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Frequently Asked Questions - Safe Sex

What is safe sex?

Safe sex is a way to enjoy sex while reducing the possibility of getting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STI's). Practicing safe sex doesn't guarantee you will not get HIV, but it does reduce the risk enormously.

Various activities are rated by the risk associated with them.

No risk activities are hugging, kissing, touching, mutual masturbation.

The main rule to remember is to avoid exchanging bodily fluids such as blood, semen, precum and vaginal fluids. These fluids can get into the body through the linings of the vagina and the anus, the tip of the penis and through open sores and cuts. In the mouth they can enter through cuts and ulcers.

Oral sex is considered a low risk activity. Although you should avoid oral sex if you have mouth ulcers or bleeding gums or have just cleaned your teeth. If you swallow semen or vaginal fluid any virus will be killed by stomach acids, though it can enter open wounds before it gets there.

Anal Intercourse (without using condoms and lubricant) is a high risk activity. There is danger to both people here as the HIV virus can travel in either direction through pre-cum, cum and blood. The HIV virus cannot get through a condom. Using condoms properly is the best protection if you are having anal intercourse.

Vaginal Intercourse (without condoms and lubricant) is also a high risk activity, and has very similar risks as anal intercourse. It is always best to use a condom.

While these activities may be considered safe or low risk for HIV, there is still a high risk for other STI's. Again if you want to be completely safe, use a condom.

Call a counsellor to discuss the risks involved in other sexual activities.

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What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome and is caused by infection with HIV.

A person who is HIV positive (HIV+) has been infected with HIV.

A person who doesn't have HIV is known as being HIV negative (HIV-).

In the early 1980s AIDS was identified but nobody knew what caused it. Initially it appeared to only occur in homosexual men. The virus HIV was identified as the cause in 1983.

There is no known cure for HIV/ AIDS, but there are many treatments that allow people to live healthily with HIV and to maintain a high quality of life.

For more information on HIV/ AIDS click here.

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Avoiding HIV/AIDS

HIV is transmitted in infected semen, precum, vaginal secretions, or blood. It can get into the body through contact with the penis, vagina, anus or any open cuts or sores.

Most HIV infection occurs during unprotected intercourse. That is anal or vaginal sex without a condom.

Practicing safe sex can prevent HIV infection. Discussing safe sex is often difficult and practicing it can at first be even more difficult. Learning how to enjoy one's sexuality with safe sex can be complicated but it is really important.

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Using a condom

Where do I get condoms?

Condoms are usually available free from sexual and other health clinics and from community-based organisations. They can be purchased at pharmacies and supermarkets. Purchasing and using condoms demonstrates sexual responsibility.

How do I use a condom?

Condoms are usually used for anal or vaginal sex, but can also be used for oral sex. It is important to make sure you know how to use a condom the right way.

  • Check the expiry date on the condom packet. Make sure it is still within the use-by date
  • Carefully open the condom package and remove the condom being careful not to damage it (it's not a good idea to open the condom packet with your mouth)
  • Place the condom against the head of the erect penis, leaving about 1 cm (1/2 inch) of space at the end by gently squeezing the end of the condom to remove air from the tip
  • Hold the tip of the condom and unroll it to the base of the penis. Hold the tip of the condom and unroll it to the base of the penis
  • Apply plenty of water based lubricant (such as Wet Stuff or Glyde) to the condom and the anus or vagina. Do not use lubricants such as Vaseline as they weaken the condom and may lead to holes and breaks. Many condoms are lubricated, but this may not be sufficient
  • Check the condom frequently during sex to make sure that it hasn't slipped off or broken. If there is not enough lubrication during sex it increases friction and the likelihood of the condom breaking. Add more water based lubricant if required. Remember lubricant is your friend
  • After ejaculating (cumming), hold the base of the condom to keep it from coming off. After ejaculating, hold the base of the condom to keep it from coming off and remove the penis from the partner's vagina, anus or mouth
  • Wrap the condom and dispose of it in the rubbish. Never use a condom twice. Use only water based lubricants (such as Wet Stuff or Glyde). Use condoms within a year or two of the date of manufacture. Keep condoms away from heat (don't leave them in your car or in direct sunlight, etc)

Condoms are extremely reliable. They usually only break when they are fitted incorrectly or there is not enough lubricant. Neither sperm, nor the viruses and bacteria that cause HIV and other STIs can penetrate an intact latex condom. If your condom does break, withdraw carefully and immediately. If there is any possibility that infection has occurred talk to a doctor or clinic about getting tested.

If you have never used a condom before you might like to practice putting one on by yourself before trying it with a partner. This will mean that it is easier in the heat of the moment. It may also make you look better in your partner's eyes.

At first you may find it uncomfortable and strange to use condoms in a situation in which previously you never gave them a thought. Condoms are, however, a most important part of safe sex.

Condoms are usually available free from sexual and other health clinics and from community-based organisations. They can be purchased at pharmacies and supermarkets. Purchasing and using condoms demonstrates sexual responsibility.

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Getting tested

If you are worried that you have been exposed to HIV it is an idea to get yourself tested. First find a doctor or clinic where you feel comfortable discussing this matter. If you are not comfortable discussing this with your family doctor you may prefer to go to another doctor or a health or HIV clinic. HIV clinics often allow you to be totally anonymous. Contact your local HIV/ AIDS organisation or counselling service to find out where to go close to you.

To test for HIV infection a blood sample is taken and this is tested to see if it contains HIV antibodies. It takes a week before you get your results. Results are not usually given out over the phone and a good doctor or clinic will make sure that both pre- and post-test counselling is given.

After exposure to the virus it takes between six and twelve weeks (called a "window period") before the body produces antibodies to the virus. Before this time there is no way to test if you are infected. This is because the HIV test detects the antibodies the body produces, not the virus itself. There is no point going to the doctor the day after you think you've been exposed to HIV and say please test me.

You should be getting tested every 3-6 months, even if you don't think you have been exposed to HIV. The best idea is, the more you are having sex, the more often you should get tested. Why not, its free.

It's a good idea to set a reminder in your phone or make a mark in you diary.

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From Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service of NSW. © 2006. All rights reserved.