- Deciding to Have Sex
- Risk Reduction
- Continuum of Risk
- Safer Sex
- Deciding Brand of Condoms
Several things may impact a person’s decision about when to have sex:
- Choosing the Right Person: You may have certain standards about a person with whom you would consider having sex. You might want to feel respect, trust, or love before having sex.
- Choosing the Right Time: Perhaps school is too stressful, you’re still dealing with a bad break-up, or you’re just not ready for a variety of personal reasons. Maybe you want to wait until you’re in a serious, committed relationship or married.
- Choosing the right circumstances: You might not want to have sex in specific circumstances for a variety of reasons; maybe you’re tired, have had too much to drink, or aren’t ready to go there yet with a particular partner.
The only way to protect one’s self from Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and an unplanned pregnancy is to abstain from sexual intercourse (oral, vaginal, anal). If it is not realistic for an individual to abstain, then they can reduce their risk of an unplanned pregnancy and/or contracting or transmitting an STI. Many of your safer sex and risk reduction questions are answered below.
What is the ‘continuum of risk’?
This refers to all types of sexual activity, including oral, vaginal and anal sex, in which the risk associated with each type of sexual activity and whether or not a barrier is used is on a continuum. In general, risk for STIs is associated with all forms of sexual activity; however, unprotected oral sex is the least risky followed by unprotected vaginal sex followed by unprotected anal sex
Because only blood, semen, breast milk and vaginal secretions can transmit infection, using a barrier for any of these sex acts reduces one’s risks of STIs (i.e., anal sex with a barrier is less risky than unprotected vaginal sex).
What exactly is ‘safer sex’?
Safer sex refers to using a barrier method (condom, female condom, dental dam) to reduce the risk of bodily fluid transmission between partners. By practicing safer sex, you show concern and respect for your partner and yourself, as well as allow yourself to enjoy sex without acquiring or transmitting STIs.
Is there such a thing as ‘safe sex’?
No. There is no 100% safe sex as there is always the risk of STI transmission and/or unplanned pregnancy. However, you can make sex safer by using barrier methods as discussed below.
While male condoms are a great option for reducing STI transmission and pregnancy prevention, it can be overwhelming to sort through all of the brands and options available. Here is some helpful information:
- In the United States, all latex and synthetic condoms must conform to standards established by the FDA. This means that every condom is checked for defects before it is packaged. In addition, the FDA checks samples from each batch by performing airburst and water-leak tests. In the end, no matter what brand or type of condom you decide on, you can be confident the condoms will be effective if you use them consistently and correctly.
- Most condoms are made of latex, which is a natural substance tapped from rubber trees. This option has the widest selection of brands and types, it is the least expensive, and it is the most well-researched and regulated type of condom. Latex condoms can only be used with water or silicone based lubricants (no oil, lotion, or petroleum jelly). Some people are allergic to latex and can consider using polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms instead.
- Polyisoprene condoms are made from a synthetic material similar to plastic, and polyisoprene male and female condoms are recommended for people who are allergic or sensitive to latex. Clear and color, not as elastic as latex, and slightly wider than the average sized condom, they may be used with water or silicone lubricants. The material also conducts heat well and may create more sensation during sex. Research shows that polyisoprene condoms are as effective in pregnancy and STI prevention.
- Lambskin condoms are made of internal lamb membranes and are the oldest type of condom. These condoms are NOT effective in preventing STIs or HIV transmission. These condoms tend to be quite expensive and do not offer protection against infections.
- Some condoms come without lubrication. They are most useful for oral sex or for people who may have sensitivities to lubricants.
- Lubricated condoms contain a water or silicone based lubricant that can minimize friction and reduce condom breakage. You can apply a couple drops of additional lubrication to the inside of the condom before it is rolled on to the penis, and then a few more drops to the outside of the condom.
- Spermicidal lubricant (non-oxynol-9 or N-9) was originally thought to reduce sperm mobility and thus prevent pregnancy. However, research has found that N-9 can cause irritation and small sores in some people, and therefore may actually facilitate HIV transmission.
- Most condoms manufactured are one-size-fits all. The tightness may vary slightly from brand to brand, so try a few brands to see what you and your partner prefer. A snug yet comfortable fit decreases the chances that a condom will slip off during intercourse.
What is abstinence?
