QUESTION: "Other than abstinence, what can I tell my daughter about safe sex?" D.D. from Davenport. ANSWER: Condoms with education can decrease one's risk for sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy. However, Abstinence, which is refraining oneself from vaginal-penile intercourse, anal-oral sex, and genital-oral sex; is the only absolute protection.

I strongly respect a person's individual view concerning abstinence and safe sex. As a clinician, it is my responsibility to provide nonjudgmental healthcare to all my patients. Personally, I strongly support the option of abstinence. My personal belief is that sexual intercourse has its place in a loving monogamous marital relationship. That belief derives from my religious background and from my clinical experience with sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.

Your sexual relationship with your partner is about much more than sexual intercourse. It includes not only a person's anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry of the sexual response system, but also his/her identity, orientation, personality, thoughts, feelings, and relationship. Every individual should be emotionally and physically ready before engaging in a sexual relationship.

What is considered safe sex?

Always asking your sexual partner about his/her sexual activity history. This is a difficult question, but important to protect both the man and woman from infection and infertility problems in the future that could affect one's ability to have children someday.

Asking about his/her past condom use. If he/she doesn't want or offer to use a condom with you, chances are he/she has not used condoms in the past or has concerns about safe sex.

Asking if your partner had recent STD testing done. Majority of individuals who tell their partner they have been tested for STD or had a recent HIV test done are not telling the truth.

Have your partner get STD testing done at his/her doctor's office or at the local health department. Always ask to see the results with his/her name on lab sheet to verify testing was done.

The male condom, a thin sheath placed over the glands and shaft of the penis, and the Reality Female condom, a soft loose fitting polyurethane sheath, act as a physical barrier blocking the passage of semen and some types of sexually transmitted infections.

When used consistently and correctly, latex or plastic male and female condoms with additionally applied spermicide can reduce the chance or prevent pregnancy and many Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) such as chlamydia, Gonorrhea, venereal warts, and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). It's important to understand that condoms do not provide 100% protection against pregnancy and these STDs. The failure rate for male condoms is 3-14% and the female condom is 5-21%. Factors that increase failure rates include : improper use, inconsistent use, defected condoms, and slippage or breakage. Condom breakage can occur in up to 20%, especially if inadequate lubrication is used. A spermicide jelly or a water based lubrication such as KY jelly or Astroglide, are good options. Do not use petroleum based lubricants, such as Vaseline, since these products can breakdown the condoms and can irritate the vaginal wall.

Advantages of condom use:

Safe, no hormonal side effects.

Intercourse enjoyed more because decrease fear of STDs, HIV, and pregnancy.

Male involvement is encouraged.

Men "last longer" when they use condoms, potentially making sex more fun.

Comes in many sizes, colors, shapes, and packaging: Varity is exciting.

If the woman puts the condom on, it can be fun.

Risk for partner of infertility is diminished.

Female condom can be inserted up to 8 hours before sex.

Possible decrease in HPV transmission may reduce risk of cervical cancer.

Makes sex less messy by catching the semen.

No medical visit required.

Readily available and usually inexpensive.

Good option during lactation.

Female condoms provides no allergic reaction to latex.

Disadvantages of condom use:

Offers none of the potential benefits of hormonal contraceptives.

Requires some practice to learn how to use.

Female condom may be difficult to place into vagina.

Penis must be manually placed into female condom.

Either partner must feel comfortable placing the condom on the penis.

Purchasing, negotiating use, putting on, and getting rid of can be embarrassing.

Unless put on by the woman as part of foreplay, it may interrupt sex.

Possible decrease enjoyment of sex.

Some men cannot maintain an erection when condom is on.

Male condom cannot be worn with the female condom.

If a person is allergic to latex, he/she can use a polyurethane condom.

User must be careful not to tear condom when putting it on.

Infection can occur if one leaves female condom in vagina too long.

It is important to use condoms with anal intercourse and oral-genital sexual activity, since STDs can be transmitted during these activities.

Before engaging into intercourse or any other type of sexual activity with a new partner, consider getting yourself and your partner tested for STDs. This would include testing for Syphilis, AIDS, cervical or penile cultures for Gonorrhea and chlamydia, a genital exam for venereal warts, and a blood test for herpes. These tests can be performed by your healthcare provider or the health department.

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