Understanding STDs

When it comes to sex, nothing is risk-free. Any sexual contact with the penis, vagina, anus, or mouth can spread an STD. The only sure way to prevent STDs is abstinence (not having sex). But there are ways to make sex safer. Use a latex condom each time you have sex. And choose your partner wisely.

Woman and man lying in bed. Man is reaching for condom in bedside table drawer.Use condoms for safer sex

If you have sex, latex condoms provide the best protection against STDs. Latex condoms stop the exchange of body fluids that carry certain STDs. They also limit contact with affected skin. Be aware though, a condom doesn’t cover all skin. So affected skin that is not covered can still transfer disease. But you’re safer with a condom than without one. Use a condom even if you use other birth control. While birth control methods like the pill or IUD help prevent pregnancy, they do not protect against STDs.

Choose the right condom

Condoms made of latex prevent disease best. If you’re allergic to latex, use polyurethane condoms instead. Male condoms fit over the penis. Female condoms line the vagina. Before buying a condom, read the label to be sure it prevents disease. Some novelty condoms don’t.

The right lubricant helps

Buy lubricated condoms or use lubricant. This provides greater comfort and reduces the risk of condom breakage. Use only water-based lubricants such as K-Y or Astroglide. Don’t use oil, lotion, or petroleum jelly. They can weaken the condom, causing breakage. Also, you may want to choose lubricants without nonoxynol-9. It’s now known that this spermicide does not prevent disease and may cause irritation.

Use condoms correctly

For condoms to work, they must be used the right way. Keep these tips in mind.

  • Use a new latex condom each time you have sex. Slip the condom on the penis before any contact is made.

  • When ready to withdraw, hold the rim of the condom as the penis pulls out. This prevents the condom from slipping off.

  • Check the expiration date before using a condom.

  • Don’t store condoms in places that can get hot, such as a car or a wallet that is carried in a back pocket.

Get to know your partner

Safer sex is a process. It involves getting to know your partner and making informed choices. Ask each other how many partners you have had in the past, and how many you have now. Find out if either of you has an STD. If you decide to have sex, use a condom each time. Don’t stop using condoms unless you’re sure neither of you has other partners and you’ve both been tested to confirm you don’t have STDs. Then stay free of disease by having sex only with each other (monogamy).

Keep your cool

Don’t let alcohol or drugs cloud your judgment. They could lead you to have sex with someone you wouldn’t have chosen if you were sober. Or, you might forget to use a condom. If you do plan to have sex, keep a latex condom with you. Don’t wait until you’re in the heat of passion to try to find one.

Consider abstinence

The only way to be sure you won’t get an STD is to abstain from sex. Abstinence is a choice that many people make at some point in their lives. Maybe you want to wait until you are sure you’re ready before you have sex. Maybe you’d like a break from the responsibilities of sex for a while. Or maybe you just want to know your partner better before taking the next step. Abstinence is a choice you can make now to protect your future.