A safer sex practice is a behaviour that reduces the risk of getting or spreading a sexually transmitted infection (STI). They include:
Abstinance refers to refraining from sexual activity. This is a sure-fire way to eliminate the risk of getting or spreading an STI. However, some STIs can be spread through non-penetrative activities such as deep kissing or body rubbing. Deep kissing can spread hepatitis B and body rubbing can spread genital warts and genital herpes.
2. Enjoy solo activities
When you are by yourself there is no chance of getting an STI; these infections are spread from one person to another by microorganisms. Solo activities include watching porn, phone sex, and solo masturbation. However, you can spread an infection you already have to other parts of your body. For example, if you have herpes and touch a herpes sore, you transfer the herpes virus to your hands. If you then touch another part of your body that has a small cut (even a microscopic cut that you can’t see), the virus will enter the cut and infect that area.
3. Use a barrier
Barriers (e.g. condoms, dental dams and gloves) prevent microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses that cause STIs, from being spread from one person to another. Condoms are the only form of contraceptive that also reduces the risk of getting or spreading a sexually transmitted infection. For information on how to use a condom see 10 steps to using a condom properly. And find free condoms on- and off-campus!
4. Negotiate sexual activity with your partner(s)
Negotiating sexual activity with your partner(s) means talking to your partner(s) about using barriers (condoms, dental dams), about participating in activities that can spread STIs and about determining if sex outside your relationship is acceptable. If your partner(s) doesn’t wish to use a barrier, then you need to negotiate what sexual activities (if any) you will do. Getting consent is part of healthy sexual communication.
5. Properly disinfect shared sex toys
Sex toys can spread microorganisms from one person to another if they are shared and not cleaned properly. The method of cleaning depends on the material that the toy is made of. Instructions for the proper cleaning of a sex toy are usually included with the product. There is information on how to clean sex toys online.
6. Participate in activities where body fluids are not shared
Some STIs (like HIV and hepatitis B) are spread by microorganisms found in body fluids. Activities where body fluids are not shared include body rubbing, massage, and S&M. It is important to note, though, that some STIs (like genital warts and genital herpes) are not spread by body fluids and can be transmitted by simple skin to skin contact.
7. Avoid contact with another person’s sores
The sores that result from herpes or genital warts contain viruses that can be spread to others. However, sores can be so small that they are invisible to the naked eye. Using barrier protection can reduce the spread of the viruses found in sores, provided that the barrier covers the sore.
8. Limit the number of sexual partners
Studies show that the more sexual partners a person has, the greater the chance of getting or spreading an STI.
9. Share relevant information with each other about sexual history and STI status
Talking with your partner about sex in general, and talking about sexually transmitted infections in particular, can reveal information that will help you make decisions about sexual activity to reduce the risk of getting or spreading an STI.
10. Avoid sex under the influence of an amount of alcohol or drugs that would interfere with decision-making or sticking with decisions you have made about sexual activity
Sharing a drink with a partner can be part of a romantic evening. However, drinking too much (or using drugs) can affect your decision-making about sexual behavior or sticking with the decisions you have already made.
11. Get tested for STIs
Many people are not aware they have an STI and spread it to their partners. By getting tested, you will be aware of your STI status and can take steps to prevent spreading STIs to others. Testing for STIs is available at Concordia University Health Services and other locations in Montreal.
12. Get vaccinated against STIs
Getting vaccinated will greatly reduce your risk of getting infected. Vaccinations are available for hepatitis B and the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancers. Concordia University Health Services offers a variety of vaccines, including vaccines against STIs.
13. Inform your previous partners if you discover you have an STI
Several STIs have no noticeable symptoms or very mild ones. If you have been diagnosed with an STI, inform your current and previous partner(s) so that they can get tested and treated if necessary. You can get some ideas about how to speak to your previous partner(s) in this brochure. If you feel uncomfortable contacting a partner, meet with a nurse at Health Services who can inform the Department of Public Health so they can anonymously contact your previous partners. An online partner notification resource for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections is from the Portail VIH/sida du Quebec.
14. Treat an STI
Some STIs (like chlamydia and gonorrhea) can be cured. If you treat an STI you won’t spread it to others. However you can get re-infected if you are exposed to the bacteria again.
15. Become informed about healthy sexuality, safer sex and STIs
This includes reading about healthy sexuality, safer sex and STIs, talking with friends and family, speaking with a trusted health professional, and more. The more you know, the better prepared you are to protect yourself and your partners. Consult our healthy sexuality resources page for a list of reliable sources of sexual health information.
16. Adopt positive attitudes towards safer sex
This may not seem like a safer sex practice, but without a positive attitude towards safer sex, a person will likely not engage in behaviours that can reduce the risk of getting or spreading an STI. Focus on the many benefits of safer sex. Identify how safer sex fits with your value system (such as treating yourself and others kindly, and living a healthy life). Become aware of how an STI (such as HIV or hepatitis B) can interfere with reaching life goals, such as successfully completing your studies. Safer sex makes sense on many levels. Protect your health and adopt safer sex practices!