Sex is a normal, healthy part of life. It should be fun and pleasurable for you and your partner. But it can also be risky if you or your partner do certain things that could spread disease or cause physical or emotional harm.
You can still have a good time and curb a lot of these risks. A lot of it comes down to three simple things: protect, test, and talk.
This means having vaginal, anal, or oral sex without a condom. It makes you more likely to get HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Bodily fluids like blood and semen pass from you to your partner during sex.
How to lower your risk: Use a condom every time. This will reduce your chance of getting certain STDs. You still can get herpes or human papillomavirus (HPV) from your partner, even if you use a condom. But unless you never have sex, or you’re 100% sure that your partner only has sex with you and doesn’t have an STD, condoms are your best option.
PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is when people at risk of contracting HIV through sex or injection drug use take a preventive medication (not including people at risk of contracting HIV through receptive vaginal sex) There are two prescription drugs that are approved for daily use as PrEP.
Multiple Sexual Partners
You’re more likely to get HIV or another STD when you have more than one sex partner, or many sex partners during your lifetime. That’s because more people mean more chances that one or more of them will have HIV or an infection. Ever heard the saying that when you have sex with someone, you’re having sex with everyone they’ve ever had sex with?
How to lower your risk: The lowest risk, unless you’re celibate, is being in a relationship where both people are exclusive. Life is complicated, though, and that may not be realistic or what you both want. Or you may not know that your partner has been seeing someone else. So it’s a good idea to get tested for STDs together, and share the results with one another.
This involves any type of sexual activity around the anal area. It’s the riskiest kind of sex for both men and women to get and spread HIV and other STDs.
Why is that? The answer is in anatomy. The lining of the anus is much thinner than the vagina, so it can be damaged much more easily. That makes it much more vulnerable to infection.
How to lower your risk: Make sure you are using latex condoms correctly to lower the risk of them breaking from friction. Lots of water- or silicone-based lubrication can help, as well. But you’re still vulnerable to certain STDs when you have anal sex, especially if you are receiving it.
Sex and Drugs
If the person you’re having sex with shares drug equipment with someone who is HIV positive, they can contract the virus. That’s because needles, water, bottle caps, spoons, or even cotton filters can all expose them to someone else’s HIV-infected blood. They can get HIV and then they can expose you if you have unprotected sex.
And if you’re doing drugs -- including ones you don’t inject, like alcohol -- you’re more likely to make poor decisions. For instance, you might have unprotected sex -- or more sex partners.
How to lower your risk: If you have sex with someone who injects drugs, always use condoms and get tested for HIV and hepatitis. Your partner’s risk is lowest if they always use clean equipment and never shares needles. You should assume that the way your partner uses drugs will directly put you at risk.
Paying for Sex
Because of what they do, people who have sex for money, food, shelter, or drugs are more likely to have HIV and other STDs.
For instance, they may be paid more to have sex without condoms. They may be more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs. Their clients might not know that they have HIV or another STD. And they may not have the power to demand that their clients use condoms.
How to lower your risk: Don’t pay for sex. It’s illegal in most places in the U.S. If you’ve ever done it, get tested for HIV, even if you used a condom.