- Abstinence is when you choose not to engage in any genital to genital, genital to skin or genital to body fluid contact whatsoever. It is the only way that you can be sure that you won’t become pregnant and that you won’t get an STI through sexual contact (although you can get some STIs, such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B if you share needles for drugs or tattooing). Whether or not you are a virgin, you can choose to practice abstinence by committing not to have sex with anybody in the near future.
- Masturbation is when you give yourself sexual pleasure by touching and stroking sexual parts of your body. If you masturbate by yourself, you cannot get an STI or become pregnant. However, if you choose to use someone else’s sex toys that haven’t been properly washed or you’ve just been touching someone else’s genital area, there is a chance that you could contract an STI.
If you do decide to be sexually active with another person, practicing safer sex reduces the risk of getting an STI or being faced with an unplanned pregnancy. There are a number of different ways of practicing “safer sex” and reducing your risks.
- Mutual monogamy is when you only have sex with one, uninfected partner who only has sex with you. To ensure you’re both free from infection, get tested before you start having sex. Even if you show no symptoms, it is still possible to have an STI. Respect yourself and your partner by deciding not to cheat and not to lie about other partners.
- Limit your number of sex partners – The more partners you have, the higher your risk of exposure to STIs. Choose only to have sex with partners you know and trust. Respecting yourself includes making good decisions about your sex partners.
- Talk to your partner before you start having sex – Communicate openly with your partner about STIs, protection against STIs, and pregnancy. Talking about these things before you start having sex builds trust and respect and is an important way to lower both your risks for contracting an STI or facing an unplanned pregnancy. Being ready to have sex also means being ready to talk about protection, STIs and pregnancy.
- Use protection – Latex condoms and/or oral dental dams should be used correctly every time you have oral, vaginal or anal sex or if you have sexual contact with your partner’s genital area or anus. If you are using a lubricant, be sure it is water-based like K-Y jelly, Astroglide or glycerine because oil-based lubricants, like petroleum jelly, baby oil or cooking oil, can cause latex condoms to break leaving you without protection. Also, consider using an additional form of birth control to aid in the prevention of an unplanned pregnancy. Protecting yourself and your partner means you are respecting yourself and your partner.
- Only have sex with partners whose sexual background you know – By talking to your partner about his or her sexual past before having sex, you will know what risks they have taken in the past and will know how to best protect yourself. Being ready to have sex also means being ready to talk to your partner about STIs and protection.
- Have regular check-ups – If you are sexually active, visit your doctor or nurse at least once a year. If you regularly engage in sex with different partners, get tested every time you switch partners or when your partner has sex someone else and then you again. By getting tested you are respecting your body’s health.
- Talk to your previous partners if you test positive for an STI so that they can get tested and treated if need be. Many people with an STI will not have any visible symptoms and may not realize they need to get tested unless you tell them. Respect your previous partners and their health by letting them know if they should get tested.