Safer sex and how to practice it

by Dr. Jimade Ola-Solomon

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Safer sex means sexual contact that:

  • Shows respect
  • is pleasurable
  • is freely consented to by both partners
  • reduces the risk of passing on any infections
  • reduces the risk of an unwanted pregnancy
  • is safe emotionally.

Sex is never an obligation – each partner has the right to say no. If a partner asks you to stop you must respect this.

Many young people know that if they are considering having sex, it’s really important to make sure it is safer sex. It isn’t always easy, and it can be embarrassing, but talking about safer sex is a sign of respect.

The law:

In Nigeria, if you are 18 or over, you can have sex with another person: as long as that person is also 18 or over, and he or she agrees to have sex with you.

It is not an offence to have sex with someone who is under 18 if you are legally married to that person.

If you are under 18, it is against the law for a person in a position of ‘care and authority’ (for example, a teacher) to have sex, or to try to have sex with you.

What is safer sex?

Safer sex means sexual contact that does not involve any blood, semen or vaginal fluids being passed between partners.

We say safer sex rather than safe sex because sex can’t be guaranteed 100% safe. The best way to have safe sex is to be in a relationship where neither of you has sex outside that relationship and where you are both free of any sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and you use contraception if you do not want to become pregnant. Some people say the only form of safe sex is to abstain totally (not have sex at all) but most people would see this as being unrealistic.

Even when using condoms for protection, some STIs such as genital warts and genital herpes can be passed on because the condom does not always cover the affected area.

Being ready for sex

Young people can feel a lot of pressure to have sex. Friends may tell you they’re all doing it (sometimes even if they’re not). You see it on the TV and in the movies. You might also feel pressured by a particular person. Or you might feel that it’s expected of you from a girlfriend or boyfriend.

Practising safer sex means looking after yourself emotionally. This means that you choose when to have sex and when not to, who with and how you have sex.

Safer sex activities

Some safer sexual activities (no exchange of body fluids)

Massage, hugging, touching.

Masturbation.

Social kissing (kissing with closed mouth).

Rubbing against each other.

Fantasy (just thinking about sex).

Kissing the body (clean skin, not sexual areas or open sores).

Saying no to anything you don’t feel comfortable about.

It is often assumed that these kinds of activities are only a lead-up to sexual intercourse. Many people find that these safer forms of sexual activity are more than enough to express their emotions and their love for each other.

Some probably safer sexual activities (there is not likely to be an exchange of body fluids)

French kissing (open mouth, as long as there are no sores and as long as the kiss isn’t so hard it draws blood)

Sex with a condom.

Some definitely not safe sexual activities

Anything that allows blood contact.

Sex without a condom (unless you are in a relationship where you can be sure that your partner does not have an STI, and you are using some  form of contraception if you do not want to become pregnant).

Using condoms that have been used before, or continuing to use one after it has broken.

Getting body fluids, eg. semen, menstrual blood or urine, inside the body of the other person, eg. vagina, anus or on open cuts.

If safer sex does not happen

Sometimes, despite your best intentions, safer sex does not happen every time. Some people may be less careful if they’ve been drinking, and others may forget in the heat of the moment. Don’t give up on safer sex because of a slip-up. Keep practising safer sex. You may not have been infected when you had unprotected sex, but going on having unprotected sex makes it more likely that you will become infected.

If you have unprotected sex, get tested for sexually transmitted infections such as Chlamydia. Chlamydia for example is common, easy to treat and can cause serious problems if not treated. Have STI testing regularly.

HIV

If you have unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive, see a doctor as soon as possible. PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) started within 72 hours of exposure (the earlier the better) reduces the likelihood of getting infected with HIV

Negotiating safer sex

Starting a conversation with a partner (or potential partner) about safer sex can be tough.

It is often difficult to be assertive when negotiating safer sex.

You could worry about your partner’s reaction.

You might worry about not knowing how to use a condom.

Many cultures don’t speak openly about sex and this can make it difficult because you’re just not used to talking about it.

Men and women are often brought up differently. Men may have been taught to be more dominant and women taught to be more passive – this can sometimes make it hard for women to take the lead.

None of these reasons mean that you should take a chance with unsafe sex.

When you bring the subject up, it’s pretty likely you’ll find that the other person has been wanting to bring the subject up too and feels just as unsure and awkward about it. It shows that you respect yourself and it shows that you respect your partner when you ask about safer sex.

