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Safer sex

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Safer sex (also called safe sex) is a term describing practices designed to reduce the risk of catching sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Sexual abstinence obviously virtually eliminates the risk of STDs, but also the possibility of natural reproduction, and the joy of sex.

Most attention has focussed on controlling the HIV (AIDS) virus, but each STD presents a different situation.

Table of contents

Recommended practices

  • Solitary masturbation (including so-called "phone sex" and cybersex) is completely safe.
  • Monogamy. However, be aware that many monogamous people have been infected with sexually transmitted diseases by non-monogamous partners.
  • Knowing your partner, especially their STD status.
  • Communicating with your partner. Being assertive in saying what you want and don't want.
  • Not using recreational drugs, including alcohol, in a way that increases the likelihood you will "forget" other safer sex guidelines.
  • Avoiding any contact with blood and semen of the partner:
    • Using condoms for men. Do not handle with sharp fingernails, do not use together with oil-based lubricants, never reuse.
    • Female condom. For women having sexual intercourse
    • Dental dam. A sheet of latex, (originally for dentistry) for protection when engaging in oral sex on a woman (a piece of plastic wrap may also be used).

Note that most methods of contraception (birth control) other than the barrier methods mentioned above are not effective at preventing the spread of STDs.

The spermicide[?] Nonoxynol-9 has been claimed to reduce the likelihood of STD transmission, however more evidence is needed to verify this, and it cannot be recommended for this purpose at this time.

Change in terminology

With the realization that risk of transmission of sexually transmitted diseases in various sexual activities is a continuum rather than a simple dichotomy of risky/safe, US health workers began to talk of "safer sex" rather than "safe sex". However, in most other countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany, the term "safe sex" is still mainly used by sex educators, perhaps in the recognition that with the strict adherence to these techniques the risks of catching the more dangerous STDs are quite low.


Some conservatives object to the "safer sex" movement on the grounds that it promotes what they hold to be immoral behavior, namely sex outside of marriage. They believe that the best way to avoid sexual disease is abstinence before marriage followed by lifelong mutual fidelity thereafter.

In the U.S., Former United States Surgeon General Koop and some others have claimed that condoms are ineffective against HIV transmission during anal sex, holding that condoms are somewhat permeable to the tiny HIV virus. These claims have been disputed by medical researchers, who generally view correctly used condoms as effective protection. Some studies have shown that, even with the best of intentions, determined condom users sometimes forget to put them on before sex, so that the transmission rate remains disturbingly high. Advocates of safe sex education point out that it has to start at an early age to be effective, a notion which arouses even heavier opposition from conservatives given the taboo of child sexuality.

External links

  • "Guide to Safer Sex" from the Society for Human Sexuality's sexuality.org site. Very explicit information on making various sexual practices safer:
  • "Safe Sex" (http://mindprod.com/safesex) by Roedy Green. Introduction (with personal comments) by a HIV-positive gay man.

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