Safer Sex Mistakes That Can Lead To Sexually Transmitted Infections – When it comes to the basics of sex education, often the only things people learn about are the importance of wearing condoms and STI transmission — in short, they’re taught how to prevent worst-case scenarios, rather than educated in a positive, pleasure-affirming way about the great ways that sex can be a wonderful part of their lives.
Unfortunately, even that STI-centric sex ed focus tends not to register for many people, because STI transmission still occurs all too frequently.
But maybe you were taught about these things many years ago — or even not at all.
So in order to help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections, three sex experts were asked about common mistakes people make that lead to negative sexual health consequences.
Here’s what they had to say:
Not Wearing Condoms
Condoms are one of the most useful tools there are when it comes to having consequence-free sex. When used properly, they’re highly effective when it comes to preventing pregnancy and also the transmission of sexual infections.
“Condoms are hugely important in curbing the spread of STIs,” says SKYN Condoms’ sex and intimacy expert and author Gigi Engle. “Everyone should be using them to protect themselves.”
Wearing Condoms Incorrectly
Unfortunately, wearing a condom alone does not guarantee protection from infections. Incorrect condom use is “another common mistake that can lead to unintended pregnancy or STIs,” says Dr. Kate Balestrieri, a licensed psychologist, certified sex therapist and founder of Modern Intimacy.
So, let’s go through some ways people screw up condom usage:
- Using an expired or punctured condom. (“Before you wrap it up, be sure to check that the packaging is intact, and it is not expired,” says Balestrieri.)
- Opening a condom with your teeth. (“It might look sexy to open a condom wrapper with your teeth, but it increases the odds of the condom being torn or punctured,” she adds.)
- Re-using a condom, whether with different partners or even with the same one. (“Definitely do not reuse a condom,” Balestrieri cautions. “It is a one-time-use product and can more readily tear or break when used more than once.”)
- Putting it on incorrectly (“Leave room at the tip of the condom, but be sure to press the air out of it after it is rolled on, to avoid ruptures during use,” she explains.)
- Wearing the wrong size of condom. (Too large or too small and there’s a greater chance it’ll come off mid-coitus.)
Not Getting Tested Frequently Enough
Apart from condom usage, regular testing is also an important way we can cut down on the spread of STIs. One of the main reasons for that is that people often don’t know when they’ve contracted an infection.
“One of the most common symptoms of an STI is no symptom at all,” says sexologist Jess O’Reilly, Ph.D., host of the Sex With Dr. Jess podcast.
As such, if you’re not getting tested, you have no reliable way of knowing what your STI status is.
“If you’re sexually active, talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested,” O’Reilly says. “Their recommendation in terms of frequency of testing will vary according to your risk for STI transmission. If you don’t have a healthcare provider, there are many options for ordering STI testing kits online and local clinics offer free testing from coast to coast.”
“It can be daunting, scary, annoying, and time-consuming to schedule regular STI tests, but making assumptions about your sexual health can lead to unintended transmission and more severe symptoms or complications,” Balestrieri says.
“The CDC recommends that folks with multiple partners ought to get tested for STIs every three to six months, and that includes any kind of sex (oral, vaginal, anal),” she adds.
Not Taking PrEP
While most STI transmission is reasonably manageable, some are more serious than others — the most serious being the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, which can lead to AIDS if left untreated.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a leap forward in our ability to prevent HIV transmission, and is revolutionary in the way it’s altered the conversation around HIV transmission in the gay community.
“If you’re having sex with multiple partners, it’s a really good idea to be on PrEP to avoid getting HIV,” says Engle. “It’s a daily medication that is 99% effective.”
Not Educating Themselves on STIs
“Many people conflate their self-perception with their risk of getting an STI,” says Balestrieri. “They may underestimate the prevalence of STIs and/or believe only people they have othered in some way could be positive. Get educated, and don’t rely on self-righteousness as a form of risk reduction. People from all walks of life can and do test positive for STIs.”
One form of miseducation Balestrieri points out? Believing that oral contraception stops STIs.
“The birth control pill is designed to prohibit pregnancy and has no recorded efficacy in thwarting the transmission of STIs,” she says. “Do not rely on oral contraception as a form of risk reduction for STIs.”
Leaving the Onus of Responsibility on Your Partner
For straight guys, sex can sometimes be a game of letting the woman decide. If they see it as being “up to her” whether the sex happens or not, they may also take a more passive role when it comes to whether condoms are used.
After all, if you can’t get pregnant, a partner willing to forgo condoms may be seen as a bonus rather than as a red flag. But that’s an unproductive way of thinking about a conversation that should be a two-way street, O’Reilly points out.
“Your gender and genitals do not determine the role you ought to play in safer sex,” she says. “Everyone can play a role, so step up and talk about safer sex practices from the onset.”
Not Talking About Safer Sex
“Communication makes sex safer and more pleasurable,” O’Reilly says. “And when you talk about safer sex, it can put you at ease to enjoy sex with fewer worries and distractions.”