It’s super important to talk about safer sex, just as it’s important to talk about what we want and need from sex. Safer sex is something we should all be bringing up more often. We should be paying attention to reducing risks before, during, and after every sexual encounter.
What is safer sex?
Risks from sex include STIs and unintended pregnancy but there are many other risks that we may want to avoid too. Just as there are lots of different kinds of sex, we also need to think about lots of different ways of making sex safer. Risk of pain or injury from sex. Privacy risks from sexting or other forms of remote sex. Or emotional risks, such as being triggered from a past traumatic experience.
So here are just some of the risks to help you talk about safer sex. Think about how you can reduce the risks for yourself and also for your sex partner.
|Risks||How to reduce the risks|
|coronavirus (or other illnesses)|
|breaking the law|
|invasion of privacy|
|not enjoying it|
|breaking agreed boundaries|
(And yes, it’s bad that some of these risks exist at all eg bullying and stigma, but we can both protect each other from them as well as acting collectively in society to stop it)
Read about how to make sure you have trust in relationships
The what and the how
Safer sex is as much about what sex you may want to do, as well as how you can make that sex safer. So it’s not just ‘shall we use a condom for oral’ it’s also ‘do we want to do oral and, if so, how.’ I always talk about dry humping being a way of preventing STIs and unplanned pregnancy for this reason. Yes, jeans emoji is dry humping: don’t fight me on this.
For more about the different ways of making sex safer, check out all the posts I have under the category Safer Sex.
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Everyone’s risks are different
Our risks from sex are often pretty personal and based on our history, our own health, the health of others, and what the consequences may be. As we see with coronavirus, different people face different levels of risk. This is also true for all the risks of sex too. So you can’t just rely on a narrow definition of what counts as safer sex, because it’s different for different people and it changes over our lifetimes.
This means that what you think is going to be risky is very different from what someone else thinks is risky. It’s not cool to just tell someone not to worry about something if you’re not worried about it and they are. This is especially true if it’s something that is going to affect their bodies.
Read more about reproductive coercion
During coronavirus times you also need to be thinking about the people that your sex partner is in a support bubble with. If your BF lives with his 72 year old granddad who has asthma, how are you going to reduce the risks of transmitting Covid-19?
Talk about safer sex when you are talking about what you want and also what you need from sex. It’s really important to be able to chat about this somehow. If you’re assuming it’s up to the other person to bring this up, don’t.
Try to open up these conversations before sex. If you’re chatting, talk about hypothetical situations of sex and what you would want and need. Or if you know sex is on the table, text each other about it. You can make this sexy by texting things like
“I can’t wait to put my ***** around your ****** (let me know if you want me to put a condom on you before I do this)”
You could also talk about your red, amber, and green flags. For example
“no anal without lube and condoms” (red flag)
“I can nudes so long as it’s not a close up of my vagina” (amber flag)
“everything is good so long as we keep our pants on” (green flag)
During sex, whether you have talked about your risks or not, try to be slow and notice what is going on for you and them. This is good to do for consent, but also just notice if there’s hesitation or doubt about any kind of sex that you’re doing. Some of this could be related to safety as well as boundaries or whether they are enjoying it or not.
So pay attention to eye contact, breathing, hand gestures, awkward pauses, and be prepared to stop and check in. Do you need to get a condom, or some lube, or more gentle contact, or do you need a break, or to stop. Ask ‘is this okay’, or ‘what do we need’. Be slow, create pauses, and make consent and safety your aim, not more sex.
How to do sex talk and communication
Then afterwards check in about how it was. Was anything getting too risky, or near to being too risky for you or them. Is there anything you or them can do to reduce risks now (emergency contraception, PEP, STI check up, time and space to de-stress, deleting photos or videos, further conversations) or in the future.
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© Justin Hancock, 2023
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health.