Guide to Safe Sex

Not to throw chilled chardonnay on passion, but contracting a sexually transmitted disease or having an unwanted pregnancy isn’t the kind of Valentine’s Day gift anyone wants.

The fact is, millions of people walk away from lovemaking with more than they bargained for. About 45 percent of pregnancies in America are either unintended or unplanned, according to the nonprofit Alan Guttmacher Institute. Also, each year, more than 12 million cases of STDs are reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Don’t make assumptions about your risk of getting a sexual disease. If you are a woman not using protection, you should know that the sexual stakes are much higher for you than for a man. A woman not only runs the risk of getting pregnant but her risk of risk of acquiring an STD is greater than a man’s by virtue of her anatomy. A woman’s chance of being infected by a man with HIV is twice as great as a man’s chance of being infected by a woman with HIV, according to Planned Parenthood.

The CDC says about half of HIV-infected people in the United States are heterosexual. Most heterosexual transmission occurs through vaginal intercourse. If you think you’re safe having oral intercourse, think again. Oral sex is less risky than vaginal or anal sex, but it has been reported to transmit HIV.

Monogamy no guarantee

Women generally have fewer symptoms of STDs than men and thus may go untreated. As a result, they are at risk for complications from STDs, including ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, infertility, chronic pelvic pain and poor pregnancy outcome.

While the message about taking precautions is mainly directed at single people, married people or those in long-term, committed relationships shouldn’t ignore this advice. With the divorce rate being what it is, more people are likely to have multiple sex partners during their lives. Serial monogamy – one partner at a time – is not safe sex, and even monogamy is no guarantee against AIDS if one partner has been previously exposed or isn’t being faithful.

The CDC defines risky sexual behavior as any activity that allows the exchange of body fluids such as semen, vaginal secretions or blood. That means taking precautions when engaging in vaginal, oral or anal intercourse.

Taking precautions

Latex condoms are the only contraceptives that help prevent the spread of STDs, including HIV, when used properly and consistently every time you engage in vaginal, oral or anal sex. They also happen to be one of the most reliable methods of birth control when used properly and consistently.

Polyurethane condoms have the FDA stamp of approval, but the CDC has not made an actual recommendation on them yet. Polyurethane condoms have a similar efficacy as the latex variety in preventing contraception. Data are still being accumulated on the effectiveness of this type of condom in preventing sexually transmitted diseases.