Safer Sex – Take the shrink wrap off and have fun

Recently, there were some questions on Signel about safer sex…thought I would include my answer here just for those who might be seeking some information on the topic:

The reason why I will be offering sometimes 2 different answers to the following questions is simple. The ‘official’ answer is what you will most likely read from pamphlets, or get from any government agency. They carry the least liability, and are the ‘safest’ answers as well. HOWEVER, they are also draconian in nature, and very impractical. An analagy would be to take a new couch you just bought from say, Ikea. You don’t want to soil it, you don’t want to spoil it, so you keep it sheathed in its plastic wrap, leave it a corner of the house, and only allow super-special guests to sit on one corner of it when visiting, and then only after a half-hour briefing on proper couch-etiquette. The idea is: If you don’t have sex, you won’t catch HIV. Something like that.

My ‘professional’ answer however, allows you to take the shrink wrap off the couch, and give you not only a few tips on proper cleaning care, but especially ‘Stuart’ secrets on how to PREVENT messy stains, minimise harm, PLUS, some juicy ways to enjoy your new couch in ways you never imagined. However, this would require that you possess:

– a certain level of negotiation skills (sex between adults ideally should be preceded by a certain amount of negotiation),

– a sober mind (sobriety is important…we all get a little more frisky and less safe when caught in the heat of the moment…or are impaired by substances such as alcohol et al)

Alright. Let’s get down to business…..

>>If two people indulge in foreplay, ie. mutual masturbation, kissing, hugging etc, but do NOT indulge in anal or oral sex, is it correct to say that they will not get AIDS?  

AIDS is currently thought of as a result of HIV – the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. While there are theories out there which beg to differ, HIV is currently the best ‘culprit’ we have. HIV is a retro-virus, and it requires to be in a person’s blood stream before it can infect our immune system. Foreplay, such as frottage (rubbing of bodies), massage, kissing, masturbation, etc, WILL not result in the transmission of HIV, and hence not AIDS.

The rule of thumb is this. If there is not exchange of bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids or blood, there will be no transmission of AIDS. Saliva contains some antibodies, but much lower counts of the actual virus, which means that the likelihood of catching HIV from saliva alone would mean you’d have to be drinking several litres of the stuff, and at the same time have severe cuts in your oral cavity, or be foaming in the mouth….you get the idea.

So…bottom line: No exchange of semen/vaginal fluids/blood – no HIV transmission.

BUT let’s say, fluids WERE exchanged….what do we do then? After all, we’re human beings….it’s kinda difficult to have sex without any mingling of our essences…(and a less fun if we don’t)…What is safe, and what is not?

ALWAYS fuck with a rubber. No exceptions, unless you’re in a MONOGAMOUS relationship with someone, and both of you are aware of your HIV negative status. Any contact of pre-come or semen with the anus/rectum is HIGH RISK. No questions about that. The rectal lining is fragile, and anal intercourse is a contact sport. Same goes for vaginal intercourse.

Oral sex…hmm…this is the tricky one. The ‘official’ answer is…if you have to, (oral sex being a prelude to sexual intercourse of course, especially for us Singaporeans) then don a condom….if you minimise contact of semen/pre-come with the oral lining, then you minimise chances of HIV transmission.

HOWEVER, I always add to that, if you DON’t use a condom…then don’t let your partner come in your mouth….and if he does, don’t swallow….and if you do swallow, then…err…rinse your mouth out, gargle, and well, enjoy the rest of it.

Well, the fact of the matter is, oral transmission of HIV MAY have been reported, but these reports have been isolated and spotty. There have been some studies done on oral transmission of HIV, but these studies are faulty and should not be generalised to implicate all oral sex. Will explain under a different note if you want me to explore this. However, consider…if oral sex did indeed transmit HIV, then all of San Francisco, much of New York, and countless other people would be dead by now. I don’t mean to trivialise oral transmission, or to even say it is impossible, but it’s a small (and I consider negligible) risk…one that is further minimised if your partner’s sexual history is not extremely suspect, if your exposures are kept to a minimum (of course, the more times you are exposed to the risk, the more risk you carry), etc.

Same goes for the women. If you have to, use a dental dam…avoid oral sex during certain times of the month (blood carries a higher concentration of virus)…and everything in moderation. But since I am not familiar with lesbian sex, this is the limit of my advice in this area….yikes…someone else more knowledgeable help me out here…

Theoretically, oral transmission is possible. After all, there are viruses in the semen/vaginal fluids, and you ARE ingesting these fluids. Hoever, taking an intact gastro-intestinal tract into consideration, these organs of ours are extremely hardy and have seen countless numbers of yucky things we shove down our throats (including Macdonalds and Singapore air…etc). They are used to keeping foreign particles out. Occassionally, something overwhelms them (as in the case of Indonesian roadside stall food), and our bodies protest by making us dump the offending particles in the Kallang River…but otherwise, few things that were not meant to get through, do eventually get through. Including many bacteria and viruses. Some bugs make a living by infecting people through the oral route, and HIV is thankfully NOT one of them. Credit our gastric juices, gastric lining, saliva enzymes, whatever.

