Safe sex

Safe sex (also called safer sex or protected sex) is the practice of sexual activity in a manner that reduces the risk of infection with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Conversely, unsafe sex is the practice of sexual intercourse without regard for prevention of STDs.

Safe sex practices became prominent in the late 1980s as a result of the AIDS epidemic. Promoting safe sex is now a principal aim of sex education. From the viewpoint of society, safe sex can be regarded as a harm reduction strategy. The goal of safer sex is education and risk reduction.

In contrast to protected sex is unprotected sex, which can refer to:

Although safe sex practices can be used as a form of family planning, the term refers to efforts made to prevent infection as well as conception. Many effective forms of contraception do not offer protection against STDs.


Recently, and mostly within Canada and the United States, the use of the term safer sex rather than safe sex has gained greater use by health workers, with the realization the grounds that risk of transmission of sexually transmitted infections in various sexual activities is a continuum rather than a simple dichotomy between risky and safe. However, in most other countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia, the term safe sex is still mainly used by sex educators.

Focus on HIV/AIDS

Much attention has focused on controlling HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, through the use of condoms. However, as many STDs can be transmitted through other activities, some sex educators recommend that barrier protection be used for all sexual activities which have the potential for disease transmission, such as manual penetration of the anal or vaginal cavities, or oral stimulation of the genitals.

Safe sex precautions

Sex by yourself

Known as autoeroticism, solitary sexual activity is relatively safe. Masturbation, the simple act of stimulating one's own genitalia, is safe so long as contact is not made with other people's discharged bodily fluids. However, some practices, such as self-bondage and autoerotic asphyxia, are made considerably more dangerous by the absence of people who can intervene if something goes wrong.

Modern technology does permit some activities, such as "phone sex" and "cybersex", that allow for partners to engage in sexual activity without being in the same room, eliminating the risks involved with exchanging bodily fluids.

Non-penetrative sex

A range of sex acts, sometimes called "outercourse", can be enjoyed by lovers with significantly reduced risks of infection and pregnancy. U.S. President Bill Clinton's surgeon general, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, tried to encourage the use of these practices among young people, but her position encountered opposition from a number of outlets, including the White House itself, and resulted in her being fired by President Clinton in December of 1994.Getting Out the Wrecking Ball - TIMEJoycelyn Elders: From Sharecropper's Daughter to Surgeon General of the United States of America. - book reviews | Washington Monthly | Find Articles at BNET.comPresident Clinton Makes a Celebratory Return to His Starting Point in Arkansas - New York Times

Limiting fluid exchange

Various devices are used to avoid contact with blood, vaginal fluid, and semen during sexual activity:

If a latex barrier is being used, any lubrication must not be oil based, as this can break down the structure of the latex and undo the protection it gives.

Other Precautions

Acknowledging that it is usually impossible to have entirely risk-free sex with another person, proponents of safe sex recommend that some of the following methods be used to minimize the risks of STD transmission and unwanted pregnancy.

Ineffective methods

Note that most methods of contraception other than the barrier methods mentioned above are not effective at preventing the spread of STDs. This includes the "rhythm method", which is also commonly known as Natural Family Planning.

The spermicide Nonoxynol-9 has been claimed to reduce the likelihood of STD transmission. However a recent study by the World Health Organization has shown that Nonoxynol-9 is an irritant and can produce tiny tears in mucous membranes, which may increase the risk of transmission by offering pathogens more easy points of entry into the system. As a result condoms with a Nonoxynol-9 lubricant are not to be promoted.

Coitus interruptus (or "pulling out"), in which the penis is removed from the vagina, anus, or mouth before ejaculation, is not safe sex and can result in STD transmission. This is because of the formation of pre-ejaculate, a fluid that oozes from the urethra before actual ejaculation. In opposition to conventional wisdom, some recent studies awaiting confirmation suggest that pre-ejaculate may not contain sperm; it can, however, contain pathogens such as HIV. In addition, open sores on either partner can permit transmission, as can microscopic breaks in the skin which arise due to friction, or other irregularities in the skin of either partners genitalia or other body parts.

Dangers of anal sex

Unprotected anal sex is a high risk activity regardless of sexual orientation. Research suggests that although gay men are more likely to engage in anal sex, heterosexual couples are more likely not to use condoms when doing so.

Anal sex is more risky than vaginal, since being very thin tissues of anus and rectum can be easily damaged during such sex activities as anal intercourse or use of anal toys. Even slight injuries can become "open gates" for various bacteria and viruses, including HIV. This implies that anal sex does require some certain safety measures. First of all, any partners who practice anal sex should be aware of the necessity of using a condom. The condom must be put on properly, otherwise it does not provide reliable protection. Users should keep in mind that oil-based lubricants damage latex. For this reason water-based lubricants should be used for anal sex. Those who have allergy to latex should consider use of non-latex condoms, for instance polyurethane condoms that are compatible with both oil-based and water-based lubricants.

Condoms should also be used with sex toys. Through putting a condom on the sex toy a user provides better hygiene and prevents transmission of infections if the sex toy is shared. Cleaning of anal sex toys is also a very important matter as many anal sex toys are made of porous materials. Pores retain viruses and bacteria. For this reason users should clean anal toys (plugs, anal vibrators) thoroughly, preferably with use of special sex toy cleaners. Glass sex toys are more preferred for sexual uses because of their non-porus nature and ability to be sterilized between uses.

Abstinence as an alternative to safe sex

One way to avoid the risks associated with sexual contact is to abstain from sexual activity entirely, which nearly eliminates the chances of contracting STDs (the only alternative methods of infection being non-sexual as described below).

Some groups, notably some American evangelical Christians and the Roman Catholic Church oppose sex outside marriage, and object to safe-sex education programs because they believe that providing such education promotes promiscuity. Virginity pledges and sexual abstinence education programs are often promoted in lieu of contraceptives and safe-sex education programs. This can place some teenagers at higher risk of unintended pregnancy and STDs, because up to 60 percent of teenagers who pledge virginity until marriage do engage in pre-marital sex and are then one-third less likely to use contraceptives than their peers who have received more conventional sex education.

STDs may also be transmitted through non-sexual means. Thus, abstinence from sexual behavior does not guarantee complete protection against STDs. For example, HIV may be transmitted through contaminated needles used in tattooing, body piercing, or injections. Medical or dental procedures using contaminated instruments can also spread HIV, while some health-care workers have acquired HIV through occupational exposure to accidental injuries with needles.

See also

External links

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