Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Safe Sex in Three Easy Steps

When you talk about having sex for pleasure, people like it if you also talk about sexual safety.  Like, they really like it, and they’d prefer if you did it right away. I have been hesitant to blog about sexual safety because I want to illustrate the point that we are allowed to say that sex is fun without immediately tacking on a precautionary statement. Just like I can say “cookies are delicious!” without following it up with “when consumed in moderation by people who are at low risk for diabetes!” Sex is fun, it’s a wonderful adventure, it makes me feel awesome, and I recommend it to most people. End of statement.

With that said, I would like to take a moment to talk about safe sex. I think American-style sex education tends to promote a false dichotomy about sexual safety, which then gets passed around guiltily for years like an inedible fruitcake. It goes something like this:

·      Option 1: don’t have sex.

·      Option 2: have crazy stupid thoughtless drunken unprotected rapey sex with someone you don’t know who will give you AIDS and syphilis and an unwanted baby and then skip town and post photos of your vag on the internet and never pay child support.

Luckily, here in reality there are more options than that. It is possible to have sex and also be reasonably safe. Here’s how, in three easy steps.

Step 1: Consent

Consent is the invisible fairy dust that turns scary things into sexy things. It’s the difference between hot rough sex and rape. It’s the difference between polyamory and cheating. It’s the difference between sex that makes people feel icky and shameful, and sex that makes people feel turned on and empowered.

It’s also the reason the Stubenville rapists are rapists, and deserve to be treated as such, regardless of how drunken or foolish or scantily clad their victim was.

Consent is not a lack of “no”, it’s an “absolutely yes”. It happens verbally and physically, and it keeps happening throughout every part of every kind of sex. Consent is an acknowledgement from your sex partner that they are a willing and enthusiastic participant in the encounter you’re having, or about to have. It’s an accepted proposition. It’s dirty talk. It’s a whispered direction readily followed.

Consent is the foremost ingredient not just to safe sex, but to great sex. Consent is sexy, it’s ballsy, it’s thrilling, and we could all use more of it. Go out and get yours today.

Step 2: Care

This comes up often in discussions of casual sex, and I’m excited to make it crystal clear: a person who doesn’t care for or empathize with their sex partner is not being “casual”, they are being a sociopath.

There is nothing sexy or charming or mysterious about people who don’t offer emotional resonance to their sex partners. In any relationship where someone is being vulnerable with you, the way to be deserving of that vulnerability is to treat them with consideration. Any other response is callous and disrespectful. Do unto others, etcetera.  

This doesn’t mean you have to LOVE everyone you have sex with, or even know them well. It means you should relate to your sex partner like you are both human beings, not inanimate objects. Consider their feelings and desires and try your best to respond to them. If you sense that they want something, offer it. If you sense that they don’t like something, stop and check in. If you want something from them, ask. It’s not rocket science, it’s the laws of human decency: they still apply when you’re turned on. 

If you are considering having sex with a person, and you don’t feel resonance/empathy/care for them, or from them, there’s a really simple solution: don’t have sex with them. Also probably don’t date them, or be friends with them, or spend any time with them at all, because that shit is creepy.

Step 3: Condoms & Contraception (okay, that was four Cs)

Condoms and birth control are the technology that makes safe sex-for-pleasure possible. Thank you, science! 

If you're having straight sex, you need to think about not one but two kinds of risk: STD prevention, and birth control. 

  • STD Prevention
The best way to avoid STDs is to not have penetrative sex (in which case you can still make out, masturbate together, use your hands to get each other off, and/or experiment with the myriad of other creative solutions that the unmarried youth and cautious adulterers of the world have been perfecting for untold centuries).

If you’ve decided to have penetrative sex (wherein a penis is penetrating a vagina, butt, or mouth (the risk of contracting an STD from giving or receiving oral sex is small, but it's still there. Eg: high-risk HPV, which can be contracted from any kind of genital contact, increases the risk of some kinds of cancer, and for which there is now a handy vaccine!)), you are accepting the risk of potentially contracting an STD. As such, condoms are your friend. Use them every time, all the time, don't bitch about using them, and use them properly (click the link and an attractive Latin man will teach you how to put on a condom.) 

If you’re in a situation where you can confirm beyond reasonable suspicion that your sex partner is STD-free (ie: you have been dating them for a while, neither of you has been having sex with anyone else, you just went with them to get tested, and they are clean), and you are using a reliable method of birth control (gay sex counts, “withdrawal” does not), or you are hoping to get pregnant, that’s the only time it’s okay to have sex without a condom.

  • Birth Control

Pregnancy is another issue. If you’re having penis-in-vagina sex, you should not rely on condoms to keep you from getting pregnant. They just don’t work that well. Here are some more reliable forms of birth control, to be used in conjunction with condoms, in order of effectiveness: the Progestin implant (Implanon or Jadelle), the ‘combined injectable’ (Lunelle), the IUD, the shot, the cervical cap, the Nuvaring, and the pill.

