Knowledge is protection

Sex on Monday

I always hate researching STIs because it seems like half the information is rather slanted toward “if you ever have sex, you are going to get HIV and die!” Yes, STIs are a risk, but how much of one is really hard to pin down.

So I turned to the Internet and went research-crazy.

One thing I learned is that serial monogamy can be riskier than casual sex.

Now, this sounds a little off — fewer partners seems much safer. The risk of serial monogamy is that the feelings of safety and comfort can settle over the relationship, leading to not using condoms.

I can hear the collected masses mentally screaming “But we got tested first!” Always a good idea, but just because you got a negative test, it doesn’t mean you don’t have an STI. It means that you didn’t have an STI as of one to three months ago.

It takes a while after exposure before an STI shows up on a test. The two most common STIs show up in the shortest amount of time. Gonorrhea takes two to seven days; chlamydia takes two to six weeks.

Less common STIs take even longer to show up. Syphilis takes up to three months, HIV and Hepatitis C up to six. They don’t even test for herpes unless you have symptoms.

Which means if you have a habit of monthlong “true love” relationships, you can be at a pretty high risk of infection without even knowing it.

I still don’t agree with the articles that say all couples ever everywhere should use condoms always, but it makes sense to have a deeper conversation than “you’re clean, right?” before going at it bareback.

Oral sex is another risk factor that is a little ambiguous.

Every single sex book and sex article says that best practice is to use condoms and dental dams during oral sex — I have yet to find a single person who has ever used a dental dam.

I wanted to know just how terribly irresponsible I, and everyone else, was being, so I started tracking down papers.

Gonorrhea, that nasty bacteria, poses the greatest risk during oral sex. Both men and women can pass it on during oral. Luckily, gonorrhea is still curable, until the super bug from Japan makes its way across the ocean.

For other STIs, the risk is most often to the partner giving oral. Honestly, it isn’t well known how high the risk is, but transmission is possible.

With all the wishy-washy data, I doubt that there is going to be a sudden spike of flavored condom and dental dam sales. But there are other less effective yet still important things to do in order to protect yourself.

Don’t brush your teeth or floss within a couple hours of giving oral. It opens up small cuts in your mouth, which means there are more routes to infection. Use mouthwash if you want that minty-fresh taste.

Speaking of taste, if something tastes off, stop. Maybe it’s just that “time for a shower” funk, but it’s not really worth risking.

If going down on a guy, taste isn’t going to be as much of an indication until it’s too late to do anything about it. Not having the guy ejaculate in your mouth lessens the risk.

Similarly, if anything looks off, back off. Sores can be signs of herpes or syphilis. They can also be signs of ingrown hairs (which can get pretty gnarly-looking), but best not risk it.

If everything looks clean, that still doesn’t mean there isn’t an infection. People who have herpes shed the virus even when they don’t have sores.

Luckily, genital herpes prefers genital mucous membranes and isn’t likely to jump to the mouth. Likewise, oral herpes (aka cold sores) don’t commonly jump to the genitals. Oral-genital transmission of herpes isn’t the main risk.

What it does mean, though, is that grinding without a condom is a terrible idea because herpes and syphilis can be transmitted through unprotected contact. Moreover, if you shave or wax your sexy bits, you are opening up microscopic pathways for the virus to jump over.

Suit up before any genital contact — it’s safer.

Sometimes, though, all the best practices are followed and what you end up with is a broken condom and dialog with a lot of four-letter words.

If this happens, immediately get in the shower and wash with soap and water. Normally, soap should never be used on a female’s genitals. But in this case, get in there with soap.

Washing off immediately can kill both herpes and syphilis. If there is cum inside you, there is no research into whether or not douching helps.

There is always a risk when it comes to sex, but it still isn’t something to be terrified of. Arm yourself with knowledge, follow best practices, get tested regularly and know what exactly the tests indicate.

And once you’ve laid the groundwork of safety, let go and enjoy yourself.