So my birthday is coming up on July 8th. My birthday wish this year is that everyone donates money or time to their local LGBTQP...
Latex is an effective barrier to virii and germs. I get that. As far as protecting the woman is concerned, I’ve no trouble believing it works. The STD virii or germs are present in the semen and/or pre-cum; these are “emprisoned” by the condom, don’t get out, and don’t get into contact with any part of the anatomy of the woman. She’s protected. The sweat of the man does not contain these virii or germs and thus no risk with the rest of the skin-to-skin contact. But in the other direction, I don’t quite get it.
From what I understand, when a woman gets sexually excited, she secretes some kind of lubrification in her vagina. I presume that for STDs, the virus / germ is present in that natural lubricant, and that the contact with that lubricant is what’s dangerous. But a condom covers only the shaft of the penis. Couldn’t the lubrication “drip” out a bit and land on the man’s crotch area, not covered by the condom? And here you are, infection! Or, similarly, your article here says that vaginal discharge / secretions will end up on the woman’s labia; when thrusting “till the end”, penis shaft completely inserted, wouldn’t these labia come into contact with the men’s uncovered crotch and, again, infect him?
If my premise is wrong and vaginal discharge/lubrification does not contain the STD virii/germs, then how does STD transmission from woman to man (during unprotected sex) happen in the first place?
Heather Corinna replies:
In the early 80’s, safer sex was called safe sex. That language was changed to reflect the knowledge that these practices — namely, latex barrier use, STI testing and limiting the number of sexual partners — couldn’t make sex “safe.” They could only make sex safer. So, know above and beyond all else that what condoms can do is reduce our risks: they cannot eradicate them nor provide absolute protection, ever. They make sex safer for us and for our partners: they don’t make sex safe.
Not all men and all women have the same kinds of bodies or genitals. Some people who identify as men have a vulva. Some people who identify as women have a penis. But for the purpose of your question, when I say “men” here I will mean people with a penis, and when I say “women” I’ll mean people with a vagina, especially since the studies I’ll be talking about typically use that same framework (and here’s hoping some day soon they start to shift out of it). I don’t want to confuse you instead of helping you get more clear.
Let’s start with some STI (sexually transmitted infection) basics. While STIs tend to differ in a lot of ways — some are parasites, some viruses, some bacteria, some are more easily transmitted than others — on the whole, we divide them into two basic groups: those transmitted by fluids, like HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis, and those transmitted just by bodily contact, like HPV, herpes, syphilis, molluscum, chancroid and scabies.
With fluid-borne infections, infection occurs not because fluids have contact with skin like that on the thighs or testes, but with parts of the body which can or do provide a direct route to the bloodstream. So, for instance, in vaginal intercourse, your sexual fluids, and any infections they may be carrying, can or do reach the inside of the vagina, the cervix, the uterus and beyond: all places with direct routes to the bloodstream. On a female partner’s part in intercourse, her fluids, any any infections she’s got, could reach your urethra, which is often the only direct route into the bloodstream through the penis, particularly for men who are circumcised (uncircumcised men may have higher risks than men who are not). For men and women alike, other pathways to the bloodstream that can be other possible routes of fluid-borne infection are the anus, the mouth, and any shaving cuts or other skin abrasions or wounds on the body, including on or inside the genitals. Unless you have a cut or abrasion on the base of your penis, testicles or “crotch area,” these are not going to be sites for fluid-borne infection transmission. If we’re only talking vaginal intercourse, the anus is a non-issue.
You’re asking specifically about how you’d be protected during vaginal intercourse with condoms: the simplest answer is that condoms cover the opening of your urethra completely, the orifice through which you would be most likely to acquire a fluid-borne infection with that activity. So, the answer for the most part is that you’d be protected very well, especially from fluid-borne infections.
However, not all sexually transmitted infections are transmitted by body fluids. Some infections spread by only contact between or to mucous membranes like genital tissue, the mouth, the inside of our noses. Fluids are a non-issue with these kinds of infections. Condoms reduce risks of STI transmission for these kinds of infections well, well, but not as well as they can reduce risks of fluid-borne infections, primarily because condoms, dental dams or latex gloves often don’t provide a barrier to the whole genital or oral area. These are the infections to figure you, as person with a penis, have less protection from when using condoms.
