Although abstinence and condoms are the best way of preventing HIV/Aids and other STIs, there are a lot of general safer sex rules that one should follow - as well as ways of communicating your sexual boundaries - to protect oneself.
There are also many other ways in which you can enjoy your sexuality besides intercourse and oral sex.
Tips for safer intercourse:
- A condom should be used for all sex practices, i.e. vaginal, anal and oral sex.
- Avoid casual sex, sex with someone who is promiscuous, a partner who is an intravenous drug user or with a person whose sexual history is unknown.
- Never allow semen, vaginal fluids, blood or menstrual blood to come into contact or enter the vagina, anus, penis, mouth or broken skin.
- Wash your hands if they have been in contact with semen or other body fluids. Rinse your mouth with cold water if in contact with semen and don't brush your teeth immediately afterwards.
- Avoid anal or rough vaginal intercourse that could tear the skin or moist lining of the genitals, anus or mouth and cause bleeding.
- Don't share sex toys, and if you do, make sure that you cover them with condoms.
Setting sexual boundaries early on in a relationship is important. Consensual sex is a relationship between equal partners in which both parties are willing and in agreement on what sexual practices will take place and how.
In a consenting relationship, both parties are in an able mental state and have expressed their willingness to participate, and neither feels pressured to comply or feels threatened to perform acts they are not comfortable with.
In a consensual relationship, no means no, whatever the reason. If either party says 'no', or 'stop', then it's understood that this is exactly what they mean and anything sexual after this constitutes sex outside of the boundaries of consent.
Tips to make it easier
When talking about sex, it's important to speak clearly, be direct and firm about your boundaries and what you are prepared to do.
It's also important to talk about sexual limits and protection before you engage in any foreplay or sexual activity.
When talking about your limits and protection, make sure it is in a neutral setting where you are both comfortable.
Listen to what your partner is saying and ask him or her questions if you are confused or not sure about anything and avoid negative messages such as frowning and interrupting.
Safe oral sex rules
- Some STIs can be transmitted via oral sex. Don't perform oral sex when you have a cold, a sore throat, open sores in your mouth or if you have just brushed your teeth.
If you perform oral sex on a man (fellatio) always use a condom.
- Use flavoured condoms if you dislike the taste of latex
- When performing oral sex on a woman (cunnilingus), a dental dam (latex sheath placed over the vagina) will make sure you do not get vaginal fluid or menstrual blood into your mouth.
- Non-porous plastic wraps, such as non-microwavable plastic wrap (e.g. Glad Wrap) can also be placed over the vagina, or a condom can be cut open for this purpose.
- Do not receive oral sex from someone who has a cold sore.
How STIs occur
The majority of STIs are transmitted when infected mucous membranes come into contact with uninfected mucous membranes.
While oral-anal sex (anilingus or 'rimming') doesn't appear to carry a high risk for HIV infection unless there is blood present, the possibility of contracting the hepatitis B virus, the herpes simplex virus and the cytomegalovirus is high.
A latex sheath (dental dam) or a spliced-open condom should be used to cover the anal area. If you have open wounds on your fingers, wear a condom over your finger before inserting it into the vagina or anus of your partner.
If you practise vaginal and anal fisting, use latex gloves and take care of your nails, as sharp edges may tear gloves and condoms.
Avoid alcohol and drugs as they can impair your immune system and judgement. If you use intravenous drugs, don't share needles, syringes and other drug paraphernalia.
Safe, alternative sexual practices
Safe practices that are still enjoyable include:
- Cuddling and body-to-body rubbing
- Erotic massage
- Thigh rubbing/ sex
- Bathing together
- Masturbating alone/ together
- Sexual fantasies
- Phone and cyber sex
- Using personal sex toys