It feels like such a long time ago that I was sat in a stuffy classroom with 25 other teenagers, being taught how to put a condom and a banana and being shown pictures of genital warts. When I was a teenager, this was all that sex education really consisted of. There were no discussions about healthy relationships, consent, different contraception options or anything of real importance. This includes safe sex – aside from condoms, I found out all I know about safe sex from good old Google.
I know that times are changing, and in the UK we are even progressing by having Relationship & Sex Education as part of the curriculum (took them long enough but that’s a different blog post entirely), so most of you reading this are probably a lot more clued up than I was. But as The Hormone Diaries series is meant to be semi-advisory and somewhat educational, it felt right to discuss safe sex as well.
What is safe sex?
Safe sex is basically any sort of sexual activity that uses methods or devices to protect against unwanted pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted infections. Safe sex can also be called safer sex or protected sex, and can also be used in relation to the wider topic of making healthy decisions about sex.
Unless you are trying for a baby, it is a good idea to make sure you are practising safe sex all the time -whether that is with a long-term partner, a friend with benefits or a one-night stand. There are a few things you can do to ensure you have safe and protected sex, some of which are very practical, and others which look more into the mental health side of safe sex.
Research your safe sex options
There are so many options out there in terms of contraception that you will definitely be able to find something that works for you and your partner. I’ve listed some of the ones I could think of off the top of my head down below, but I’m sure there are probably more out there!
- Male condoms
- Contraceptive pill
- Contraceptive implant
- Contraceptive patch
- Contraceptive injection
- Contracptive cap (aka diaphragm)
- Hormonal coil (IUD)
- Non-hormonal coil (IUS)
- Female condoms
- Vaginal ring
It is definitely worth researching contraception before making any decisions as they all have different benefits and side-effects, as well as different rates of preventing pregnancy. All of the necessary information can be found on the NHS website or with a quick search.
Take the contraceptive pill, for example, there are so many different combinations of hormones that can affect how and when you take the pill as well as the potential side effects, that it’s worth looking into!
It is also worth noting that only condoms protect against both STIs and pregnancy – all other forms of contraception listed below will only protect you against pregnancy. You should always ensure that you are protected for both.
Know your status
If you are sexually active or have been in the past, it’s important you are checked regularly for STIs. STI stands for sexually transmitted infection. STIs are not only passed on during sex – but can also be passed on by touching, rubbing and any general contact with the genital region. For example, genital warts are primarily transmitted during penetrative sex but can be passed on if you come into contact with an infected area and then touch yourself. It’s really important to know that you and your partner are ‘clean’ and have been tested recently before engaging in any sexual activity, with or without protection.
STIs can be sneaky, as some infections do not cause significant symptoms or signs until several weeks, months, or even years after you’ve contracted them. By the time you find out you have the STI, you may have unknowingly shared it with someone. Likewise, a partner may unknowingly share an STI with you.
STI tests can be performed by any GP or you can visit your nearest sexual health clinic to be tested for free. For women, the procedure is really quick and simple. A small swab will be inserted into the vagina, wiggled around a bit and that’s it, you’re done! At some colleges and universities, you can also access self-testing kits, so that you can conduct the test yourself and simply take this to the doctor to be sent off for results.
Don’t forget to clean your sex toys, too
As you will know if you are a regular here, I’m a fan of sex toys whether you are single or in a relationship (or maybe even somewhere in between). Whilst sex toys are safe in the sense that they cannot get you (or your partner) pregnant, they can still spread STIs. You should always wash your sex toys after every use. Most sex toy retailers will sell wipes that are produced specifically for sex toys, so I would recommend picking up some of these. If you prefer, you can also use condoms on sex toys and this will act as a barrier for infection as well as keep your toy nice and clean. Always double-check the little instruction book that comes with your toy as some materials will require certain cleaning methods.
Were you taught about safe sex in detail at school, or did you learn from other sources? Was there anything that you learnt from this post, or any topics around sex and relationships that you would like me to cover? Let me know in the comments!