Today’s post is by “Obi,” a Nigerian doctor conducting his field experience at Planned Parenthood as part of his MPH program. He was a general practitioner in his home country with main interest and expertise in maternal and child health.
When it comes to STD prevention purposes, what defines safe? One of the most concise mnemonics for STD prevention is the ABC Rule (one of the most basic ways couples can have safe sexual experiences and healthy sex life).
- Abstain from sex
- Be faithful if you don’t abstain
- Use a condom if you aren’t faithful
As simple as this may seem, it is not well understoody by some. Let’s break it down…
Abstain from sex: This means ‘not engaging in any form of sexual practice with a partner’. The notion of abstinence is misinterpreted by a lot of people to mean not performing any sexual practice that could lead to pregnancy (vaginal intercourse), while some include abstaining from any penetrative sexual practice (both vaginal and anal intercourse). This, therefore, gives room for oral sex for abstinent individuals. However, STDs like Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Herpes and Hepatitis can be contracted through oral sex. I do get a surprised look from teens and young adults when I say that like vaginal sex, oral sex should be performed with protection because of risks of contracting an STD.
Be faithful: It takes two to tango, so the saying goes. Two partners who are in a monogamous relationship and want to start a physical relationship should consider the following:
- A consentual decision to start a sexual relationship
- Undergoing testing for STDs including HIV
- Using a reliable contraceptive method that works best for them (if they are not planning to get pregnant)
- Working on maintaining a faithful monogamous relationship with your partner
Here comes the twist, the definition of being faithful also varies depending on whose point of view you are looking at it from. By definition, being faithful, with regards to safe sex, refers to not being sexually involved with anyone except your partner. Since we know that STDs can be contracted through oral sex, and use of barrier methods (condoms) isn’t 100% effective, it is imperative that partners who practice ‘Being Faithful’ as their method of STD prevention do so in the strictest way possible.
Please remember we are all humans and we all can make mistakes, it is advisable to have routine STD including HIV testing, health screenings and see your physician if you have any symptoms or concerns.
Use a condom: If you choose not to be abstinent and are unable to be faithful to your partner, it is advisable to use a condom with all your sexual partners. Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In addition, consistent and correct use of latex condoms reduces the risk of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including diseases transmitted by genital secretions, and to a lesser degree, genital ulcer diseases. Incorrect and inconsistent use of condoms increases risk of contracting STDs including HIV.
Condoms should be used during vaginal, anal, and oral sex and also when sharing sex toys (condoms should be changed before use by each partner). Condoms should be properly stored, expiration date checked before use, and the right steps followed when putting on, using, and disposing of used condoms.
It’s important to note that condoms offer protection over areas where it covers and offers lesser protection against genital ulcers and bodily secretions outside this area.
What do you think of using the ABCs for STD prevention?