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
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.
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.