>>Also, I think some kinds of sexual diseases like herpes and warts can spread through the kind of casual sexual contact as described above (excluding anal and oral sex), can someone please enlighten me on how these “other” STDs are spread and their dangers? 

STD’s…ok. The most common STD’s include gonorrhea, syphillis, herpes, warts, pubic lice, chlamydia, etc. It would take quite a long essay to go into each and everyone of them. Most of the STDs are rather evident if you examine the genital area of your partner under reasonable light (so those at Fort Rd, well, you place yourselves at higher risk…). Any sores, discolorations, discharges, foul smell, etc, would typically alert you to such a possibility. If your partner can’t help but constantly scratch their pubes, that’s another clue…Be sure to look at your partner’s genital area carefully…if it looks nice and squeeky clean, you’re probably OK (with the exception of herpes…which is still transmissible even when there are no evident sores…best thing is to ask, never assume). If you are foolish enough to rub your skin against these sores, then well, go visit your friendly STD doc soon to get a jab (yes, most are curable, again with the exception of herpes) because that’s how they are spread, by contact with infected skin. No fluids to transmit.

Let’s not also forget those rimmers out there. You place yourself at high risk for Hepatitis A…so either get yourself a Hep A vaccination, as well as clean your partner’s butt out really well (hey, a mutual romp in the shower qualifies as fantastic foreplay, if you ask me) before you start licking sphincter, OR use a dental dam or plastic wrap stretched across the cave before you go spelunking.

>>It seems that we are so often warned on how AIDS is spread and how we should protect from AIDS, but we have neglected to warn people also the dangers of other STDs which can ruin people’s lifes too. I hope that we can take this chance to inform the people on Signel about other dangerous STDs that one can get *EVEN IF ONE PRACTICES SAFE SEX* (ie. with a condom). 

Well, good point and no. Yes, STDs are often neglected…in part because they are curable for the most part, and in comparison with AIDS, they are at best (or worst) a minor inconvenience when treated. STDs occur in high frequency amongst people who are at high risk for HIV, or HIV-positive persons. Why? Because risky behaviour for AIDS is the same (more or less) as risky behaviour for STDs. Even if the methods of transmission are different. However, condoms DO DO DO reduce the risk of STDs…hey, you’re putting a piece of rubber over the skin which is going to be rubbing the most against your partner’s so why shouldn’t it protect you? However, you forget that MOST of your body’s not covered…so act accordingly.

>>Let’s dispell the myth of “safe” sex. No form of sexual contact is safe. Nothing beats good old fashion love and commitment. But sadly, even that is a myth in the world today.  

Au contraire…..lots of sex is safe. And safe sex can be lots (and loads) of fun. But to a very practical extent, purely safe sex can find yourself running out of ideas pretty quickly, and yearning to get back to the good ol’ in-out-in-out….so, the important thing IS….SAFER SEX. Meaning, risk management, harm prevention/minimisation…remember the couch analogy?

First thing, and the MOST important thing you could do to help yourself, is to get yourself tested. If you know you’re HIV positive, you can get treatment ASAP…therapies which for now look extremely promising, and could perhaps prevent you from developing AIDS. If you’re HIV negative, then you know what to do to stay that way. Action for AIDS has an anonymous test site on Saturdays between 1-4pm – no names taken absolutely…at the Kelantan Rd Clinic (also known as the DSC Clinic)…

If your sex partner knows their HIV status as well, then you could proceed to more adventurous forms of sex. If you’re not monogamous, then of course I would never advocate not using condoms. But knowing you are having sex with someone who is probably *still* HIV negative is hell of a lot less risky than having someone who does not know if they are HIV positive of negative (or even “proabably HIV negative” is not good enough)…

The next thing is something that few people do, but everyone should. Negotiate amongst yourselves, what you feel is risky, what you feel is a calculated risk you’re BOTH willing to take, and what is absolutley no problem at all. Why more don’t do this is simple…we don’t like to talk about sex…a conventionally taboo topic. Yet, you will find that talking about sex will take a load of your back…and you will find it strangely liberating to be able to discuss what you want to do to this dreamboat you found at Raffles City (or wherever). This way, there are no surprises, both partners respect one anothers sexual wishes, and risk is managed in that way.

Don’t do anything you are not comfortable with, but at the same time, GET THE FACTS so that you can make an educated decision. No one can force you to do anything you don’t want to…it’s your body…you decide what risks you want to take. Some find high-risk behaviour more fun, some find it petrifying. Whatever suits you. Your body is ultimately YOUR responsibility. Don’t go on hearsay…GET THE FACTS.

If you engage in sex with multiple partners, or have multiple exposures to risky sex, get yourself tested periodically (ostensibly every six months), just to be sure you’re still where you want to be. If you have one or two or three partners, and you deem the risks to be small, let’s save our precious medical resources. HIV is not an easy thing to catch. It really isn’t. In a way, you have to try pretty hard to get it…before you will.

SO…bearing that in mind…go out there, have safe and responsible sex!