When you’re expressly asking about penis-in-vagina intercourse, women tend to be a lot more susceptible to acquiring most infections than men. That’s because of physiological differences and also because of common social/gender inequities that often impact women’s health, like men as a group being tested less often for STIs, having sex more often outside relationships understood to be monogamous and more frequent refusal to use condoms. If you spend time with studies on latex barrier use and STIs, one common finding you’ll see is that men are frequently afforded better protection from condoms with most infections than women are. That does not mean you shouldn’t be concerned about your own health: you so should! I encourage everyone to protect themselves as best they can. However, I think it’s also important to just know, in having the facts, that female partners you have for intercourse will usually be at a higher risk than you will of acquiring an infection.
Another having-the-facts riff: women can and often do produce several different fluids. Self-lubrication from arousal, menstrual fluids, and fluids produced by the cervix and the vagina that are part of the fertility cycle and/or the way the vagina keeps itself clean are all typical. Some women also ejaculate. For men, the genital fluids at play are ejaculate and/or pre-ejaculate, and any fluids/oils produced by the foreskin if you have one. Both your bodies produce urine and fecal matter, and both of you have blood. Nursing or lactating women also produce breast milk. With fluid-borne infections, the fluids which typically transmit STIs are primarily vaginal fluids, penile fluids, blood and/or breast milk. Fecal matter is another biggie in terms of bacterial infections and hepatitis, but that’s not something you or a partner are likely to be exposed to with vaginal intercourse.
So, just how effective ARE condoms for you per infections? If you read public health information, you will most typically see them stated as “highly effective,” which we know them to be. Reliably expressing just how highly effective in numbers is harder to do outside any one specific study.
Read the rest at Scarleteen here.
Every day, we explain here in articles, advice pieces and on the message boards what safer sex is. But some of our readers come to Scarleteen with ideas about safer sex that are incorrect or incomplete, not knowing they’re taking higher risks with sexually transmitted infections (STIs or STDs) than they think or without the level of protection they assume that they have. We recognize and honor everyone’s right to make whatever choices about their bodies and selves that they feel are best, but we want to be sure that the choices anyone is making with sex and their health are the ones they truly mean to be making, and are based in fact, not fiction.
So, we figured it might be time to also explain all the things that safer sex is not.
What isn’t safer sex?
- You asking someone if they have a sexually transmitted infection and them saying no
- Your partners having asked previous partners if they had STIs
- Someone telling you they’re “clean,” especially someone who has never had any testing done, or isn’t current with their tests
- Using condoms sometimes, but not always
- Putting condoms on after genital contact begins, or only before ejaculation or orgasm
- Sharing sex toys without covering them with a condom or boiling them before or after use
- Not doing anything at all for prevention, because everyone’s previous partners said they were virgins
- Having pap smears be the only testing anyone is getting
- Having an HIV or Hepatitis screen during blood donation be the only testing someone has had
- Avoiding any vaginal intercourse, but having unprotected oral or anal sex
- Giving a partner oral sex but not swallowing their ejaculate
- Not having intercourse, per se, but rubbing genitals directly together without clothing on or latex barriers
- Having had the HPV vaccine, but not using barriers
- Using withdrawal (“pulling out”) for vaginal or anal intercourse
- Hormonal methods of contraception: they protect against pregnancy, but not against STIs
- Being “virgins,” particularly if that means either person having had no partners for intercourse before, but having had them for other kinds of sex, like oral sex
- Having someone be your first partner, or being theirs, but one of you has had sexual partners before
- Being a certain age
- Being married or engaged
- Being lesbian and/or only having slept with women
- Being serially monogamous: in other words, not having had what you consider any casual sex partners, but still having had more than one partner and just moving relationship to relationship
- Being in love with or loving someone
- Looking at your genitals and those of your partner and seeing nothing unusual
- Using condoms or other barriers past their expiry dates
- Washing genitals before and/or after sex or urinating before and/or after sex, but not using barriers
- Someone or yourself only having had one previous partner, only two previous partners, only five previous partners, or any other arbitrary number of previous partners
- Being a “good girl” or a “good guy”
- Being a member of a certain economic class, race, sexual orientation, size, shape or gender
These are some of the things we commonly hear from users who either think they’re practicing safer sex, but aren’t, or who think they’re protected against STIs without doing any part of safer sex practices. I’m pointing them out, because false ideas about what’s safe endanger everyone, and no one can make informed choices well if the information they have or hold is false or faulty.
