EDITORIAL: This Valentine’s Day, give your sweetheart the gift of safe sex
The week surrounding Valentine’s Day has been named National Condom Week, and with love in the air — and no shortage of blunt commercials reminding us what the day is really about — we’ve got condoms on the brain.
More specifically, we’re thinking about the important role contraception plays and the serious lack of education about safe sex in the U.S. despite the scare tactics used in abstinence-only education, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found male condoms to be 98-percent effective in preventing pregnancy when used perfectly.
It also found they create an “essentially impermeable barrier to particles the size of STD pathogens.” And birth control pills were found to be 99.7-percent effective in preventing pregnancy with perfect use.
Notice that “perfect use” caveat. There are a lot of things you can do to ensure more effective contraceptive use. But the first, and most important, is simply to use it consistently.
Guys, don’t just trust that a woman is on birth control. Even if she is, the pills are easy to use imperfectly. And they don’t protect against STDs.
Ladies, don’t rely on the guy to have a condom. Consider it your responsibility as much as his and make sure you have access to proper contraceptive measures at any time.
And to anyone outside that heteronormative equation, contraceptive use is just as important for you. Certain kinds of sex may not cause pregnancy, but all sex acts include possible exposure to STDs. Be sure to stay up to date on the kinds of contraceptives that are right for your situation.
After ensuring consistent use of contraception, it’s important to use it effectively. The efficacy of male condoms drops to 85 percent when considering “typical” use. The pill drops to 92 percent.
Here are tips for perfect contraception use, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention :
• Store condoms in a cool dry place out of sunlight.
• Note the condom’s expiration date.
• Use a new condom before each sex act, use it for the entire duration of the act and use it for all manners of sex — oral sex still poses a serious STD threat.
• Ensure that adequate lubrication is used to prevent the condom from breaking.
• Use only water-based lubricants with latex condoms. Oil-based lubricants, such as body lotions, massage oil or baby oil, can damage latex condoms.
• If you feel a condom break during any sex act, stop immediately and replace it.
Birth control pills
• Oral contraceptives are most effective when taken every day. Missing a day lowers efficacy.
• They should be taken at the same time every day. Try to sync it with another everyday activity.
• Certain medicines, particularly antibiotics, also can lower the pills efficacy.
• If you’re concerned about effectiveness and the pill doesn’t work for you, consider contraceptive injections, a vaginal ring or an intrauterine device.
• A female condom also can be used to prevent pregnancy and STDs, but it is only 95-percent effective with perfect use and 79-percent effective with typical use.
• Spermicides, sponges and fertility awareness can be helpful back-up measures in case your primary method fails. But on their own, they have significantly higher failure rates than condoms and the pill.
• It’s not just traditional intercourse that involves STD risks. Using a condom on shared sex toys, using a condom for oral sex and using a “dental dam” for oral sex on a woman reduces your risk of exposure.
• Know your status. Only when you and your partner are fully, currently tested can sex truly be safe.