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This comes up A LOT at Scarleteen, so just a reminder:
If you think — or are saying to others — things like that if you are using a method or methods of contraception, then there is no risk of pregnancy, or if you are either using safer sex practices, or aren’t, but you and partners have not had previous sexual partners, or have but have recently been tested for all the STIs you each can with negative results that there is no risk of STIs?
Please understand that is false.
If and when we are engaging in the activities — or have been made part of them unwillingly via abuse or assault — that pose those risks, there will always be SOME level of risk there still, including when we are using things, like birth control, latex/nonlatex barriers and testing, to reduce those risks.
Those things reduce risks (sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot, depending on what all we are using and how well we are doing so): they do not remove them.
If you only feel comfortable with NO risk of these things — and it’s okay if you don’t; most people will choose to take some level of risk of them because they can handle that and want to have the kinds of sex that present those risks — then you have to choose not to engage in those activities. At all.
If you want reduced risks of either or both of those things, then you have to use things and practices that reduce those risks. If you want to engage in those activities with the lowest risks you can have, then you need to do things like using dual contraception, including one highly effective method, and be really serious about safer sex — using barriers all the time and for all the activities that pose those risks, always keeping up with testing and insisting partners do, too.
Again, there is no one right set of choices here: this is about what you are yours want and feel most comfortable with now and in the long-term.
But just so we all understand, there is no, for example, penis-in-vagina intercourse that poses NO risk of pregnancy (when the people involved have bodies capable of reproduction) or STIs, even with contraception and safer sex practices to the letter. Just like we can’t say we are going to go out and have no risk of catching a cold interacting with other people during cold season because we are washing our hands.
If NO RISK — none at all — is what you want or need for yourself, then you will need to choose not to engage in the activities that present those risks at all.
(And of course, if you want to find out how to reduce these risks with any activity, either of pregnancy or STIs, or want help figuring out what you even want and need around all this in the first place, we’re always available at Scarleteen with both the information on all of that and to talk with you about it, if you’d like.)
Want a quick way to sort out what sexual activities pose what kinds of risks of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections? Based on what we know from current, scientifically sound study, and in alignment with what credible, dependable health organizations report, the list and graphics below provide you that information.
You can use this as a tool to help figure out what activities you do or don’t feel ready for, are or are not comfortable with, and what contraception, safer sex practices, or both you’ll want or need to use when to reduce your risks of pregnancy, STIs or both. You can use it if you already engaged in a given activity, but aren’t sure what levels of risk it posed to know if you should consider emergency contraception, and when you might need STI testing.
You can check it out here at Scarleteen.
A tough situation we deal with in now and then in direct service is this: a user comes in, and reports having contracted an STI; a user who also isn’t a first-time user of our site or services, and who, in a previous conversation with us about pregnancy risks, blew off also talking about STIs and safer sex and turned down help we offered to them to reduce their STI risks, not just pregnancy risks.
When this happens, a person like this will usually be very upset about having contracted an STI, often angry, and even mystified about how this happened to them. Of course, we’re rarely mystified and also are not usually surprised this happened, since we already identified risks of STIs when we were talking with them in the past, which is why we brought the importance of safer sex up with them in the first place.
This is one of those things where there’s no joy or pride in being right: it stinks to be right about someone getting any kind of illness and being unhappy. Even though the majority of STIs are treatable, many of our users are not contracting HIV, but the other, less deadly STIs, and have access to healthcare and treatment, and even though most feelings of upset with an STI are happening based more on social stigma than from serious, long-term health outcomes, we would greatly prefer our users didn’t have to suffer needless distress and fear, and that they avoid any kind of illness that can be avoided.
It’s frustrating for us when we know a user had an opportunity they refused to get more information about and help with safer sex; when they could have changed their habits before so they would’ve most likely avoided an STI entirely, since most of the time with most STIs, safer sex practices are highly effective at preventing STI transmission.
Even more frustrating is that sometimes, some of the users in situations like these still aren’t interested in prevention help, and clearly still aren’t going to rethink and change their habits. So then we have to know they’ll probably transmit or contract the same STI or another in the future. Even with treatment, that really can, and often does, take a toll on our personal health and well-being, and certainly takes a big toll on the public health.
