Sex Edition: There’s sex, and there’s safer sex

By Gwenn Barney

Pitt’s Student Health Service prefers to use the term “safer sex” when discussing… Pitt’s Student Health Service prefers to use the term “safer sex” when discussing intercourse because any type of sexual activity comes with some level of risk, whether it’s pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.

“Students should know that abstinence from all sexual activity is the only way to completely prevent unintended pregnancy and STIs. But if you choose to be sexually active, you should protect yourself with contraceptives and condoms,” Pitt’s Student Health Service said in an e-mail statement.

Alan Jones, a counselor with the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, agreed that above all else, condoms are the key to being safe in the sack. Not only does the use of a condom lower the risk of unwanted pregnancy, but it also reduces the risk of contracting STIs — such as HIV, chlamydia and syphilis. Jones said that when it comes to using rubbers, practice makes perfect.

“Guys need to get comfortable using condoms,” he said. “Don’t wait until the moment of sex to use a condom for the first time.”

Jones also said there are different types and sizes of condoms, so guys should find the one that works best for them. He advises investment in a latex-free brand for those who suffer from latex allergies. The same applies to female condoms.

But if unprotected sex happens, both partners involved should get tested for STIs as soon as possible. Even though there is a 25-60 day window before the virus shows up on test results, experts across the health community recommend that unprotected sex partners get tested immediatelyso they know if they are unknowingly carrying viruses from previous sexual encounters.

Jones warns against making assumptions about a love interest’s sexual history and whether or not he or she might be an STI carrier.

“You’ve already put them up on a pedestal,” Jones explains. “They look clean. They look nice. They’re not going to be positive [for STIs] in our minds. But remember, the nicest girl or guy can be positive.”

If a person is sexually active, it’s not a bad idea to get regularly screened for STIs. It’s also good to remember that when it comes to preventing the transmission of STIs, practicing abstinence is always another viable option.

Of course, sex is never safe without consent or when violence is involved.

“It’s very hard to navigate that fine line between being social and putting yourself in a bad situation in college,” said Laura Summers, an education and training specialist for Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, a nonprofit that works to increase sexual assault awareness.

Summers believes the most important part of preventing sexual assault while in a relationship is communication. If a woman says “no” to sex in a relationship and her partner feels differently, Summers recommends the two sit down and talk out the situation. But even if people don’t appreciate their partners’ reasoning for refraining from sex, they should still respect it.

“A lot of times we hear from guys, ‘No, she really didn’t mean it,’” Summers said. “Only yes means yes.”

Mary Ruiz, Pitt’s coordinator of Sexual Assault Services, agrees with Summers. She said that for the most part, sexual assaults can be prevented.

To be safe, Ruiz recommended sexual decisions never be made under the influence of alcohol. She believes that instances of sexual assault can also be avoided if women communicate how far they are willing to go sexually.

“If a guy asks a girl to come up to his room to listen to music and there’s the potential that he could want to have sex, but the girl knows she doesn’t want to have sex, she should tell him, ‘Yes, I’ll come up to your room, but I’m not having sex with you,’” Ruiz said.