1. Visits to the doctor are important for your sexual health. Women should see their gynecologist every year starting at the age of 21, or when they have sex for the first time—which ever happens first. The main reason: to get a Pap test. The test screens for changes in the cells of the cervix—often caused by sexually transmitted strains of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)—that are detected by swabbing the surface and sending it to a lab for analysis. Usually, the exam also includes a breast exam, a visual examination of the vulva (the external genital area), checking the vagina and internal organs (particularly the uterus and ovaries by palpating externally), checking the anal tissue, and a general physical exam. Guys can visit their general practitioner or a urologist for an overall physical that usually includes blood work, a visual examination of the penis and scrotum, and a hands-on testicular exam.
2. Lambskin, latex, and polyurethane condoms don’t offer the same amount of protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). All three materials protect against pregnancy when the condom is used consistently and correctly. However, lambskin condoms don’t offer any STD protection because they have microscopic pores too small for sperm to permeate, but large enough for STDs to travel through. Polyurethane is approved by the Food and Drug Administration and proven to be comparable to latex condoms in creating a barrier for sperm and the HIV virus. Although, you’ll likely see a disclaimer on the box that says that the risk of pregnancy and STD transmission is unknown. The bottom line: A latex or polyurethane condom can reduce the STD risk for the areas that it covers and acts as a barrier between. And, although polyurethane is a good alternative for those who have a latex allergy, latex is the best option overall.
3. Prevent your condoms from breaking. It’s incredibly rare for a condom to burst if it’s used correctly. Here are some tips to make the male condom most effective: Check the expiration date and be sure the wrapper or condom isn’t damaged, discolored, or brittle. Open the package carefully so you don’t rip the condom. Hold the condom so the tip points through the ring and rolls down easily (if you try to put it on the “wrong” way, and it touches the penis before you realize it, throw it out and grab a new one). If the penis isn’t circumcised, pull back the foreskin. Place the rolled condom on the head of the penis. Leave a half-inch space at the top to collect semen. Then, pinch the air out of the tip with one hand as you unroll the condom over the penis with the other hand as far as possible toward the base of the shaft. Next, smooth out any bubbles by pushing them out the open end. Lubricate the outside of the condom to slip inside easier and increase pleasure. Use only water- or silicone-based lubes with latex condoms (that means no baby oil, body lotion, massage oils, or other kinky finds or food products), or else the prophylactic will likely deteriorate and ultimately break. Polyurethane can be used with water-, silicone-, or oil-based lubes. After ejaculation, pull out (of the vagina, anus, or mouth) while still erect, holding the condom at the base to prevent semen from spilling. Wipe any remaining ejaculate off the penis. Never double-up on condoms, as the friction of rubbing together can cause slippage and breakage. Be sure to use a new one every time you do the deed.
4. Don’t assume that an STD screening tests for all STDs. If you are or have been sexually active, it’s important to get tested for STDs. Though most people think their doctor routinely tests for STDs, the reality is they don’t. The most common STDs that can only be treated, not cured, are: HPV (approximately 20 million people are currently infected, another six million become infected annually, and at least 50 percent of sexually active men and women acquire genital HPV infection at some point in their lives ),1 herpes (one out of six adolescents and adults are infected with genital herpes),2 and HIV (data from 2006 shows more HIV infections occurred among young people ages 13-29 (34% or 19,200) followed by persons ages 30-29 (31% or 17,400).3 Bacterial infections that can be cured if caught soon after being contracted include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. So, request to be tested for all diseases by name. The caveat: Not all STDs can be diagnosed through a test. Guys, for example, can’t be tested for HPV unless a wart is present on the skin and visually identified.
5. Emergency contraception can reduce the chance of pregnancy. If your contraception failed or you had unprotected sex and are concerned about pregnancy, consider taking emergency contracption (EC). Plan B® One-Step and Next Choice are two brands that can be obtained from a pharmacist without a prescription if you are 17 or older. Essentially, EC can be one or more pills made of concentrated doses of the hormones that are in regular birth-control pills. Depending on where a woman is in her menstrual cycle, EC can work in one of a few ways, including: stopping or delaying an ovary from releasing an ovum (egg) during ovulation; disrupting the journey of the egg or sperm; interfering with fertilization; altering the lining of the uterus such that a fertilized egg cannot implant. Though studies show that EC should work when the first dose is taken within 120 hours after intercourse, effectiveness increases when the first pills are popped within 24 hours. Just realize that the high amounts of hormones in these risk- reducing pills have temporary side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.
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