safe sexDeciding to have sex is a big step. It can be scary, nerve-wracking, and–most of all–super exciting. Practicing safe sex means that you can more easily enjoy having sex with a new partner, confident in the knowledge that you’re protecting your body and your health. Safe sex practices simply combine the greatest pleasure with the least risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as herpes or syphilis. Safe sex can actually enhance your sex life by increasing communication and trust between you and your sexual partners.

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.

STAYING SAFE AGAINST STDs
1. Get tested regularly. Go to your doctor or a free clinic regularly to get screened for HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections or diseases.
2. Use latex condoms. Male condoms should be used for any kind of sex, including vaginal, anal, and oral contact.
3. Consider using a female condom for penetrative vaginal sex. They are effective against most STIs and can help reduce the chances of pregnancy, though the failure rate is higher than with hormonal contraception.
4. Understand that oral and anal sex are also risky. The risk of infection when having intercourse anally is greater because the skin of the anus is thinner, making infection and disease transmission more of a possibility.

WHAT IS SAFEST SEX?
The safest way to prevent HIV or STIs, of course, is abstinence, which is no sex at all. Next, the safest sex is sex that is shared between two people who are not infected with any STIs (including HIV), who only have sex with each other, and who don’t use injectable drugs.

WHAT IF BOTH PEOPLE ARE ALREADY INFECTED?
Some people who are HIV-infected don’t see the need to follow safer sex guidelines when they are sexual with other infected people. However, it still makes sense to “play safe.” If you don’t, you could be exposed to other sexually transmitted infections such as herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis or syphilis. If you already have HIV, these diseases can be more serious. Choosing a sex partner based on their HIV infection status is called “sero sorting.” A recent study showed that this is not a very effective way to reduce the risk of HIV infection.
Also, though uncommon, you might get “re-infected” with a different strain of HIV. This new version of HIV might be resistant to antiretroviral drugs. Following the guidelines for safer sex will reduce the risk.

THE BOTTOM LINE
HIV infection can occur during sexual activity. Sex is safe only if there is no HIV, no blood or sexual fluids, or no way for HIV to get into the body. You can reduce the risk of infection if you avoid unsafe activities or if you use barriers like condoms. Decide on your limits and stick to them.