For people who are sure they aren’t going to want offspring of their own at any time in the future, vasectomies and tubal ligation (ie: male and female sterilization) are both highly effective and readily available.

Birth control is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Know yourself, do your research, and figure out what kind of birth control would be easiest to use and most effective for you.

Finally: if you fucked up, and you had some sex that wasn’t totally safe, you still have options. There’s the “morning after” pill, which will disrupt fertilization (ie: make you less likely to get pregnant) when taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. And after that, there’s everybody’s favorite Sunday dinner topic: abortion. It’s legal and available in this great nation, and it is an option to be considered (and a decision to be made) by the pregnant woman herself, not her boyfriend or her parents or her priest.

Want to know more about contraception? Start with this handy birth control effectiveness table from Wikipedia. Learn more about various birth control methods on the Planned Parenthood website.

And, voila.

That’s it. If you want to have safe sex, you’ll need consent, care, and condoms/contraception. Some notable absences from the list include: love, marriage, monogamous commitment, and approval from your parents, friends or church. You can use those, too, but only if you feel like it.

Have safe sex, but don’t stop there. Have pleasurable, playful, joyful sex. Have kinky sex. Have silly sex. It’s not just dangerous, it’s fun. Watch this video, and enjoy yourself.


  1. You rock, Carsie. Damn, wish this was the kind of sex ed kids got in school. The world would be a much better place.

  2. I remember older research showed vasectomies having an alarmingly high failure rate but I dug around for some more current data and it seems that it's around 0.3-9% after 3-6 months (mostly due to the technique or experience of the surgeon) and down to 0.04-0.08% after 2 years. Interesting! (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2950776/)

    1. And you know what else they say about vasectomies? They say you shouldn't have unprotected sex for 3 months, they check your sperm count, then they give it more time, check again, and if necessary, re-do the surgery.

      In other words, they have ways of fixing that alarmingly high failure rate. Oh, and listen to your doctor.

  3. Why shouldn't the abortion question be "considered" by the boyfriend as well? The final decision can and should be in the woman's hands, but isn't it fair to include the potential father in the discussion? Shouldn't his emotional attachment to the unborn child count for something? I think a pregnant woman should absolutely include her partner in the decision-making process, even though at the end of the day it's going to have be her call.

    1. That's a good point - I think this is a problem of wording more than values. I agree that it should be considered by both partners, but the decision should ultimately be made by the pregnant woman.

    2. Yes, it has to be, because a "final decision" can't rest in the hands of two people as a matter of simple logistics. By the same token, the potential father can't really be afforded a legal right to have a say in the decision, because it's unclear what that would even mean. But as an ethical matter, I feel the pregnant woman does have a duty to consult with him, assuming he is a reasonable person to begin with. It doesn't seem that we disagree. Cool blog!

  4. Applause, applause!
    I particularly like section 2. So many people equate "casual sex" with "meaningless sex," and they aren't the same at all.

  5. This is fanastic, Carsie! I especially like part two. In what universe is "Yeah. I'm into it. I want to do you right now." not the hottest statement under the sun?

    FWIW, my husband and I used condoms as our only form of birth control for years and were quite happy with it. However, a) we were super careful about using them properly and b) we knew exactly where we stood on Plan B and abortion.

  6. "...the risk of contracting an STD from giving or receiving oral sex is small, but it's still there."

    YES! I sure hope they are talking about that in health classes these days because I'm pretty sure it wasn't emphasized when I had those classes. Luckily, I had that knowledge in the back of my mind somewhere when I had a casual encounter (which was out of character for me, BTW) with a guy who had a reputation for getting around a bit. He wanted me to perform oral sex on him, but when I asked if he had a condom, he said he didn't. I also remember him acting like it was no big deal, but something nagged at me and I said I wasn't comfortable with doing it unprotected. The guy acquiesced, and the encounter continued pleasurably (at least for me, LOL). When I got home, I did some quick research on the internet and was proud to know that my gut feeling was indeed right and I had made the safe decision. I also felt a bit like the guy was a jerk for trying to get me in an unsafe situation. But maybe that was unfair; maybe he was mis-informed.

  7. Most STDs aren't even that bad. They can be less intrusive to happy living than the common cold. I certainly wouldn't stop greeting people with a handshake to avoid a cold.

    The really serious sexually transmitted infections are HIV and babies. Everything else should be seen as a minor inconvenience instead of the stigmas they are seen with now.

  8. Extremely effective blogging......
    Internet Marketing Techniques That Really Work for any business growth johnphanchalad.net

  9. I love this post but i just have a question about oral sex: do you mean that when a girl wants to perform oral sex to a boy, she has to use a condom? I am afraid of the reaction of the guy if i tell him that. I have some special condoms for oral sex but i don't dare using them, and also it's less pleasant with a condom. Do you do it with a condom usually? and when the guy is performing oral sex on you, do you really have to use latex for that? I feel like I would feel frustrated if i use latex for that. Thanks for your answers anyway, it's always really useful information =)