Read the rest at Scarleteen here!
Heather: I have a question about STD testing, but it’s together with a lot of other stuff, so I’m giving you some of the whole story.
My long-term boyfriend just broke up with me, seemingly out of the blue. We were together for several of the most tumultuous years of our lives—we dealt with so much stuff, I can’t even describe it. We lived together, we lived apart, we did long-distance, we came back, we kept going. We stayed together through moves, parents condemning our relationship, changing universities, changing friends, changing careers. I feel really stupid being broken up about it; my personal philosophy has always been: no mourning over guys. Only stupid women do that. (Obviously there’s some of my own internalized misogyny in there, but I’m also being practical. A woman mourning a man comes off as pathetic; a man mourning a women is soulful and sad. That’s just the way it is.) But I did (bleech, sounds so gross) really trust him. I let him in my, like, inner circle of trust.
He just broke up with me because apparently he HAS to sleep with this other girl, and he couldn’t even wait until he was going to see me in a few weeks. He started hanging out with this group of party guys and I kept saying it was changing him. He kept denying it—until it did. He just got his first job and then started freaking out: he started to get into drugs, to do all this stuff.
I was standing by him because I’ve freaked out about stuff before, and I thought he was there for me. But apparently not.
Anyway, we were each other’s first sexual partners—vaginal, oral, etc.
I’m moving to a new city and a new job in a few weeks (something I had planned before all this), and it does seem like a time to make a fresh start. The problem is, almost everyone I might sleep with now is going to have had previous partners, so I’m going to have to make them get tested before hand. But:
1) I hear that most generic STD tests don’t test for herpes (and other stuff?) and often it means that herpes can spread because people don’t know they have it. What all do I have to make sure is in the STD test I and others take? Is a more-thorough test going to cost more than a less-thorough one?
2) I’m not kidding myself that I’m going to be able to have a committed relationship again; I’m young, and all you hear in the news and on the blogs is hook-up culture, all men won’t do relationships, etc. I didn’t believe it because it seemed really weird—actually all my friends are in long-term relationships in this culture where everyone talks as if no one does relationships. But now I can see that obviously it is true. So, I can’t expect a man to necessarily tell the truth about the STD test; I’m going to need some proof. Is there a card of good-health or something the places give you?
3) How do you get people to take STD test for you anyway? I mean I can do it; I can put on my face and laugh and just out-blunt anyone so I don’t get hurt. I don’t know.
I always love your in-depth answers. Thanks so much.
Heather Corinna replies:
Before anything else, I want to address how you’re feeling, since it sounds, to me, like the most important, biggest stuff you brought to the table today. It’s also what you’re actually dealing with right now.
I assume you wouldn’t have told me the whole story if you didn’t want me to address it, but if I’m wrong in that, I apologize for unsolicited advice. Perhaps obviously, just like any advice or answers I’d give you, including about questions you’ve asked directly, you’re certainly welcome to take it or leave it.
I want to offer you a Bittervention.
It sounds like you were put through the mill with this relationship, recently, but also throughout. It sounds like you suffered a truly painful betrayal, and the kind where it was also paired with feeling like a really, really stupid, meaningless thing to have a relationship finally get tanked by. In my experience, big betrayals that occur because of someone doing something that seems so utterly small and meaningless in comparison to what they’re choosing to screw up make them feel so much worse.
I hear what sounds like trying to coach or push yourself into being very cavalier or hard about something you actually feel pretty deeply hurt by, and very sad and vulnerable — and probably also very angry — about. You bring up internalized misogyny playing a part in some of this, and I can see that, save that it doesn’t sound very internal right now: it’s looking pretty darn externalized to me. I have to tell you, I’m also not buying the toughness you’re putting out here. I suspect you’re instead feeling really fragile and broken.
