Sex education is a topic with a lot of different responses. Some people got great sex ed. in high school. Some, like me, got six teenage boys who had to give a group presentation on the subject and ended up giggling through most of it. Hell, some people had their parents decide that they didn’t ‘need’ sex ed and opted their kid out of it. For those that still don’t have the best knowledge, I’ve prepared a quick crash course on the subject.
Practice safe sex
When people hear the term safe sex, it might conjure images of a heterosexual couple trying to avoid an unplanned pregnancy. While birth control is a part of safe sex, it’s more about keeping you and your partner healthy no matter what type of sex you’re having.
External (“male”) condoms — designed to fit over a penis, external condoms are great protection for oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Both latex condoms and polyurethane condoms (for those with latex allergies) protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Natural condoms are made with animal membrane and can also be used to prevent pregnancy but be warned, they do not stop the spread of STIs. Both the Women’s Centre and Out on Campus have both latex and latex free condoms.
Other things of which to be aware
- External condoms are around 85–98% effective as birth control. Be sure to follow all instructions exactly to increase effectiveness.
- Certain things can cause condoms to break like having two condoms in use at the same time or certain types of lubricants (like oil-based lubricants). Do some research to make sure what you’re using won’t damage the condom.
Internal (“female”) condoms — these condoms are designed to go inside a vagina. Like external condoms, they help prevent pregnancy and STIs. They’re one size fits all, and a condom that people with vaginas can choose to use themselves. It is much more expensive than an external condom, but places like Out on Campus, the Women’s Centre, and Options for Sexual Health (Opt) clinics do give them out for free.
Other things to note:
- They can be a little difficult to insert properly so it might involve some practice.
- Be careful when removing it as the contents (semen) may spill out.
- Effectiveness ranges from 79–95% in preventing pregnancy. Proper usage increases effectiveness.
Dental dams — are sheets of latex that can be used to reduce the risk of STIs during oral sex. They can be used for oral/vaginal or oral/anal sex. While they do significantly help protect against STIs, nothing can completely take that risk away. Interested in learning how to use one? Check out Opt’s website or ask a staff member at Out on Campus or the Women’s Centre.
Gloves — while washing your hands can do a great job of reducing the risk of STIs during manual sex (or hand play as some call it), gloves can help if you might not be able to get to a sink right away. Some people might also like the feel of gloves better, especially if hands aren’t as soft as you’d like them to be.
Birth control — some methods only prevent pregnancy.
- Pills have a 92–99.7% chance of preventing pregnancy. Make sure to take it at the same time of day every day and follow the instructions, especially on what to do if you forget a pill. Be aware of the side effects and consult a doctor before you stop taking them.
- Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) prevent between 99.2–99.9% of pregnancies. There are different types of IUDs, so do some research and ask a doctor for advice before you get one. Again, know the warning signs of possible complications and see a doctor if you have any concerns.
- NuvaRing is a small plastic ring that goes in the vagina and releases similar hormones as some birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. They are 92–99.7% effective in preventing pregnancy. They have similar side effects as pills. Follow the instructions on proper use.
- There are a lot of different ways to protect against pregnancy. Choose an option and make sure it’s right for you and your partner. You can check the effectiveness of different methods here.
Know the symptoms of STIs
The risk of STIs can be one of the scarier aspects of sex, especially if you don’t know the symptoms. What’s scarier is some people and some STIs don’t have symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to get tested, especially if you’ve been with a new partner whose sexual health history you may not be familiar with. You can get tested and receive any needed treatment for STIs at SFU health and counselling in Vancouver and Burnaby.
Some common STI symptoms, provided straight from Opt’s website, include:
- Sores or blisters on the genitals on or around the anus or mouth
- Irregular growths (warts) in genital area
- Vaginal or penile discharge (may be unusual-smelling or discoloured)
- Genital itching
- Pain with urination or having a bowel movement
- Pain with intercourse
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting after sexual intercourse
- Lower abdominal pain
- Pain or swelling of glands in groin area
There are a lot of complications that can occur if you don’t get tested, so be sure to see a doctor sooner rather than later.
Have more questions?
Obviously there’s a lot more to sex ed. than this but, like I said, this is just a brief introduction to the subject. If you want to learn more about sex ed. or have questions about the topics covered, Out on Campus and the Women’s Centre can always provide you with information and resources. You can also contact Opt via email or phone call.