Condoms are an extremely effective and essential way to practice safe sex. Make condoms even more effective with these tips for preventing STDs, including HIV.
Practice safe sex. It’s a message that’s been driven into our heads since we first became aware of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And for good reason: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that of the 1.2 million people in the United States living with HIV, 20 percent are unaware of their infections, not to mention chlamydia, gonorrhea, and all the other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that threaten sexual health. Anyone who wants to prevent STDs, HIV included, should not only use condoms, but also use them along with other safe sex practices. Here’s how to practice safer sex.
Choose the Right Condoms
The only way to prevent STDs with condoms is to use the right kind consistently — and correctly — during all acts of vaginal or anal intercourse, says Alyssa Dweck, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Westchester County, N.Y., and author of V Is for Vagina.
“Natural membrane condoms are not as protective since the pores in the material are large enough for virus and bacteria to penetrate, so use latex or polyurethane condoms,” Dr. Dweck says. Also make sure the condom is a reliable brand name, such as Trojan. A condom should not be too loose or too tight, and there should be enough space at the tip for semen and additional penile enlargement.
Use Condoms Properly
When it comes to safe sex, the phrase “consistently and correctly” cannot be repeated too many times. “Condoms must be used 100 percent of the time to prevent STDs,” says Mimi Secor, FNP, a family nurse practitioner with the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and a specialist in women’s health in Newton, Mass. “Apply the condom before the penis touches the vaginal opening,” she says. “Then hold the condom on the penis when withdrawing from the vagina, making sure you withdraw before losing the erection,” she says. Secor also suggests using only water-based lubricants and notes that condoms are intended for only 5 to 15 minutes of use, not 30 to 60 minutes. “Also never use condoms that have expired or been stored in a wallet for many months,” she says.
Talk About Safe Sex
“Having open and honest conversations about sex is important when it comes to preventing HIV and other STDs,” says Melissa Peskin, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston. Parents should talk to their teenagers about safe sex, and sexual partners of all ages should talk to each other about their sexual history, including STDs. “And the heat of the moment is not the time to discuss condom use and other safe sex practices. Make sure you talk about how you will practice safe sex with your partner ahead of time,” she says. Make a personal decision to not have sex with anyone who refuses to use a condom.
Keep Alcohol and Drugs Out of Sex
Researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, reviewed results from 27 studies regarding alcohol and found that even minimal alcohol consumption influenced unprotected sexual behavior among people living with HIV/AIDS. “Alcohol and drugs take away inhibition and thus promote risky behavior and increase the risk of HIV and other STDs,” Dweck says. The safest sex is sober sex.
Practice Monogamy to Prevent STDs
“People in monogamous relationships, in which they only have one partner for a long period of time, have the lowest risk of STDs,” Dweck says. Secor adds that monogamous relationships are most conducive to safe sex when partners talk to one another about their sexual histories, including history of STDs and any recent STD testing and results, before they become intimate.
Get Regular STD Screenings
“Some STDs, like chlamydia, may not cause obvious symptoms, so infection can be passed unknowingly,” Dweck says. And in terms of HIV, people may get tested in the four- to six-week window before their bodies start making antibodies and get a false negative result, notes HIV expert Antonio E. Urbina, MD, associate medical director of the Center for Comprehensive Care at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.
Check Your Skin in the Interest of Safe Sex
To prevent STDs, if you have any abraded skin in the area of your genitals, any sores, or a rash of any kind, avoid sex until you can be checked by your health care professional, Dweck says. Any type of open area on your skin is a break in your body’s protective barrier and increases the chances of contracting HIV or another STD.
Keep Up to Date on Safe Sex Practices
In order to practice safe sex, you must become educated on what is and what is not harmless. “For example, many people don’t know you can get and give STDs during oral sex,” Dweck says. She also notes that the spermicide nonoxynol 9 can actually increase risk for HIV and other STDs because it irritates the genital surface.