Safer sex education
There are ways to help reduce or eliminate the risk of getting an STD. Some choices work better than others.
Young people need to understand prevention strategies and how well each one works. Then they can make the best choices for themselves and support friends in making healthy, responsible choices, too. People may use different strategies at different times in their lives. Sex and sexuality are a natural part of being human. As people get older, sex may change, but there are things people can do to keep safer sex part of their lives.
Being abstinent means choosing not to take part in sexual activity. People may define what this means in different ways. If a couple chooses to be abstinent, both partners need to agree on the same definition. Abstinence can be a way to practice safer sex if it is defined as avoiding any kind of sexual activity that could transmit an STD. This includes all kinds of intercourse – vaginal, oral and anal. It also includes avoiding sexual touching that can transmit herpes, HPV or syphilis, or pass along pubic lice or scabies.
What sex is – and what it isn’t – is very personal. Not everybody agrees on which activities “count” as forms of sex. Some people don’t believe oral sex is sex, for example. For some forms of sex, such as phone sex or online sex, you don’t have to be in the same room. But if you don’t call what you’re doing sex, you may think you’re safe from STD.
The risk of STD increases with the number of sexual partners. Being monogamous means having only one sexual partner. Two people who don’t have any STDs and who have sex only with each other are not at risk of STD. “Serial monogamy” means having sex with only one partner at a time but being in a series of different relationships. This carries a higher risk of STD. Every time two people have sex, they risk direct exposure from each other. But they also risk indirect exposure from everyone the partner has ever had sex with.
After abstinence and mutual, long-term monogamy, condoms offer the surest protection against STD. Condoms can also help prevent pregnancy. They’re easy to use, but they must be used correctly every time a couple has sex in order to be effective.
Condoms work as a barrier that prevents body fluids from coming into direct contact with the partner’s body. They come in two styles: external (male) condoms and internal (female) condoms. Condoms are available without a prescription and can be found in drug stores, convenience stores, groceries and online. They are sometimes available free from family planning clinics or public health clinics.
An ETR study on condom error in high school students indicates that condom breakage and slippage are fairly common among students who reported sexual activity. When the students in the study reported how they were using condoms, more than half reported making exactly the kinds of errors that contribute to breakage and slippage. Teaching condom skills is a vital component of many of ETR’s comprehensive sexual health education curricula.
Teaching prevention skills
The facts about how to prevent STD/HIV are clear. But facts alone don’t always lead people to make better choices about their health. Young people need support to learn the information, attitudes and skills that will protect them from STD. There is no single approach to teaching prevention skills that works for everyone, but programs that are the most effective generally teach the following:
- Knowledge about STDs and HIV and how to prevent them
- Refusal skills and an understanding of affirmative consent
- Personal perception of STD risk
- Personal values about sex and abstinence
- Understanding about the effectiveness of condoms
- Confidence and skills to use condoms correctly
Safer sex guidelines
Safer sex refers to practices that decrease the risk of getting STD, including HIV. Anyone who has had sex before could have an STD and not know it. Following safer sex guidelines doesn’t mean giving up sex. It does mean not doing certain sexual activities or finding safer ways to do them.
Safer sex involves being informed about how STDs are transmitted, not exchanging body fluids, using a condom correctly every time, and avoiding the use of drugs and alcohol during sex.
Using PrEP for safer sex
PrEP, which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, is an FDA-approved way for people to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day. The pill is called Truvada, and it contains two kinds of medicine that are also used in combination with other medicines to treat HIV. When used consistently, PrEP greatly reduces the risk of HIV. PrEP is a powerful prevention tool and can help reduce anxiety and stress for people at risk of contracting HIV.