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Safer Sex

Last updated on Thursday, September 5, 2013


If you decide that you are ready to engage in sexual activities, you should first learn to protect yourself and your partner. Practicing safer sex allows you to enjoy sex while reducing the chances of unplanned pregnancy and acquiring sexually transmitted diseases or infections (STDs/STIs). Any type of sexual play can put you at risk of infection—vaginal, anal, or oral—so be sure to use protection at all times for your and your partner's health.

There are several types of birth control and contraception: abstinence, barrier methods, hormonal control, and sterilization. It is important to consider the different methods before choosing the best option for you and your partner. Remember that some methods prevent pregnancy but do not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases and that all forms have a failure rate. Testing for STDs/STIs and talking to your partner about safer sex are also important for both of your health and pleasure.

Abstinence is the voluntary decision to not have sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) at any time. This is the only contraceptive method that is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

Barrier Methods

Barrier methods are physical or chemical barriers designed to prevent the sperm from entering the body. Most are available at regular drugstores and supermarkets.

  • Male condom: the most common barrier method that is theoretically 98% effective (with a typical 14% failure rate) at preventing pregnancies and diseases. It is a tube of thin material that is to be rolled over the erect penis before vaginal, anal, or oral contact. It is important to use unexpired, new condoms with a water-based lubricant for every sexual act; be sure to store them in a cool and dry place to prevent them from becoming weaker with tearing tendencies.
  • Insertive condom (female condom): a long pouch of polyurethane with two rings that is inserted into the vagina or anus up to 8 hours before sex, with a 95% effectiveness (and a typical 21% failure rate) at preventing pregnancies and diseases. Make sure that the top of the condom covers the outside of the vagina or anus with the penis going into the condom.
  • Spermicides: chemicals that kill sperm, available as a jelly, foam, cream suppository or tablet that can be used alone or with a condom. It has a 92% effectiveness in preventing pregnancies and diseases only when used with a male or female condom.
  • Diaphragm: a soft rubber dome stretched over a flexible ring, filled with spermicide. It is 90% effective in preventing pregnancies but not STDs/STIs when inserted correctly into the vagina over the cervix up to 3 hours before intercourse. It requires prescription from a health care provider.
  • Cervical cap: a small latex or plastic cup filled with spermicide, to be inserted into the vagina over the cervix. It is 91% effective with a typical 20% failure rate in preventing pregnancies but not STDs/STIs. It is available by prescription after a medical exam.
  • Contraceptive sponge: a small, saucer-shaped polyurethane sponge containing spermicide, to be inserted into the vagina over the cervix. It is 90% effective with a typical 20% failure rate in preventing pregnancies but not STDs/STIs.

Hormonal Control

Hormonal control releases synthesized forms of the hormones estrogen and/or progesterone to prevent ovulation, increases the cervical mucus to block sperm entrance, and/or creates a thin uterine environment to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine wall. They do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases or infections. Prescription from a health care provider is required for these.

  • Birth control pill: to be orally taken daily at the same time as prescribed by a health care provider. They secrete estrogen and/or progesterone with a 99% effective rate and a typical 5% failure rate.
  • Emergency contraception pill: an oral contraceptive pill to be taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. They are available without a prescription at pharmacies for people above the age of 17 but should not be used regularly.
  • Depo-Provera: an injection containing progestin. It prevents pregnancy for three months with an effective rate of 99% at preventing pregnancy.
  • Vaginal ring: a flexible ring that is inserted into the vagina for three weeks to release estrogen and progesterone. It is 98% effective at preventing pregnancy with a typical 8% failure rate. The ring may fall out, so be sure to check often that it is still in.
  • Skin patch: a birth control patch containing estrogen and progestin that can be attached to the hip, buttocks, abdomen, or upper arm. It is placed on the skin once each week for three weeks. For the fourth week, no patch is placed to allow for a menstrual period. It is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
  • Intrauterine device (IUD): a small plastic device containing copper or hormones to be inserted into the uterus by a medical professional. Rather than stopping sperm from entering the uterus, it affects the cervical mucus and uterine lining to prevent egg implantation. It is 99% effective at pregnancy prevention.


Sterilization involves surgical procedures that permanently prevent pregnancy, done by a health care provider. It does not prevent sexually transmitted diseases or infections.

  • Vasectomy: the male sterilization operation that closes off the vas deferens (sperm ducts) to block passage of sperm into ejaculatory fluid. It is effective only after the complete blockage of the sperm passage and ejaculation of all sperm already present in the reproductive tract.
  • Tubal ligation: the female sterilization method that closes offthe fallopian tubes to prevent eggs from reaching the uterus. It is highly effective at pregnancy prevention.

Birth control and contraceptive methods depend on a person's overall health, age, sexual activity, family health history, and future pregnancy plans. Be sure to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of all aforementioned methods. Consultation with a health care provider may help you choose the best option.

Tags: barriersbirth controlcondomscontraceptiveshormonespartnerspregnancysafer sexsexstdssterilizationstis


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