It is always smart to talk about sex with your partner, a peer educator or a healthcare professional before you make the decision to have sex. While sexual intercourse always involves some risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease, there are definitely ways of making your sexual experiences safer. Here are 10 simple things you can do, say and think about now before you have sex:
1. Talk smart sex first. Have smart sex later. STIs and unintended pregnancies affect both partners, not just one person. If you feel uncomfortable discussing sex and birth control with your partner, then you shouldn’t be having sex! Be straightforward and talk about sex beforehand so both partners know what to expect. It’s easier to be rational and reasonable before you’re in the “heat of the moment!”
2. Two are better than one! To help prevent both pregnancy and STIs, you should correctly and consistently use a birth control method like the Pill, Depo-Provera Contraceptive Injection or diaphragm (for pregnancy prevention) and a condom (to prevent STIs). Condom use is essential, especially in relationships that are not monogamous. If your partner says no to contraceptives that may prevent STIs, like condoms, it’s probably time to rethink your relationship. Nothing is worth the potential lifetime consequences of a few minutes of unprotected fun.
3. Don’t feel pressured to have sex. Or have sex out of fear – fear of hurting someone’s feelings by saying no or fear of being the “only one” who isn’t doing it. Virtually everyone wants to fit in with his or her friends, but you should never compromise your values to be “part of the crowd.” If you don’t want to have sex, be honest, discuss the reasons behind your decision with your partner and stay true to you.
4. Don’t abuse alcohol/use drugs if you think things could get physical. Drug use or alcohol abuse interferes with decision-making, which can lead to date rape, forgetting to use contraceptives or contracting an STI. The lowering of inhibitions that often accompanies alcohol use might make you think you’ll enjoy sex more, but in fact, for a variety of biochemical reasons, too much alcohol actually makes sex less enjoyable for both men and women.
5. Use the buddy system. If you go to a party or a bar, go with friends and keep an eye out for each other. Agree that you won’t leave with another person without telling someone. Sometimes a friend’s “second opinion” could help prevent you from making decisions that you might regret later.
6. Remember that “no” means NO and passed out doesn’t mean YES. Being drunk isn’t a defense for committing sexual assault or a reason for being a victim of sexual assault. If you are too drunk to understand a person trying to say no; if you are too drunk to listen and respect a person saying no; or if you have sex with somebody who is passed out or incapable of giving consent, it can be considered rape. Click here to read about how men and women can avoid the consequences of date rape.
7. Respect everyone’s right to make his/her own personal decision – including yourself. There is no imaginary “deadline,” no ideal age, no perfect point in a relationship where sex has to happen. If your partner tells you that he or she is not ready to have sex, respect his/her decision, be supportive and discuss the reasons behind it. It is everyone’s ultimate right to decide when and how they have sex – be it the first time or the tenth time.
8. Be prepared for a sex emergency. Consider carrying two condoms with you just in case one breaks or tears while it’s being put on. Both men and women are equally responsible for preventing STIs, using contraceptives and both should carry condoms. Sometimes things go wrong even when you try to do everything right. Maybe the condom broke or you forgot to take your birth control pill. Whatever the reason, women should know about emergency contraception or EC. Taken within 72 hours of intercourse, EC may prevent pregnancy. Click here for more information about EC.
9. The best protection doesn’t mean less affection. Abstinence is actually the most effective way to protect against STIs and prevent pregnancy. But practicing abstinence doesn’t mean you can’t have an intimate physical relationship with someone – it just means you don’t have vaginal or anal intercourse. There are many other ways to be intimate and not have intercourse – just be aware that alternatives, like oral sex, carry their own risks. Click here to read more about practicing abstinence and risks of oral sex.
10. Make sexual health a priority. Whether you are having sex or not, both men and women need to have regular check-ups to make sure they are sexually healthy. Women should have annual gynecological exams. In fact, most campus doctors book months in advance – make your appointment today!