The way you start the conversation will depend on the person and how well you know that person. One young woman tells us that when she is with a man she’s interested in she’s very direct. As they’re chatting she asks, “So, do you use condoms?” You could try saying, “This is pretty embarrassing, but I wonder if you are into safer sex?” It is preferable to have a conversation like this before you get to the stage of intimacy.

You may find it easy to be direct or may want to start broadly eg. “What do you think about condom use?” or “I saw a display at a health centre on safer sex today. What do you think about safer sex?” This way, you will at least get some idea of the other’s approach to safer sex. Perhaps you could ask friends for their favourite lines.

If the person doesn’t like the idea of using a condom, you have choices. You could:

ask why and be persuasive about the benefits

practice other methods of safer sex that don’t involve the exchange of any body fluids

decide to walk away and not take that risk.

Remember, you deserve protection from unwanted pregnancy or an infection.

Common excuses for not practicing safer sex

Here are some of the common excuses for not using condoms that we’ve heard:

“It destroys the romance and spontaneity”

Ways to get around this are to keep condoms close at hand, like in a handbag; strategic places around the house, or a bedside table. This way you don’t have to stop and search for it. (Don’t keep a condom in a warm place such as a wallet or car for too long or it will get damaged.)

You can make putting a condom on a part of your lovemaking.

Make it fun by using different types of condoms and lubricant.

“Hey, I’m not dirty – I’m clean”

Catching an STI doesn’t mean a person is dirty, it simply means the person has come into contact with someone else who had an STI. They may have no symptoms or visible signs of the infection.

“I hardly ever have sex”

It only takes one contact with a person with an STI to be at risk of catching it – a person can have an STI for a long time without realising, and still pass it on because it won’t go away on its own.

“I’m not gay. I’m not an injecting drug user”

Some people still have the mistaken idea that only gay men and injecting drug users get HIV/AIDS – anyone can get HIV/AIDS. Condoms reduce the risk of getting HIV/AIDS and many other STIs.

“Don’t you trust me?”

Certainly you may trust your partner, but can you trust his or her previous partner(s) and their previous partners? Taking an STI test together can be a very positive experience.

“I thought we loved each other”

If a person pressures you this way, and is willing to take these risks with your health, perhaps it’s time to rethink what you really want from a lover.

“But I’m already using contraception”

Condoms are not only for protection from pregnancy, but also provide some protection from STIs.

“It’s not as good with a condom”

So maybe sex with a condom on doesn’t feel exactly like sex without one – but people very soon get used to it and enjoy sex just as much. And because you’re both safer physically, you feel better and more relaxed emotionally.

When faced with comments like these, it can be really hard to remain assertive about what you want, even though it is your own safety and perhaps even your own life that is being risked. Acknowledge the other person’s feelings and thoughts, eg. to “I thought you loved me” you could say, “I do love you and I show you I love you in other ways. Risking our good health doesn’t prove our love but keeping each other safe is a way of showing true love.

Persuasion lines to have safer sex

Here are some persuasion lines to have safer sex that we’ve heard;

Let’s stay safe together.

I know you don’t think it’ll feel as good, but let’s give it a go and see.

Come on, it can be fun.

I’ll put it on for you.

I’ll last longer.

I don’t want you to fall pregnant.

I feel embarrassed talking about it too… but it’ll be worth it.

It’s really important to me.

Darling, are you ready to be a daddy/mummy?

Look, condoms in all the colours of the rainbow… choose one.

No sex without it babe.

How do you know I don’t have… (an STI such as Chlamydia).

Remember ‘it’s not on if it’s not on!’

Too much to drink or carried away?

One reason that young people have said they don’t use condoms is because they’ve been too drunk at the time. Another reason people have said they have unsafe sex is that they get carried away in the heat of the moment.

That is why it’s really important to discuss attitudes to safer sex and make sure you have condoms handy well before you get intimate. Once you’ve had unsafe sex you’re left to worry about infections or pregnancy, and to go through testing.

If you don’t use a condom, you should have an STI check before having sex with anyone else to avoid passing an STI on.

Pregnancy

If you could be at risk of being pregnant, the emergency contraceptive pill (‘morning after pill’) is available over the counter from pharmacies and sexual health clinics, or you could see your doctor. It prevents unwanted pregnancy, but you need to act quickly – it works best if started within 72 hours of unprotected sex, but it may work if started within 96 hours

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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