Dr Turner, you are using the term "safer" sex. I've always just heard "safe" sex. What's the difference?
What a great question!
Safer sex behavior is an updated term from "Safe Sex"-- the reason why the term has been updated to "safer" rather than "safe" is because there are always going to be some amount of risk taken with sexual activity. Safer sex means that precautions have been taken in an aim to reduce the risk of transmitting STI's. This can be achieved through use of condoms, regular STI screenings, and STI screenings being performed before having intercourse with new sexual partners. It also includes using barriers such as condoms, and latex or polyurethane dams for oral sex (for more information on the other barrier methods, check tomorrow's blog!)
Some more terminology:
Possibly safer sex behaviour: Using condoms prevents the fluid transmission but not skin to skin contact; which means STIs that can be transferred through skin to skin contact like herpes and HPV can both be transferred even when someone is using a condom. Also, couples who are fluid bonded (meaning they only have sex without barriers with each other) or who are monogamous can have possibly safer sex: assuming that both people are 100% monogamous and or using safer sex barriers when engaging in sexual behaviors with other people. If both partners adhere to those agreed upon regulations, then it would be safer sex, but if not then it wouldn't be safer sex....which is where the "possibly" comes in. There are also some sexual behaviors that are on a higher risk level even with barriers being used, and also barriers are not 100% (condom breakage, dam slippage, etc.).
Unsafe sex behaviour: There is different risk levels associated with all sexual behaviours, and the only way to completely eliminate risk is to not have sex at all. However, there are ways to reduce the risk, and when those options are not employed, it can be unsafe sex behaviour. For example; vaginal sex and anal sex both carry a higher risk level due to the fluid exchange, as well as the genital skin to genital skin contact. If barrier devices are not used, the risk level increases greatly.
When people decide to engage in sexual activity where risks are involved; if condoms and other barrier devices are not used to prevent sexually transmitted infections, the sexual behaviour may be deemed unsafe. Unsafe sex behaviour is essentially sex where the adequate precautions of preventing transmission of STI’s have not been taken.
People can choose what level of risk they are willing to take. For some people the benefits of not using protective barriers such as condoms, outweigh the risk factors of contracting an STI. For others, it is important to decrease their risk as much as possible by getting regular testing, fluid bonding with one partner only, and using additional protective methods. Ultimately it is a decision to be made by the individual and as a couple.
Thanks again for asking! If you have any additional questions about safer sex behaviours, please email Dr. Turner.