Like most public health organizations and people who work in sexual health and aim to try and improve it for everyone, we really want to change this pattern. We also know this is an ongoing challenge, and something where we all just have to keep talking, keep trying, and keep seeing if we can’t come up with new or adjusted approaches in order to help people do better with safer sex. That’s what I’m trying to do today. This isn’t a finger-wag, a scold or an I-told-you-so, but an attempt to, together with you, I hope, just work on doing this better.
Today, before I suggest some things that might help you improve your safer sex practices, I want to specifically address two of the biggest players I often see in these situations: either when someone has been in a relationship for a while, and/or when condoms, which were often once used as contraception as well as safer sex, are replaced as a contraception method by other methods, like the pill or a Depo shot.
Read the rest at Scarleteen here.
When we hear about risk, especially in the context of sexual or romantic endeavors, experiences or choices, it’s often framed as some kind of Very Big Bad — like risking HIV or other STIs, an unwanted pregnancy, abuse or self-harm, or the downfall of all civilization — and like something only about scary stuff, which exists in some kind of vacuum where risk-taking is never about anything healthy or positive and should be completely avoided at all costs.
Risk, the reality of what risk can be, and why we take risks in the first place isn’t so one-dimensional. A risk is, most simply, anything that has the potential to lead to some kind of loss or unwanted outcome; something where an outcome is uncertain, a gamble, that can be different than what we expect or want. If we take a risk, it’s something we usually do or consider with the aim of getting or experiencing something positive or wanted.
We can’t live risk-free. To try and get or experience things we want, things that benefit us or others, even to just do the most basic things we need to to take care of ourselves, we often have to risk things we don’t want, which may be unwanted or negative, or risk not getting or experiencing what we do want.
Risk is involved in something so seemingly mellow as taking the bus to get to school or work, eating lunch or putting up a new profile picture online. We risk falling down in order to stand up; we risk getting turned down for a job or by a college if we apply. If we want to come out, we may risk nonacceptance, judgment, emotional conflict, and even violence, but we probably risk those things because we hope to gain positives like acceptance, understanding, being able to be seen as who we are and a greater ability to live our lives more freely, safely and openly and with more love in them. We risk rejection when asking someone out because our hope is they’ll go out with us, and to make that happen, someone’s gotta ask and take that risk. We risk all the many things sex with someone else can put us or them at risk of because we hope to experience the positives of sex, the good things it can bring us or others. The notion of risk as being about nothing but bad, or as only about the risk itself, just isn’t sound.
Read the rest of this new, in-depth guide to evaluating risk and making decisions which involve risk — including a handy-dandy cribsheet with some tools and practices — at Scarleteen here.
- Did you have sex only with yourself? Masturbation does NOT pose risks of pregnancy.
- Have you not had any kind of sex at all (and were not sexually assaulted), but are worried because of something like touching a partner's hand then touching yourself, or using a towel that may have had dried semen on it? These kinds of scenarios do NOT pose risks of pregnancy. Sperm and ovum need specific conditions in which to co-create a pregnancy, and these ain’t them.
- Did you have the same kinds of genitals as the other person you had sex with, or who sexually assaulted you, as in, you have a vulva and they had a vulva, or you have a penis, and so did they? Same-genital-to-genital contact can NOT create a pregnancy.
- Were you only kissing, having oral sex, manual sex and/or dry sex, where everyone had clothes on and/or no one ejaculated on or very near anyone else’s vulva? These kinds of sex do NOT present any pregnancy risks, though some present risks of STIs.
- Were you or a partner using a reliable method of birth control (like an IUD, the ring, condoms, an injection, etc.) properly for either that incident, or for ongoing methods (like the pill or fertility charting), for the whole of a cycle? If so, pregnancy is not likely. If more than one method was used perfectly, it is WAY unlikely.
If any of the above scenarios describe the situation you’re worrying about, it’s anywhere from very unlikely to downright impossible that you have or will become pregnant. With those scenarios, you or your partner are most likely NOT pregnant and will NOT become pregnant unless you do or have done very different things than those.