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No glove, no love: practicing safe sex

By Gabby Katz

Section: Arts

January 28, 2011

GRAPHIC by Estie Martin/The Hoot

There is nothing like a week of frostbitten fingers, frozen ears and rosy cheeks to encourage us to curl up and stay in bed—and what better way to stay warm than to snuggle with somebody in bed and create your own heat? Ah sex, it is the perfect substitute for sledding: you can get slippery without the ice, wet without the snow and take wild rides without snow pants and a toboggan. The quintessential perfect snow day begins with properly bundling up, picking a place to go sledding and taking precautions while playing. The same applies to sex. As your token health columnist, I am always trying to give you guys the latest sound information in all areas of health, so this is the first in a three-part series on sexual health, since sex plays a major role in emotional, mental, spiritual and physical health. Let’s begin with basic penile and vaginal health and then we can discuss fun ways to put on condoms.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “I’ve been through the high school health class and the sex talk with my parents, I know what STIs (sexually transmitted infections) are and I’ve put a condom on a banana—really, what else do I need to know?” As it turns out, that kind of attitude gets a lot of people in trouble. Sami Grosser ’12, an SSIS coordinator, believes that people can easily think of STIs as a problem that “can’t happen to them,” but that these strong stigmas and lack of knowledge leave many at risk. Sometimes CDC (Centers for Disease Control) statistics are a little more persuasive than your old gym teacher, so here are some percentages: in 2004, 15-to-24-year-olds represented 25 percent of the sexually active population but a whopping 50 percent of new STI cases every year. Additionally, about one of six people 14-to-49-years-old in the United States are infected with genital HSV-2 (herpes), meaning that at least one person in every class could be infected. The CDC’s 2009 studies showed a 5 percent increase in syphilis prevalence in the U.S. population and a 3 percent increase in chlamydia prevalence from last year. Still think you’re not at risk?

Grosser suggests three of the many easy and important preventative methods available for reducing your risk of contracting a sexually-transmitted virus or infection. Number one is being informed of your STI status, as well as that of your partner’s. The more you know, the safer you are; frankly, I find it confusing why somebody would not actively check on the status of their own sexual health. You should be getting a routine physical every year—even when nothing hurts—in order to ensure your health. Shouldn’t all parts apply? Unfortunately, many STIs can be contracted and exhibit little-to-no effects at first, so making time for routine testing, even when nothing hurts, is crucial. STI testing is surprisingly more accessible then one would think.

If you have university health insurance and go to the Brandeis Health Center to get an STI test for a small $20 co-pay, they will usually list it as a generic “culture,” so you can maintain your privacy. If you still think that’s too risky, free STI testing is available every Thursday at Massachusetts General Hospital, located just one block from a red-line MBTA stop, and you can hop on the red line directly by taking the Brandeis-Cambridge shuttle. Whether or not you feel comfortable asking your partner about his or her status, knowing your own is the first step to having a safer sex life.

Secondly, you can reduce your risk through proper condom usage. Condoms are the second-most effective method for STI prevention; of course, there’s abstinence, but we all know how well that works. When using a condom, check the expiration date, ensure that there are no holes, make sure there is an air bubble or else it could be punctured and finally put it on properly by pinching the tip and rolling it down. Different condoms have different textures. SSIS has high-quality thin ones, studded ones, pleasure tips and glow-in-the-dark condoms. Think whipping out that condom is going to ruin the mood? Au contraire, it can make things spicier. Here’s how:

Put the condom on your partner using your mouth and lips.

Turn buying condoms into a form of foreplay. Browse the condom selection at SSIS to help get your partner excited.

Slip a condom in your partner’s pocket to hint at what’s going to come.

Use glow-in-the-dark condoms to ward off monsters under the bed and your fear of the dark!

Lastly, here’s my favorite tip: lubrication provides the best sensations. Finally, my physics class this year comes to good use. Micro-tears from friction are the number one cause of condom breakage. To quote Grosser, “Chafing isn’t sexy. Smooth is sexy.” By using a water or silicone-based lubricant (oil-based ones essentially melt the condom into gross goop), you can reduce friction and prevent micro-tears. Water-based lubes won’t even stain your sheets and silicon lubes are great for keeping everything wet when playing in water. Incorporating lube into the bedroom is easy with a little touching and massaging. You can even have a tasty low calorie treat with SSIS’s glycerin-free vagina-safe flavored lubes!

If you eat right for your heart, sleep for your mind and workout for your muscles, why would you not put equal effort towards maintaining vaginal or penile health? Knowing your status and actively taking STI prevention methods is empowering. The best resource for any questions on any of the subjects discussed in this series is the SSIS office on the third floor of the Shapiro Campus Center. You can also contact SSIS online on AOL Instant Messenger by using the screen name ssisbrandeis for anonymous questions, and you can also phone them at 781-736-3695. If you’ve learned anything from reading this article, just remember: don’t be silly, protect your willie—seriously!

As always, tune in this semester for more health tips and send me an e-mail at gkatz10@brandeis.edu with any health-related questions you may have.

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