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Safer Sex: How Can I Be as Safe as Possible?

satisfied-looking lube cartoon with safer sex gloves

Many people who have sex can worry about STIs (sexually transmitted infections), pregnancy, or both. Fortunately, there’s protection for people with any type of body, gender identity, and sexual orientation. There are a lot of ways to have safer sex! We’ll be covering some of the more common ones below.

Using condoms

A condom is a thin covering, usually made of latex rubber. The most common type of condom is an external condom. You can put it over an erect penis before having oral, vaginal, or anal sex. It prevents blood, semen and vaginal fluids from passing from one person to another, reducing the chance of pregnancy and STIs. Condoms are a common tool for safer sex involving penises or dildos.

98% of people having vaginal sex for a year won’t get pregnant if they use external condoms correctly. Even if you’re using other birth control, condoms are great for reducing your risk for pregnancy even more. Plus, they’re the only birth control that also prevents STIs.

Condoms work best when you follow the right steps. It can help to read the instructions carefully before putting one on. This makes it less likely that the condom will break or slip off.

Most of the time, when people say condoms, they mean external condoms (the kind you put over a penis). However, there are also internal condoms, also called female condoms. These are nitrile plastic tubes that can go into a vagina or anus up to 8 hours before you have sex. Some people love how they feel!

You can buy external condoms at a pharmacy or get them for free at clinics like Head and Hands. Internal condoms are harder to find, but you can buy them at some sex shops.

Some people worry that using a condom will ruin the mood. But with a little practice, using a condom can be fast, easy, and even sexy. You can check out the links at the bottom to learn how!

Safer oral sex

Some STIs, like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes, can be transferred between the genitals and the mouth or throat. Other STIs, like HIV and hepatitis C, can be transmitted through the mouth only if there are small cuts or gingivitis (inflamed gums). Luckily, there are some easy ways to protect against these while having great, safer sex.

Some people brush their teeth before giving oral sex. This can make your breath nice and fresh, but it can cause many tiny scrapes and cuts in your mouth, which can let in STIs. If you plan on giving oral sex and you want fresh breath, you can be safer by chewing gum or using mouthwash. Remember to use chewing gum without sugar if you’re giving oral sex to a vulva, since sugars can cause yeast infections in the vagina.

For oral sex on a penis, you can use an external (male) condom for safer sex. Some people don’t like the taste of latex condoms, so they use flavoured lube or flavoured condoms.

For oral sex on a vulva (the parts outside the vagina) or anus, you can use a dental dam. These are rectangular pieces of latex that you lay over either the vulva or anus. They are barriers that prevent STIs from passing through. It’s important to remember that if you’re going to switch between oral sex on an anus and oral sex on a vulva, you can’t use the same dental dam.

Dental dams usually aren’t available at pharmacies, but you can buy them through services like Kontak, or you can even make them yourself from a condom or glove. For info on how to make your own dental dam, check the link at the end of the page.

Birth control

If you want to prevent STIs and pregnancy at the same time, you can use birth control options together with condoms. Anyone over 14 can get birth control cheap ($20-60 a month) or sometimes free without their parents knowing.

All birth control, except condoms, is used by the person with a vagina. You need a prescription for many types of birth control. You can call 811 to find a CLSC near you to see a doctor or nurse. Or, if you’re under 25, you can go to a clinic like Head and Hands (see below). Once you see a doctor or nurse, you can talk about options like…

    • The pill: a small pill that you take at the same time every day or most days. It releases hormones into your body, preventing the release of an egg. This means you can’t get pregnant. They’re over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy when you take them at the same time every day.
    • Intrauterine devices (IUDs): small, t-shaped devices that doctors insert into the uterus. They keep sperm from fertilizing the egg. Depending on the type of IUD, they can last between 3 and 10 years. Some IUDs release hormones, and others don’t. They’re up to 99% effective!
    • Hormonal contraceptive vaginal ring (like Nuva Ring): it releases a dose of hormones into your body to prevent pregnancy. It’s a small plastic ring that you put into the upper part of your vagina. You wear it for 3 out of every 4 weeks. They can be as much as 98% effective.
    • Birth control patches: small plastic patches that stick to your skin. They release the same hormones as the pill to prevent pregnancy. You stick a new one on ever week for 3 out of every 4 weeks. They can be as much as 99% effective.

Testing

Even when you use condoms correctly and they don’t break or fall off, you still have some risk for STIs. You can lower the risk for you and your partner(s) by getting tested at least once a year and any time that you’re not sure if you have an STI. Regular testing is just as important as condoms and dental dams when it comes to safer sex. It’s also good to get tested after:

  • You have sex without a condom, a dental dam, or both
  • You’re not sure if you used a condom, dental dam, or both
  • Your partner does not know if they have an STI
  • Your partner finds out that they had an STI
  • You notice what could be symptoms of an STI on you or your partner
  • Your partner has had sex with another partner
  • You want to start having sex with a new partner

Keep in mind that some STIs (like HIV) don’t show up in tests for up to 3 months after exposure. In general, it’s safer to get tested about 3 weeks after you had sex, and again after 3 months.

When you go, the doctor will likely ask you about the sex you’ve had and any drugs you’ve taken. While it can be hard, being honest with your doctor can help them choose the right tests. They’re trained not to judge you, and if you’re over 14 your medical file is confidential. However, if you feel uncomfortable, it’s always your right to find another doctor.

Check out the links below for more info on safer sex, birth control options, and more!

More info:

  • Condom basics – Scarleteen

    Scarleteen explains the basics of condom use.

  • Going Condom Shopping! – Go Ask Alice

    Go Ask Alice talks about the different sizes, textures, and other varieties of condom and how to find what works best for you.

  • Head & Hands Health Services

    Head & Hands is a health clinic for youth ages 12-25 near the Vendome metro station. They offer free, anonymous STD testing, even if you’re not covered by RAMQ. Head & Hands also has a lot of other services, including medical check ups, getting contraception, transitioning, and more.

    They offer a walk-in clinic on most Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at 4:45pm. Everyone who comes in for the clinic is given a name card and entered into a draw. At 5:00pm, they draw 10 names to decide who sees the doctor.

    They recommend bringing your Medicare card if you have it, but you can still see someone if you don’t have it.

  • How To Make and Use A Dental Dam – CDC

    The U.S. Center for Disease Control explains what a dental dam is and how it can make oral sex on a vagina or anus safer. They also give a visual guides for how to use one and how to make one out of a condom.

  • Kontak

    A program offering free delivery for at-cost sex toys, lube, and safer sex supplies. Run by AIDS Community Care Montreal (ACCM). Website includes depictions of sexuality, but not genitals, and is accessible to all ages.
    *You can also text Kontak at 514-941-SEXE (7393)

  • Contraception – Sex & U

    All about contraception, aka birth control. Contains pages on emergency, hormonal, non-hormonal, and natural contraception.

  • Birth Control Comparison Chart and Pregnancy Rates

    US-based Kidhealth.org lists and compares different types of birth control including information on how effective they are and if they also protect against STIs.

  • Birth Control FAQ – Mayo Clinic

    Some frequently asked questions and answers about birth control.

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