of infections: some are a mouth swab, some are genital swab, some require a blood or urine sample, some are diagnosed by a pap smear, and some are diagnosed visually.
Also, some physicians have biases about queer sex that can make discussing this topic uncomfortable or feel unsafe, so if you have experienced this in the past, you’re not alone. For example, they may think that a person with a vulva who exclusively has sex with other vulva-having people doesn’t need to be tested for STIs, but this is absolutely not correct. If you are having sexual contact with folks, you need to be tested regularly. If your doctor shames you for this, please know that there are other doctors who will take you seriously and not shame you. Here are some places to start your search:
Lighthouse (in NYC)
This is one of the most basic ways to practice safer sex. There is no method that is 100% infallible, of course, but condoms and dental dams are a crucial part of a safer sex practice. Do your best to use a condom and/or a dental dam every single time you have sex, whether that is vaginal, anal, or oral sex. If you use toys, you can put condoms on them for safer use between partners (remember to change condoms between partners!). Remember, you can make your own dental dams out of condoms: just cut off the tip, and then down the side so that you have a rectangle shape to use!
PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. It’s a pill that you can take daily to dramatically lower your chances of contracting HIV. This option is not for everyone, though. It is primarily prescribed to folks who don’t have HIV already and who are at higher risk of getting HIV. Reasons for this could include not regularly using condoms, having sexual partner(s) that are HIV+, and/or using injected drugs, among others. If this sounds like it could be the right fit for you, let your doctor know!
Learn how to manage STIs
Some STIs are curable (examples include syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea) and some are not (examples include HIV, herpes, and HPV). However, all STIs are able to be managed in some way. Some will require you to take an antibiotic or other medication temporarily until the infection is gone, and some will require lifelong medication. If your doctor prescribes you a short term medication to clear up an STI, make sure to follow their instructions exactly. Take all of the medication that is prescribed to you, even if you feel better before you are finished with it.
Expand what ‘sex’ means to you
You probably know this by now, but penetration isn’t the be all end all of sexual activity. Lower risk sexual activities are manual sex (handjobs, fingering, etc.), outercourse (dry humping), and mutual masturbation (where you masturbate together, touching your own bodies). Not only are these activities lower risk, but they can also be really hot! You may even find that introducing these activities into your sex life will be exciting!
This one again! This tip is on most of the lists we write because it’s so important in every type of relationship! Make sure to discuss the limits, boundaries and level of exclusivity with your partner(s), and discuss the safety practices you put in place with other partners so that you and your partner(s) are on the same page. If you aren’t used to communicating openly about your sex life, this may feel really intimidating and impossible, but like all things, it gets easier with practice.
Be familiar with your body
If you know how your body normally works, you will be better prepared to notice that something is amiss. Keep an eye out for things like sores, rashes, or unusual discharge as these can be signs of several STIs. You can also be on the lookout for these things on the body of your partner(s), since you will likely be able to see any changes or symptoms for yourself.
With these tips in mind, we hope you feel more confident about making safer sex a regular practice!