Clothing and accessories can be fashionable, trendy, or cool, but their main practical purpose is to protect our bodies from the world. Bathing suits protect our tender genital skin from sand. If you burn easily like I do, parasols add a helpful extra layer of protection from the sun. Hats, scarves, and coats protect us from cold weather and wind. Shoes protect our feet from sharp things on the ground. Waterproof or water-resistant boots protect our feet and ankles in rain, sleet, or snow.
I think it is safe to assume that most of us have this concept down pretty well. We wear heavy coats and other necessary winter gear during the cold season. We wear lighter fabrics and shorts in warm places so we don’t overheat. Sometimes, we (well, specifically me) forget that San Francisco is not Los Angeles and end up freezing our butts off while wondering why we didn’t properly research the weather before we went on a trip. The point here is that different weather conditions require different forms of protection. Protection depends on the environment or context.
If you think we’re headed on another analogy adventure, you are correct…
…and yes, of course it’s about sex.
Having sex is like going outside. Before you can do it in as safe a manner as possible, you need to figure out what the conditions are like and what combination of methods you believe will best protect you. The safest would be to abstain from all sexual contact with other people. No penetrative sex, no oral sex, no kissing and no nude or semi-nude contact with others. This is the sex version of never leaving your home and avoiding sharing the same air with other people. If you never leave your home, your chances of being hit by a vehicle, catching an airborne virus like bird flu, or being mugged are very very low. Most people are not going to go with the never leaving the house plan and most people are not going to go with the absolute abstinence plan either.
So let’s discuss some of the risks that come with sexual contact:
Pubic lice or crabs, scabies, molluscum, hepatitis A, B and C, HPV, herpes (HSV1 and HSV2), trichomoniasis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV. There are probably others that I am not aware of. Crabs, scabies, and molluscum are also transmitted in non-sexual ways, such as sharing bedding or towels with an infected person or skin-to-skin contact. Hepatitis A, B and C can be also transmitted in non-sexual ways.
I suggest that you put the above STI/STDs into the google machine and spend some quality time reading about them. While you’re doing that, think about where the information you’re looking at is coming from. Consider how qualified the person who put it out there is, how old an article might be, and whether new information may have been discovered since it was written… but I know some of you probably aren’t going to do that.
If you aren’t going to completely abstain from all sexual activity, a good step towards safer sex is to get all the available vaccinations. There are vaccinations available for hepatitis A and B. I don’t know about other countries and states, but there is a free vaccination program in NY for people who are at risk and who either don’t have insurance or have insurance that doesn’t cover the A and B vaccine. There is also a vaccine that prevents some strains of human papillomavirus (HPV, which causes genital warts, cervical cancer, and may cause cancer of the rectum, vagina, penis, throat and tongue). According to the CDC at least 50% of sexually active people will get HPV at some point. Cervarix vaccinates against two strains of HPV and Gardasil vaccinates against the same two strains and an additional two.
I had the hepatitis A and B vaccine at 13 and completed the Gardasil vaccine before the end of my first year working in hardcore porn. As long as the vaccines were administered properly and work like they’re supposed to, that’s two kinds of hepatitis and four kinds of HPV that I will not get. This means that my risk of sexually transmitted infections is lowered slightly. This is awesome, but there’s still the whole rest of that list to be concerned about.
There are many other strains of HPV. Over half of americans between the ages of 14 and 49 have HSV1, and over 16% of americans in that same age group have HSV2. I haven’t found any data discussing the overlap, but there probably is some. Even though HSV1 is known as oral herpes, it can infect and cause blisters and sores on genitals. There is a blood test for herpes, but is not entirely accurate and has been known to give false negative results. For instance: earlier this year I had shingles. Because of my sexual history two separate cultures and a blood test for herpes simplex were run. Both cultures indicated shingles, and my blood test came back negative for both HSV1 and HSV2. According to the blood test, I do not have oral or genital herpes… But let’s think about that one for a minute. I have had sex with more than 100 people and will usually catch a cold if someone sneezes on the opposite end of an airplane I’m on. I don’t particularly want a herpes simplex diagnosis, but you do have to question whether it is more likely that I’ve been very lucky and beaten the odds or that the blood test failed.
HPV and herpes simplex can be spread from genitals to genitals and mouths. This means that you can get HPV or herpes from putting your mouth on an infected person’s genitals. HPV and herpes can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, which includes activities like dry-humping in your underwear. Neither of these infections have to have visible symptoms to be transmitted. HPV and herpes can both live in the skin surrounding the penis or vagina. Vulvas (all the outside lady-parts), testicles and anuses can transmit and be infected by both of these viruses, meaning that a condom does not entirely protect you or your partner(s). Condoms do reduce the risk by reducing the amount of exposed skin. There is no HPV test approved for use on men.
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