4 essential safe sex practices to prevent HIV and other STDs

Protect yourself against HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases with these aids.

28 April 2015
by Ruth Rehbock

The human immunodefiency virus (HIV) is most commonly transmitted through bodily fluids, particularly during sex. Practising safe sex is the only way to ensure that you reduce the risk of transmission of HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and herpes.

Also, it ensures that women don't contract HPV (human papillomavirus), which can lead to cervical cancer. It's estimated that 70% of cervical cancer is caused by HPV infection through sexual contact with an infected individual. STDs can also lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) for women. 

Here are four effective ways to ensure you enjoy sex responsibly.

1. Condoms

When used correctly and consistently, male condoms made from latex are one of the most effective ways to prevent the transmission of STDs such as HIV/AIDS. It’s important to use a new condom every time you have sexual intercourse: never use the same one twice.

It’s also critical that you use a condom correctly – check the package for instructions on correct use. You can use water-based lubricants with condoms, but only put lubricant on the outside of a condom, never on the outside as this will increase the likelihood of it slipping off during sex.

The female condom is another way you can ensure that you and your partner remain protected. What’s more, a woman has more control over the use of this condom which she can insert into her vagina before sexual intercourse. This condom is also made from latex and is comfortable and easy to use.

2. Dental dams

Dental dams are square pieces of latex that are used for oral-vaginal or oral-anal sex. These latex squares are called ‘dental dams’ because they were originally designed for use in dental procedures, but they actually serve as a useful barrier method against the transmission of STDs during oral sex because they prevent contact with bodily fluids that may contain these bacteria and viruses.

Dental dams prevent many STDs, such as herpes, genital warts and HIV from being transmitted through oral sex. But like condoms, they must be used consistently and correctly in order to be effective.

Of course, most importantly, when you use a dental dam, only use one side and then discard it. If you turn it over you will expose yourself to the fluids you're trying to avoid. And never re-use a dam on another body part (for instance, from anus to vulva or vice-versa), as this can transfer bacteria from one body area to another. Always dispose of the dam after you have used it.

As with male condoms, dental dams also come in a variety of sizes and flavours.

3. Pre-exposure ARV treatment

Truvada is an antiretroviral (ARV) drug that specifically prevents HIV cells from multiplying in the body. It is used in two instances, firstly, to prevent the HIV advancing in HIV-positive people, and secondly, it lowers the chances of transmission for HIV-negative individuals who may be at higher risk of contracting HIV because they are having sex with HIV-positive partners. This is known medically as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).

It is important to note that Truvada must be used alongside other safe sex practices to reduce the risk of becoming infected. It is important to note that using ARVs in this way may not provide protection from disease in every individual and must be used in conjunction with barrier methods.

4. Treatment after exposure

Using ARV medications right after exposure to the HI-virus as a preventative method is called ‘prophylaxis’, which means disease prevention. Post-exposure prophylaxis (or PEP) means that you take ARV medications as soon as possible after exposure to HIV to prevent the virus from infecting the T-cells in your immune system. You can only get these medications with a prescription.

Important facts about PEP:

  • Scientists aren’t sure yet exactly how soon someone has to start PEP once they have been exposed to the virus.
  • PEP is a programme of one or more drugs, taken several times each day, for at least 30 days. It is an expensive and (often) unpleasant alternative to abstinence, or using condoms or dental dams.
  • You cannot miss one dose otherwise you run the risk of contracting HIV. Missing a dose could also allow the virus to develop resistance to the medications and then they would no longer work for you.
  • Medications used in PEP have serious side effects.

Scientists and doctors do know that PEP should begin as soon as possible after exposure to HIV, and definitely within 72 hours after exposure. Treatment with two or three ARVs should continue for four weeks, if tolerated and it shouldn’t be viewed as a preventative measure in the same way as dental dams and condoms. PEP should only really be used in emergency-type situations.

How Clicks Clinics can help you

Did you know Clicks offers HIV testing and counselling at our clinics? To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or book online at Clicks Clinics online

HIV home test kits are also available for purchase online and in-store.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

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Read More: HIV/AIDS Super Section