I can only assume you were in that long-term relationship, and as invested in it as much as you clearly were, because you cared a great deal about your ex. I can only assume you tried to stick it out through very hard parts, even when you suspected things were going seriously south, because this person wasn’t just “guys,” he wasn’t just “a man,” but he was a whole person, not just some random member of a group made of billions of people, and a serious big-time love for you.
The loss of something like that? An experience like that? It’s going to knock anyone with a pulse to the ground face-first and leave them choking on their heart. It is going to shake our world up immensely. I am so very sorry this all happened to you, and I’m so sorry that you not only lost something it sounds like you put a lot of time, heart and care into building, but lost it in such a craptastic way, no less. I don’t think there’s anything gross about trusting people or opening our hearts to people. I’m guessing you are feeling gross about it now because that trust was so betrayed, and the love you gave and built sounds like it was really devalued. from the sounds of things, it also sounds like this breakup and how it happened wasn’t the first nail in the coffin, but the last, and like you’ve been carrying around some hard feelings and war wounds for a while now.
Mourning that kind of a loss, and grieving not only isn’t pathetic — and I disagree with you about the idea that only one gender gets to mourn a loss like this acceptably, and another is somehow pathetic and stupid — it’s a process you need to go through, and without closing yourself off to any of it, or trying to be tougher than you feel, in order to deal with and heal from that loss and come out the other side without becoming a bitter person you don’t want to have to live with, someone I’m highly doubting you really are.
I get it, that kind of posturing, even by yourself, to try and keep it together and to try and save face. I know all too well how that goes, both from seeing loads of other people do it, and even from doing it myself before. Plenty of us have done it, no matter our gender or the situation. It can be really freaky scary to feel wrecked, vulnerable, humiliated and gullible, and it can easily feel like the only way to get through that and be less likely to get hurt again is to get harder and stay hard.
But this is one of those “Oh, the humanity!” things for me. In the respect that I feel like yours is something you’re dismissing or denying, not honoring and nurturing. Not only is that unlikely to keep you from getting hurt, it’s more likely to keep you hurting like you are now for longer, and finding brand new ways to feel shitty.
I don’t think trying to be tough about this; trying to make yourself feel or seem more coarse and callous when you’re hurting a great deal is going to serve you. I think it’s going to make you ultimately hurt more, in a way that’s harder to get through and resolve, and leave you with some sticky, black emotional residue and busted ways of thinking that will make only finding crummy people who aren’t worthy of your love or trust a self-fulfilling prophecy.
That place? That super-tough, negative, any-feeling-but-snarky-anger-is-weak-and-stupid, this-group-of-people-are-just-all-lousy place? When we get hurt and angry, it’s a place we may, and often do, visit. But it sounds to me like you might be trying to move in there for good. That is SUCH a crappy neighborhood. You do NOT want to live there. Make a pit stop if you must, but do not unpack your bag or get a lease: do what you must to get OUT of there and leave that place in the rearview.
Read the rest at Scarleteen here.
It occurs to me that the “we both forgot to use condoms” thing that comes up often enough is a bit like suggesting that a person forgot to wear pants.
For a whole day.
And didn’t notice.
They got home, and after hours of being out in the cold or the sun, at work, getting lunch, taking the bus back and forth, only when they saw their pants laying on the bed did they go, “Whoah! I haven’t had pants on ALL DAY! I had NO IDEA WHATSOEVER!”
Just think about it. Seriously. Think about it. If in doubt, try The Great Pantsless Experiment and see how long you go without noticing.
Here’s a thing to know: chances are AWFULLY good that at least one person in that situation, and certainly the person who would be WEARING the condom realizes they’re not wearing a condom. Probably right from the start, but if not then pretty darn shortly thereafter.
That person is highly unlikely not to feel any difference at all, because even though various kinds of sex can feel just as awesome with condoms on, it still does tend to feel different. Even when we’re wearing the most comfortable pants we own, most things we might do while wearing them, if not all things, are not going to feel the same as when we’re sans pants.
