Sexual Health: Barriers and beyond

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Jos Porter, Health Services Coordinator at Head & Hands

Protection… If you’re having penetrative sex, condoms protect against most sexually transmitted infections (e.g., HIV and chlamydia), but keep in mind they don’t offer complete protection against STIs that are spread through skin to skin contact (i.e. herpes, HPV). If you’re enjoying the penis-in-vagina variety specifically, they’re also 97% effective at preventing pregnancies (when used properly and consistently). But what if you’re having other kinds of sex?

Here are some other ways to protect yourself and your partner(s):

avoid unprotected contact with areas where there are bumps, rashes, broken skin
wash sex toys before using them on yourself and/or sharing them with someone else
use a condom on dildos and vibrators if you’re sharing them or haven’t had a chance to wash them properly
condoms are also great for oral sex on a penis
dental dams are great for oral sex on a vulva or anus
use water-based lube when having penetrative sex!! not only does it feel good but it helps prevent condoms from breaking and skin from tearing
if you’re doing stuff with your hands, you can use gloves (latex or nitril)! if you’re not into that or there aren’t gloves around, the ol’ “this hand is for me, this other hand is for you” trick is great for not swapping fluids

Get tested! Do it regularly. Do it more often if you’ve had unprotected or risky sex with someone. Know what you’re being tested for (e.g., a pap test doesn’t tell you anything about your HIV status!!). Follow up with the clinic afterwards to find out your results.

The most routine tests are for HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. Genital warts (HPV) and herpes are usually visually diagnosed. Pap smears test the health of cervical cells; abnormalities are almost always the result of an HPV infection. You have the right to be tested for anything you want; some doctors/nurses may try to tell you that you don’t need to get tested for something based on what you disclose to them and/or assumptions they make about you. Insist on getting what you came in for or go somewhere else!

Always carry condoms (or anything else you may need)!! Hot sex could be waiting for you around the next corner, so come prepared. You can get free condoms at most health clinics, CLSCs, Head & Hands, and tons of student spaces on Montreal campuses (QPIRGs, the UGE, Queer McGill, 2110 Centre, etc.). The Shag Shop sells condoms, lube, gloves, and dental dams for cheap. You can make your own dental dam by cutting the tip off a condom and then cutting it up the side, or by cutting the fingers off a glove and cutting it up the side.

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