Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Nancy Carteron, MD, FACR
Safe Sex vs. Safer Sex
Sometimes ‘safe sex’ and ‘safer sex’ are used interchangeably, however, safer sex is a more accurate term and is preferred by sexual health experts.
The updated term is used instead of safe sex because any kind of sexual activity with a partner is never guaranteed to be 100 percent safe.
Using the term safe sex often gives people a false sense of security and discourages communication, frequent testing, and some of the other components included in a comprehensive safer sex approach. Consequently, the comprehensive approach has morphed to encompass a group of activities more closely aligned with one’s overall sexual health and includes practices other than just barrier usage which the older phrase traditionally emphasized.
Overall, safer sex is more precise by encapsulating the true risk inherent in all sexual activities.
That risk can be negated and greatly reduced by practicing all aspects of a comprehensive approach.
Sounds like this could get complicated, huh? It’s really not as hard as it initially sounds.
Rather, our bodies, our health, and responsible partnered sexual activities are all incredibly important to our well-being. Because all of those things are closely related, it becomes much easier to be diligent about our sexual health and the practices suggested to help us maintain a safer environment.
Once we wrap our minds around the process, it becomes habit and is easily incorporated in our relationships.
What Is Safer Sex
Safer sex consists of 4 basic steps one can take before and during sexual activities that are known to reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting STDs. When done together, one is being as responsible as possible with their sexual health.
Choosing not to do one of the items listed below means they’re not quite there yet and have some work to do to be fully accomplishing a comprehensive routine.
1. Talking to a partner about safer sex before engaging in activities with them. These conversations could include:
- Has either of us or any of our partners ever had an STD? When? Did we get treated? Did it come back and/or were we re-tested after treatment?
- Have we been tested – if so, when, for which STDs, and have we had partners since?
- How many sexual partners have we had in the last six months – what did we do to make sex safer? Have we been tested since?
- What do we usually do to make sex safer and what do we plan to do when we engage in sexual activities with one another?
These conversations can be tough to have at first, but they get much easier with practice.
Should one party not want to answer some of the questions suggested, should it seem like the individual is not being truthful, or should the answers be incomplete, one could consider whether the relationship is ready for the risk involved in sexual activities.
Sometimes, relationships just need a bit more time to develop before someone is comfortable answering what may feel like very personal questions. Other times, the individual is not mature or responsible enough yet, and it might not be a good idea to be engaging in those activities because of the risks they are taking.
2. Have full STD screenings and sexual health exams at least once a year and more often if you have new or multiple partners.
- Before engaging in sexual activities, get tested with that partner. If either of you recently engaged in sexual activities with another partner, it’s advisable to get tested again in 3 months to eliminate false negatives and to use barriers until the 2nd test is complete.
- Get tested before and after each new partner.
3. Use barriers consistently and correctly.
- When using a condom, place a drop or two of lube on the inside, and lots on the outside. LUBE is EVERYONE’s friend.
- Never use more than one condom at a time.
- Avoid condoms with spermicides.
- When using a dam, place a drop or two of lube on the side facing the genitals.
- When switching entry points (anal to vaginal, vice-a-versa, etc.) use a new condom.
- Use condoms or barriers for oral sex as well as penetrative sex.
- Do not use flavored condoms for anal or vaginal sex.
- Use a water-based or silicon-based sugar-free lube – no lotions, vaseline, oils, etc.
4. Consider making safer lifestyle choices to reduce risk.
- Reduce the number of multiple partners – one after another, or more than one at a time.
- Limit/eliminate drugs and alcohol when engaging in sexual activities.
- Be mutually exclusive with your partner.
Lastly, remember, all sexual activities pose some risk.
No one can tell you what you are ready to do and if you are not comfortable with a risk/activity, don’t do it.
It’s up to each individual to make that choice for themselves and to gauge which risks they are willing to accept.
Do not do anything you’re not comfortable with.
Communication is key and if there is a lack of communication or an unwillingness to engage in the safer sex activities listed above, know when to say no. Your body and your health are your first priority and a mature and responsible partner will respect your boundaries and will appreciate your efforts to keep both of you safer.
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Are you overwhelmed by a comprehensive approach to safer sex? Do you have some techniques for incorporating this approach that work well for you? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
- Sexual Health & STD References
- Safer Sex – STD Prevention
- STD Prevention – Your Ultimate Reference Guide
- Your Safer-Sex Tool Kit
- What Activities Put You At Risk
- 6 Things I Wish They Would Have Taught Me in Sex Ed
- Confessions of a Single Girl on The Prowl
- The 1st Time I Heard About STDs
- About STDs – Your Ultimate Reference Guide