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By Dr Ann
SATISFACTORY SAFE SEX
QWhat exactly is safe sex? Should I be worried about the number of
partners or the type of sex I've had? -- Confused (and itchy)
AWhenever I hear the words "safe sex," two images come to mind. The
first is the Jolly-Hockeysticks School for Young Ladies, where one of
our teachers urged us to pass a condom around in the name of
"physical education". The other is comedienne Lea De Laria in full flight: "A
Dental Dam?! OK, I've got a better idea, why don't I just go into the other
room and lick the wall?" But let's not get discouraged.
Do some reading! Information is available from your local GP, sexual health
clinic, ACON and other organisations (see below). But for those of you who
are too busy unbuttoning and unzipping to do any research in the very near
future here's my beginner's guide to sexual health:
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) range from candidiasis (thrush), to
herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, hepatitis B, trichomoniasis, bacterial
vaginosis, and the human papilloma virus (HPV or genital "warts").
A seemingly overwhelming list, but really, a few safe sex techniques and you
will hopefully avoid first-hand experience of these.
The first technique is to remind yourself it can happen to you. You can have
one partner or 100 -- it only takes one exposure to be at risk.
STIs can be passed from person to person though skin contact with
blisters/sores/warts and by body fluid exchange (blood, vaginal secretions,
and semen or pre-ejaculation fluid -- perhaps not relevant for all readers).
Protection from STIs involves:
Dental dams: good for oral sex (vaginal or anal) and available from sexual
health centres, chemists, adult stores and online. They're a latex (often
flavoured) barrier between mouth and vulva. Lea De Laria notwithstanding --
kind of fun when you get used to them.
Gloves: used in masturbating or fisting your partner, providing a barrier
between body fluids and any cuts, scratches or sores on your hands. Just
remember, don't use the same glove/hand to touch your partner and then
yourself (or vice versa) -- seems basic, but who can think straight in the heat
of the moment.
Condoms: good for covering dildos, vibrators or other toys -- change them
between partners or between your partner and yourself.
Water-based lube: cuts down any friction that can cause skin tears.
Abstinence (Just kidding).
Even if you've been safe in the past, it's important to know your own sexual
health status. At a visit to your GP or sexual health centre you can receive
urine, blood and vaginal swab tests. Remember, many STIs (like chlamydia)
can be "silent" -- you may not realise you have it and you can unknowingly
be passing it on to your partner(s). Untreated they can lead to infertility, and
in the case of viruses like HIV, serious chronic health problems.
Telling your partner you've been for a sexual health screen should be a
natural part of life but is often difficult. Be brave and just tell them.
Encourage your partner to do the same and you'll find that it's much easier
-- especially if one of you do test positive for an STI.
With one-night stands, saunas and other semi-anonymous activities, it is
harder to know the status of the other person. Keep in mind that safe sex
practices are actually an indication of your respect for the other person, not
to mention yourself.
If you develop pain on urination or penetration, vulval itch, blisters, sores,
rash, warts, discharge or lower abdominal pain -- see your GP immediately
for diagnosis and treatment for you, and if necessary, your partner(s).
As you may know by now, my favourite motto is "Be Prepared". My second
favourite is "Knowledge Is Power". The more you know about STIs and
ways to have safe sex, the more power you have to maintain your health
and that of your partner(s). Find out more at:
LOTL's health columnist is a lesbian GP on the NSW north coast. The
opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and are not
intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you have concerns about
your health please consult your health practitioner.
...for all your optical
needs, purple or otherwise.
Phone Sarah or Lizzie
for an appointment
on 9743 0898.
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