Education, Health, and Safety

A Guide to Safer Sex Practices

Reproductive supplies such as condoms, birth control pills, female condoms, dental dams and implant.

Safer sex is a phrase commonly used to describe the various methods of protecting yourself from harmful and unhealthy sexual experiences. It wasn't always called that though.

Understanding the Concept of Safer Sex

Safer sex was previously referred to as practicing “safe sex”. In recent years, the phrase was updated to “safer sex” to more accurately reflect that there is no such thing as “safe sex”. In fact, many new ideas and practices have been included. Below are some examples of what's been added.

  1. Being open about your sexual history with a potential sexual partner(s) and providing current testing information.
  2. Discussing and agreeing to boundaries before sexual activity takes place with new partners.
  3. Update current partners to changes in sexual boundaries and, or in your sexual history and health.
  4. Research, learn and discuss details with partners before entering into new types of sexual activity. This includes ethical non-monogamy, BDSM, fetishes and various other sexual alternatives.

What are the most effective ways to practice safer sex?

  1. Condoms: Condoms are still considered one of the most effective ways to prevent pregnancy and reduce the risk of transmitting STD's and STI's.
  2. Testing: Getting screened regularly, along with condom use, is also an effective way to help prevent the spread of STD's and STI's. How often testing should be done depends on how sexually active you are. If you are in a monogamous relationship, getting tested annually, along with a regular health check up, is likely sufficient. Those with multiple sexual partners should consider getting tested once a month.
  3. prEP: PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) on a daily basis. PrEP works to prevent HIV infections in your body even after exposure, and when taken every day, can reduce your risk of HIV infection by 99%.
  4. HPV vaccination: HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is one of the most common STD's in the world. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. It can protect against diseases (including cancers) caused by HPV when given in the recommended age groups. CDC recommends HPV vaccination for: All preteens (including boys and girls) at age 11 or 12 years (or can start at age 9 years). Everyone else through age 26 years, if not vaccinated already.
  5. Education: There is no denying the effectiveness of sex education. Being sexually educated can help increase positive sexual encounters, including safer sex practices. Sex education can also help reduce or eliminate sexual assaults, rape, as well as sexual child abuse and exploitation. This is the most important part of practicing safer sex!

I just had unprotected sex, what can I do?

Talk to a physician or nurse about getting tested for STIs. There are some that can be detected on tests within a week of infection. Other STIs may not appear immediately on a test. You can contact your health care provider to find out which tests you should take and when.

If you have symptoms of an STD, or if a previous sexual partner tells you they have one, speak with your doctor immediately. Get tested, even if you don't notice any signs of an STD, you feel perfectly fine. Getting tested is particularly important if you have had any sort of unprotected sexual activity.

Sex where a condom wasn't used—can also lead to pregnancy unless you are taking another type of birth control (like the pill, an IUD, a implant, or a ring). To avoid getting pregnant, take emergency contraception immediately. Emergency contraception (sometimes known as the morning-after pill) can prevent pregnancy up to five days after sex. It is most effective when taken immediately.

Being a responsible partner

It’s about thinking and acting responsibly when it comes to sex. That means taking measures to protect both your physical and mental health, as well as the health of your partner(s).

Be aware of the risks involved in sexual activities, and actively take precautions. In addition, take measures to ensure that everyone involved is of legal, consenting age (or an appropriate partner), and are able and willing to give informed consent.

How do I talk to my partner about practicing safer sex?

Having a conversation about sex, let alone safer sex, with a new partner can feel uncomfortable. There is nothing wrong with requiring a conversation and understanding of how to engage in safer sex.

It is preferable to discuss this before you begin having sex with any new partner. Make sure everyone agrees to condom and/or dam use to best protect everyone. It's also important to formalize a game plan to have regular STD and STI testing done.

Keeping your partner(s) updated requires regular communication and understanding. Therefore, make sure to have discussion as soon as possible to avoid awkward or potentially unhealthy situations. Remember, you can change your safer sex requirements and sexual preferences at anytime.

What about abstinence?

Many people have varying beliefs about abstinence and the reasons for it. Some of those reasons are rooted in religious beliefs. Many believe that it is better to save yourself for marriage. However data suggests that some beliefs can be detrimental to a some individuals sexuality. Previously, it was suggested that the only way to practice safe sex was to abstain from having it at all. While that may seem like the best way to prevent pregnancy, STD's and STI's, it can be the least reasonable one to manage. No amount of discipline and restraint can overtake mother nature.

Key takeaways

  1. Educate yourself about sex before you engage in any sexual activity.
  2. Talk to all new potential sexual partners about your requirements.
  3. Use physical protective barriers like condoms and dental dams.
  4. Test for all STD's and STI's regularly.
  5. Talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated for HPV and making prEP part of your safer sex practices.
Marilu is a sexuality coach and board certified sexologist. For more information about Marilu, visit

Photo by Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition on Unsplash

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