Abstinence often means different things to different people, so it is important to know what your definition is and what risk may be involved when following your definition. Typically, abstinence means that there is no chance for bodily fluids to exchange (semen, vaginal secretions, or blood) between partners. It is also a good idea to know where you stand regarding sexual activity before you become physically intimate with someone.
Can I be abstinent if I have had sex before?
Yes! Abstinence is a choice that can be made for a lifetime, months, days, or even for a night. It may mean simply waiting until you find the right person to have sex with, or the right time and place. You can always choose abstinence.
How many partners does the typical MSU student have?
The majority of Michigan State University students have had no, or just one, sexual partner in the last year (including oral, anal, and vaginal sex partners):
29% of MSU students reported having no sexual partners on the last year*
44% of MSU students reported having one sexual partner in the last year*
Why do people choose NOT to have sex?
People abstain from sex for many reasons – even after they’ve been sexually active. Some of these reasons include:
- Waiting until they’re ready for a sexual relationship
- Waiting to find the “right” partner
- Getting over a breakup
- Wanting to avoid pregnancies or STIs
- Having fun with friends without sexual involvement
- Pursuing academic, career, or extracurricular activities
- Supporting personal, cultural, or religious values
- Following medical advice during an illness or infection.
Tips for sticking with your decision NOT to have sex:
- Plan ahead so you know how you’ll handle potentially tricky situations.
- Remember that alcohol and other drugs can impair your judgment.
- Try to find supportive people in your life to talk to about your decision.
- Think about how you could talk to a current or future partner about your decision.
- Don’t reevaluate your decision not to have sex when you’re in a sexual situation.
- Stay with your decision until you can think about it with a clear head. When you do choose to have sex, be sure that you know how to protect yourself from STIs and unintended pregnancy.
Is masturbation harmful?
Masturbation is actually very healthy as it helps to relieve sexual tension and stress, and when done alone, there is no risk for STI transmission or an unplanned pregnancy. Masturbation is a very personal issue, as some people choose to masturbate often, some choose to masturbate infrequently and others choose not to masturbate at all. How often one chooses to masturbate is perfectly fine as long as that person is comfortable. Masturbation becomes "harmful" if it starts to interfere with your daily life, activities and/or relationships with others (friends, family, partners, etc.), and/or if it is painful to you.
Where is the clitoris?
The clitoris, a small external female organ that is highly sensitive, is located above the opening of the urethra (the structure urine comes out of) and the vagina.
What is the "G-spot"?
There is some controversy surrounding this issue, some say it exists and others say that it does not exist. For those researchers (and others) who believe it exists, it is called the Grafenberg spot, or G-spot for short. It is located on the top side of the vagina, about half way between the pubic bone and cervix, when a female is lying down on her back. When this spot is stroked, there is a sensation or urge to urinate, but if the stroking is continued for a little while longer (a few seconds), it can be sexually pleasurable for females (Shibley Hyde, J. and DeLamater, J.D., Understanding Human Sexuality, Eighth Edition (2003)).
Is ejaculation the same thing as an orgasm?
No. Ejaculation is the release of semen from the penis; whereas, orgasm is a series of muscle contractions that release sexual tension and is usually very pleasurable. Although ejaculation usually occurs during orgasm, it does not have to (i.e., one can ejaculate without orgasm and one can orgasm without ejaculation). This is similar for female ejaculation as well.
How do I get pregnant?
Vaginal sex is the only way to get pregnant (compared to anal or oral sex). Keep in mind that infections such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV can be spread through oral, vaginal, and anal sex.
Can I get pregnant and/or transmit an STI the first time I have sex?
Absolutely! It only takes one time to transmit an STI or get pregnant. One more reason it is important to practice safer sex for each and every sex act.If I chose to be sexually active, how can I reduce my risk of STIs and an unplanned pregnancy?
In general, practice safer sex. Condoms, both male and female, and oral dams are the only barrier methods that also reduce the risk of STI transmission. Other contraceptives, like the pill, patch, ring, Depo Provera, diaphragm, and cervical cap, are efficient at reducing one’s risk for pregnancy, but they do not reduce the risk of STIs.
Also, being in a mutually monogamous relationship with someone who you know is not infected and who is only having sex with you will help you reduce your risk of STI transmission. Limiting the number of sexual partners you have, in general, will also help to reduce your risk of STI transmission.
*Data is from the 2014 ACHA-National College Health Assessment (NCHA) of MSU students. For the full MSU NCHA report, visit http://ippsr.msu.edu/NCHA/NCHA_2014_Report.pdf