If you’re a young adult going off to college or living away from your family for the first time, you’re facing a lot of new experiences and responsibilities. Taking care of your health is one of those responsibilities, and your sexual health is a key part of that.
If you’ve decided to have sex, a first step is clear communication. Protect both your health and the health of your partner by discussing how you can prevent STIs (sexually transmitted infections), avoid unplanned pregnancies, and minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Common STIs include HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, trichomoniasis, and HPV (human papillomavirus), and they can be spread by any form of intimate contact, including oral, vaginal, and anal sex.
If you have vaginal (penis-in-vagina) sex, recommended safety precautions include using both a condom and another form of birth control (such as the pill or an IUD), as a way of preventing both pregnancy and STIs.
If you have anal sex, use a condom and a condom-safe lubricant. If you have oral sex, use a condom or a dental dam. Condoms and dental dams provide a barrier that protects you and your partner from passing on STIs to each other; however, they do not protect against HPV.
In these times, talking about your COVID-19 risk factors and vaccination status with your partners is another part of taking care of your health. Although COVID-19 is not an STI, it is easily spread by intimate contact. And even if you’ve been vaccinated, it is still possible for you to get COVID-19.
Speaking honestly with your healthcare provider about your sex life helps them fully understand how they can best help you stay healthy. For instance, they can discuss your contraception options, or they can discuss whether PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis — a medicine that when taken as prescribed can prevent HIV infection) is right for you. (Feeling shy about discussing personal topics with your healthcare provider? Don’t be — they are there to address any questions or concerns you may have about your health. Read “How to Discuss ‘Embarrassing’ Topics with Your Doctor” for tips.)
Many people feel anxious or uncomfortable about discussing safer sex, and that’s understandable, seeing as how sex is treated as a “taboo topic” in many situations. But there’s no reason to be shy about the topic of sex when you’re talking to someone you are, or may be, having sex with.
If you’re not sure what to say, practice beforehand or write down a list of talking points you can refer to. Set aside a time when you can have a focused conversation (rather than waiting until a passionate moment). A partner who respects you and your health will also respect your safer sex boundaries and use the protection that keeps you both safe.
Planned Parenthood offers some further guidelines for talking about safer sex with a partner:
• Use “I” statements — such as “I want us to protect each other.”
• Clearly state that you want to use protection if you’re going to have sex, and that you won’t have unprotected sex.
• Explain that using protection will allow both of you to enjoy sex more, since it removes the need to worry about STIs or unplanned pregnancy.
• Use positive language — for example, “I want to talk with you about this because I care about you.”
• Make sure the conversation is a two-way street. Try to understand their point of view, and ask questions.
• Work together to get the protection you need. This means talking about how to get protection and who’s going to pay for it, both now and in the future.
• Start the conversation when you’re about to have sex. Talk about it before you have sex, so you can make sure you’re doing all you can for protection (for instance, talking to your doctor about birth control).
• Use judgmental, aggressive, or controlling language.
• Assume that condoms have negative connotations. Many people use condoms and are accustomed to them. People use condoms because they care about themselves and each other.
Carbon Health provides inclusive, judgment-free medical care. Our physicians can prescribe PrEP and contraceptive medications including emergency contraception (commonly known as the “morning after pill,” although it can actually be taken up to 72 hours after intercourse), as well as provide screening and treatment for STIs.
Visit carbonhealth.com or download the Carbon Health app today.
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.