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Safe sex is sexual activity mediated by precautions taken in order to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. For many people, safe sex also means that there is a decreased risk of pregnancy resulting from the sexual contact. It is more accurate to think of safe sex as safer sex, as no sexual strategy involving physical contact completely eradicates the possibility of disease. There are many ways to make sex safer, and it is often advisable to combine multiple methods in order to maximize protection.
Strategies for safe sex aim primarily to minimize dangerous contact. Exchange of fluids through ejaculation, for example, is one part of sexual activity that can be considered particularly dangerous. Direct contact between human orifices is generally discouraged in safe sex. Other forms of contact are usually not seen as being as dangerous as fluid exchange, but simply being in contact with a person who has genital crabs, for instance, is enough to transmit the infestation, so only avoiding fluids is not a perfect solution.
The safest strategy for sex is avoidance of physical contact. Masturbation, whether with a partner at a distance or alone, is one of the safest forms of sexual stimulation. Non-penetrative sex with a partner can also be relatively safe, although it is important to be attentive to what happens with any fluids expelled from the body. These strategies nearly eliminate the possibility of the transmission of diseases.
If contact with another person's bodily fluids is likely, barrier protection is an acceptable safe sex strategy. Depending on the sex act being performed, a condom or dental dam may be sufficient to prevent exchange of fluids. It is important that the chosen barrier be used in accordance with its instructions, as improper usage can decrease effectiveness.
Communication is also considered an appropriate safe sex strategy, although this is by far the most fallible. If all sexual partners involved have been tested for sexually transmitted diseases and are certain that they do not have the capacity to infect another person, then having unprotected sex may be considered relatively safe. This is only an advisable method if all partners involved are honest and trustworthy and are checked regularly for disease. Absolute fidelity between sexual partners is of paramount importance when using this method.
One of the best ways to protect a person's body from diseases and other sexual complications is to stay informed about and aware of all possible dangers associated with sexual activities. Knowing what the dangers are can often help a person to avoid them.
Another common statement is that the safest sex is no sex at all, which refers to a practice commonly called abstinence. Both education and abstinence are common strategies to help young people make good sexual choices before they become adults. In either case, misinformation can lead to bad choices for young people, so it is very important that young people receive accurate information from sources they can trust.
@Phaedrus, I can understand why people get frustrated with the usual forms of "safe sex". There can be a lack of spontaneity while one partner puts on a condom or dental dam. Skin-on-skin contact is often sacrificed in the name of "safe sex", too. The sexual history questions may also be a little embarrassing to ask a casual acquaintance, too.
Having said all that, I still believe adolescent couples should abstain from unprotected sex until they are in stable, committed relationships. There are other ways to satisfy a partner short of intercourse. Young adults who still want to play the field should carry condoms and be willing to own up to any known sexually transmitted diseases before engaging in sexual activity.
I hear people complain about the restrictiveness of "safe sex" and I have to wonder what they're really complaining about. Having to put on a thin piece of latex before having intercourse seems like a small price to pay. The end result is still the same. Using other methods to achieve the same mutual goal also seems reasonable compared to contracting a STD or dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. I fail to see why a lot of people view "safe sex" as some kind of unreasonable demand.