So, at least one person in this equation knows a condom wasn’t put on. But probably the person who also didn’t, with them, take a second to stop, get the condom, get the lube, put the condom on, lube it up, then go back to what they wanted to do? They know there wasn’t a condom, too. Or they at least know that they do not know if there was.
Read the rest at Scarleteen here!
7:10pm Before the Test:
I was going to be taking my STI test with a friend today, with the idea we would both get tested and I could’ve written in the style of a comedy bromance movie like “Dude. Where’s My Car?” except with less sexism and more conversations about male STI testing anxiety and our feelings.
Alas, he has made other arrangements and I’ll be going solo to the testing clinic.
I would strongly recommend going with a friend if you think it’d make getting tested feel more comfortable.
Despite not following through with the plan, I really appreciate that our arranging the trip to the clinic allowed us an excuse to acknowledge that we had both prioritised our health in this way, and show to each other that we’d be supportive of one and other were we to find we had caught an oft stigmatised infection. Ashton Kutcher would be proud.
8:13 Waiting Area after Test:
I’m lucky enough to live in the UK and therefore (for now) having free access to an NHS clinic for full STI testing by appointment. But I came here to a community based clinic instead, which is funded by charity, because this project provides testing without appointment and I am extravagantly disorganised and appreciate how much easier this is for me. This clinic focuses on reducing HIV in the MSM (men who have sex with men) demographic, but is open to anyone, and so I’m here in the city centre where it is based. They test for HIV, chlamydia & gonorrhea and I’ve opted for all three.
On arriving, parking my bike and hopping up the flight of steps, I was seen immediately and filled out some information sheets, which also asked for my mobile number so I could be texted the chlamydia & gonorrhea results. I was handed a series of plastic objects for getting my pee into a vial. In the WC I got to use a pipette to make sure that the exactly correct amount was in the vial.
I was an expert. I only wish I had a white lab coat to complete the look.
As a side note, my friend who couldn’t join me had been asking me about the urban legend of some painful and unwieldy metal object that supposedly is pushed up the penis for STI testing. This object does not exist, what it may however refer to is the swab (a glorified cotton bud) used to take a sample of discharge as a way of testing for syphilis when symptoms are already presenting themselves and more commonly to test for gonorrhea. It’s not the only way to test for those things, though; my gonorrhea test only required a urine sample.
More importantly it’s good to remember that when seeking healthcare, you’re dealing with your body and you get to decide whether or not to do any test. If I don’t want to do something I find icky, I don’t have to, and can just ask for the tests I do want and am comfortable with. Historically, STI testing has been exaggerated, not just by urban myth but also by old fashioned health propaganda as a way to demonise sexual choices.
Testing, rather than being a punishment for sexuality, is, in practise, one of the many great things which help make fantastic, safer sex possible.
After returning from my laboratory — otherwise known as the loo — I handed my (perfectly collected) sample back to the nurse and was soon invited to a confidential interview room to receive my HIV test. To my surprise, the person who was to take my blood and test me was someone who I’d met at a local bar and we have mutual friends. Quite professionally this made the first topic ever so much more relevant, i.e. the discussion of confidentiality.
Read the rest at Scarleteen here!
Individuals in friends with benefits relationships tend to have safer sex, indicates a study published in the Journal of Sex Research.
According to researchers, the most relevant finding was that friends with benefits are more likely to use condoms during oral and vaginal sex when compared to individuals in traditional relationships.
Despite the data indicating such sexual liaisons are safer than traditional relationship sex, friends-with-benefits sex comes with its own list of risks. Researchers point out people in friends-with-benefits relationships are more likely to have multiple sexual partners and, although they tend to use condoms more often than people in traditional relationships, this is not 100 percent of the time.
“[A] larger numbers of partners, combined with far-from-perfect condom use and limited discussion about sexual health matters suggest that [friends-with-benefits relationships] carry some inherent degree of risk,” the researchers wrote, as reported by My Health News Daily.
For the data, researchers surveyed more than 370 people in their mid-twenties; approximately half were in friends-with-benefits relationships and half were in traditional relationships. The majority of study participants had known their partner for an average of 4 years.