Safe sex is not only about preventing unplanned pregnancy

Safe sex is also sometimes referred to as protected sex which is defined as sexual contact that does not involve the exchange of semen, vaginal fluids or blood between partners.

The authors Jackie Patience Obeny (L) and Lilian Nuwabaine Luyima (R) - Photo/Handout

Many times, in health education, in media like magazines, articles, social media, we hear and read about safe sex, but what exactly is safe sex? What is involved in safe sex? What should young people do to ensure they are practicing safe sex?  What are the benefits of safe sex? 

It is unfortunate to note that many of the young people who are involved in sexual intercourse perceive practicing safe sex as merely avoiding unplanned or unwanted pregnancy especially the girl-child hence much focus is put on taking only birth control pills to prevent pregnancy, and ignoring the risks of contracting Sexually Transmitted Infection (STIs) which as well have negative life and health impacts. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports show that more than one million people acquire STIs everyday world wide, the majority of which are asymptomatic. Hence, safe sex sensitization is a vital topic required by young people in-order to make more informed decisions on measures of not only practicing safe sex but practicing ‘safer sex’ for the betterment of their sexual health as a whole.

Ideally, the only safe sex is no sex. Abstinence maybe the only true form of ‘safe sex’ because all forms of sexual contact carry some risk.  Safe sex is also sometimes referred to as protected sex which is defined as sexual contact that does not involve the exchange of semen, vaginal fluids or blood between partners. It is taking precautions to protect themselves against STDs such as HIV/AIDS, gonorrhoea and unplanned pregnancies as well. Statistics show that half of Ugandan women and nearly 4 in 10 men aged 15-19 years have ever had sex. Sexual risk behaviours place youth at risk for contracting HIV infection. Other STDs such as syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, genital warts, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), herpes and unintended pregnancy that come with all sorts of negative health consequences.

Safe sex helps you stay healthy and can even make having sex better. Knowing you are protecting yourself and your partner from STDs/ pregnancy can make you feel proud and responsible. However, one has to be educated on ways to achieve this. There are lots of ways and guidelines to make sex safer, limit sexual activity to only one partner who is only having sex with you, also think twice before starting sexual relations with a new partner, first discuss past partners, history of STDs and drug use. The best safer sex practice is to use barrier methods like condoms, dental dams, latex gloves every time you have oral, anal or vaginal sex or anything that can pass sexual fluids like sharing sex toys. The barrier method protects you and your partner from sexual fluids and some skin to skin contact which can both spread STDs. Getting tested for STDs regularly is also part of safer sex even if you feel totally fine or have been using the barrier method. Unfortunately, most people with STDs don’t have symptoms or know they are infected unless they get tested. This means that they can easily pass it onto their partners. Therefore, getting tested helps one to know their status so that one can get timely and the right treatment and prevent the transmission of the infection to other sexual partners. 

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Another way to having sex safer is to avoid drinking too much alcohol or using other drugs like narcotics that can impair ones senses and judgement which can make them have accidental sex without necessary precautions that can increase chances of contracting STDs. It is evidently harder to use condoms correctly and remember other safer sex practices when drunk or high. Women should not douche (washing inside the vagina with water or other mixtures) after intercourse as it does not protect against STDs but can possibly spread an infection further into the reproductive tract.

The only way to be totally sure one does not get  STDs is to never have any kind of sexual contact with another person, but that does not work for the vast majority of people (young and old alike) because almost everyone is sexually intimate with other people. It is worse for the young people because they are also struggling with inadequate sexual education, peer pressure,  drinking alcohol , drug use and substance abuse, poverty and unemployment among others which makes it more challenging for them to practice  safer sex measures. 

Parents are the best source of accurate information for their teens, much as many maybe in denial about their children being sexually active but this is a hard reality. Topics that are appropriate for a safe sex discussion include STDS and prevention, peer pressure to have sex, birth control, consent and rape, drug use among, prevention of teenage pregnancy, puberty and others. Other people who can help young people talk about sex may include health care providers, religious counsellors, teachers, books and articles that may also help address uncomfortable questions. STIs have direct impact on sexual and reproductive health through stigmatization, infertility, cancers and pregnancy related complications. The burden of STIs is worldwide hence the need to encourage and teach correct and adequate safer sexual practices to all individuals in our various communities through partnerships and outreach programs.

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The authors are; Jackie Patience Obeny, BSc Midwife working with Lira Regional Referral Hospital and
Lilian Nuwabaine Luyima, BSc Nurse & MSN-Midwife & Women’s’ Health Specialist working with Aga Khan University


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