By Marie Haka
Spring is here in full swing and summer is on the horizon. That means scantily-clad encounters on the beach, late-night parties, and plenty of potential hook-ups. Jane Bogart, UC Santa Cruz’s resident sexpert and director of Student Health Outreach and Promotion (SHOP), gives tips about how to have fun while staying safe during this summer’s hot and heavy nights.
Before embarking on any erotic adventure, make sure you and your partner(s) have open communication and mutual respect. Talking about a sexual encounter before it happens is a great way to discover one’s likes, dislikes, and fantasies — increasing everyone’s pleasure. This is also the perfect time to discuss what type of safer-sex methods you prefer to use. Do not be embarrassed to insist on protection — you only have one body.
What’s the risk?
Any time you come into contact with another person’s genitals or bodily fluids, there is a chance of spreading a sexually transmitted infection (STI). According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in two people between the ages of 15 and 25 have or will have an STI by age 25. Bogart explained that chlamydia is the most common STI and often has no visible symptoms, but can lead to infertility if left untreated. Herpes and the human papilloma virus (HPV) are also common infections, and can be transmitted many ways, in addition to vaginal intercourse.
“HPV can grow on different parts of the body, and is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact,” Bogart said. “Gonorrhea and herpes can be spread orally, analingus can transmit hepatitis, and there is some risk of HIV infection via oral sex.”
Using a condom greatly reduces the chance of unintended pregnancy or contracting an STI. You can purchase your basic latex cheaply at SHOP’s Condom Co-op (eight for a dollar — best deal in town!) as well as texturized, ultra-thin and flavored varieties.
Some people are allergic to latex, but condoms made of polyurethane, a neutral plastic, can be a great alternative. Bogart added that female condoms (inserted polyurethane sheaths) are another good option because they can be put in place up to eight hours before sex, do not have to be removed immediately after, and provide protection for outer genitalia.
Know how to properly use your protection before the act. Never use oil-based products with latex as it will cause the material to disintegrate. Make sure lubricants are water or silicone-based. Ensure that no bodily fluids touch the outside of the condom before insertion, and leave room at the tip of the condom.
Using flavored condoms or dental dams (sheets of latex designed for oral sex) are a great way to be safe during your next oral encounter. Bogart added that plastic wrap can provide just as much protection as a dental dam. It’s cheap, can be cut to whatever size is needed, and can be used with pretty much any flavor-enhancing product.
Many STIs can be transferred through touch, so wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after touching your own genitals or anyone else’s. Consider using latex gloves or finger condoms, in case hand-washing gets forgotten in the heat of the moment.
Sex toys can be safe as long as they are clean, especially if sharing toys.
“If you are using a phallic-shaped toy, just put a condom on,” Bogart said. “If you want to switch back and forth, put on new condoms.”
Female condoms can also be used when sharing toys. Remember that any bodily fluids carry a risk of infection, so use your best judgment and be good to your body.
Peace of mind
Most STIs are treatable and some are curable, but the first step is getting tested. Free and anonymous HIV tests are available through SHOP, and the Student Health Center can test for most STIs with an appointment.
“If it is safer, it takes so much stress out of your life, both during and then after,” Bogart said.
Knowing that you have done everything to protect yourself and reduce your risk of unintended pregnancy and STI transmission will always make for a better morning-after. It shows that you have respect for yourself and your partner — and that you make smart, informed decisions.
_For more tips on safer sex, visit SHOP at Kresge College or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org._