Reader’s Request Friday: Safe Sex
Welcome to Reader’s Request Fridays. As a reminder, I’ll be addressing one reader email per week, so if you have a specific question you’d like answered or a topic you’d like covered, please email me at email@example.com. If you’re interested in counseling, call (415) 658-5738 or visit my Appointments page to schedule a consultation.
This week’s question comes from Amanda*. She writes:
I’ve been dating this new guy for a few months now. We’re starting to get more serious and he doesn’t want to wear condoms anymore. He got tested two weeks ago and said he came back clean. Is it safe for us to stop using condoms?”
This is a great question, and one that I get asked very frequently. With the STD rate approaching 1 in 3 sexually active individuals, it’s important to be concerned about safe sex. There are currently 65 million people with STDs in the U.S., with 19 million more contracting an infection every year.
While I encourage everyone to get tested regularly, it is not a foolproof method for avoiding STDs. There are several reasons why:
- Many STDs take weeks – or even months – to fully develop in the body. If your new partner had sex with someone else a few weeks ago, he could have an STD incubating in his system, but come back with a negative test result. Most doctors recommend waiting a full six months after having sex with a partner before getting tested. It’s great to get tested sooner than that as well, but in order to really be in the clear it’s necessary to wait six months.
- Men can’t be tested for every STD. There is no standardized test for HPV for men. The only reliable measure of HPV in men is the appearance of warts, but many strains of HPV are symptomless in men. Most women don’t know this, which is unfortunate because HPV is one of the most common STDs contracted by women.
- You can get an STD if your partner has sex with another person. If you and your sexual partner aren’t completely clear about the status and boundaries of your relationship, they may be sleeping with other partners too. Even with committed, monogamous partners, cheating is pretty common, and many people who cheat don’t immediately tell their partners. You’re putting a lot of trust in the other person when you decide not to use condoms. I don’t mean to encourage distrust or paranoia here, but it’s important to think carefully about these issues.
There are other important factors to consider when it comes to safe sex:
- Women are more likely to contract STDs than men, and women tend to have more symptoms than men. Chlamydia is a good example; in 2009, the rate of infection was three times higher in women than it was in men.
- Many STDs are asymptomatic. Don’t assume that you’re clean just because you don’t see a wart, an open sore, or discharge. Studies estimate that 75% of women with Chlamydia don’t know they have the disease. Only 10-25% of those with Herpes know that they have an STD.
- Condoms aren’t perfect when it comes to preventing STDs. Condoms break. Genital fluids, warts, or sores can come in contact with the skin not covered by the condom.
I can understand the desire to avoid condom usage, but it’s very difficult to stay disease-free without them. I hope the information I provided will help you think seriously about your decision. Thank you for your question Amanda!
*Names have been changed for privacy