Cover Image
close this bookMezzo: For Young People by Young People (IPPF, 1997, 52 p.)
close this folderHEALTH
View the documentPlaying it safe. Use your head (please)
View the documentFOCUS ON: abortion. Mezzo looks at both sides of this controversial subject
View the documentWhich contraceptive? We give you the low-down on the contraceptives around today
View the documentMaking decisions. Do you want to have sex?
View the documentBetter sex guide. We suggest, you decide
View the documentJoin our club. Which team do you support?
View the documentIrish coffee talk. Irish young people discuss some big questions
View the documentHe loves him, she loves her. Get your facts right about sexuality
View the documentSo what about you, sugar? Find out your rating in our sexperts' questionnaire

Playing it safe. Use your head (please)

Safe sex

Young people between 15 and 24 years old are most at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Every day at least half a million young people are infected with an STD, including the human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV). The most common STDs among young people are gonorrhoea, ahlamydia syphilis, herpes, genital warts and HIV.

What can I do to reduce the risk of getting STDs/HIV?

The only 100 per cent effective method of avoiding STDs/HIV is to practise abstinence. This does not mean that you avoid all physical contact and affection. But for many people, abstinence is not always possible or indeed desirable. You can also show affection and enjoy safer sex by avoiding penetrative sex through touching, massage and mutual masturbation. Many people get aroused by sharing sexual fantasies, dreams and desires with their partners. In many cultures, penetration is seen as the only way to have sex. However, men and women often gain sexual satisfaction penetrative sex. If you are going to have penetrative sex, use a condom correctly every time you have sex. Condoms greatly reduce the risk of getting STDs/HIV, as does mutual fidelity (i.e. you and your partner only have sex with each other). It is also important to seek medical advice immediately if you think you might have acquired or been exposed to an STD or HIV.

I don't like using condoms because they make sex less enjoyable. Why should I use them?

To avoid STDs/HIV it is essential that you use a condom correctly every time you have sex. Some people complain that condoms interrupt foreplay and reduce sexual pleasure. This is not always true. Condoms can be put on as part of foreplay. Using condoms reduces the fear of STDs/HIV, allowing you and your partner to relax. If you are relaxed you are likely to find sex more enjoyable. So in a way, condoms actually increase sexual pleasure.

When you say use condoms every time, do you really mean every time?

Yes, even one unprotected contact with a person infected with an STD or HIV can transmit the disease. People who have used condoms the majority of the time but not all of the time may have already been infected with an STD or HIV.

I didn't have sex until I got married. Why do I need to worry about STDs/HIV?

Being married or waiting until marriage to have sex do not by themselves guarantee protection against HIV or STDs. Many people who believed that they were safe have been infected by their partner. This is especially true for young women who have had only one sexual partner and have been infected by their husbands. Harried people can become infected when they are unfaithful to their partners, but are unlikely to confess to acts of infidelity.

I've never met anyone who has an STD/HIV infection, why am I at risk!

The chances are that you have met someone who has an STD or HIV. One in 20 teenagers gets an STD or HIV infection every year. You cannot tell whether someone is infected just from their physical appearance. Most people with STDs/HIV have no symptoms or have symptoms which are not visible. Furthermore, a person is unlikely to admit to others to having an STD or HIV because of the stigma attached to these diseases (people often think that you have to be homosexual, a drug addict or promiscuous to get an STD or HIV). STDs and HIV are very common in young people and anyone who has unsafe sex can become infected.

Being young is about taking risks. What's wrong with taking a chance with STDs or HIV?

Yes, it's true that you are more likely to take chances when you're young, even on matters relating to your health. What is important though is to know exactly what risk you are taking before you take the risk. Anyone who practises unprotected sex) is at risk of getting an STD or HIV. Many young people who thought that trey could not get an STD or HIV have already been infected. By taking a chance with STDs/HIV you are not only putting yourself at risk but you may also end up infecting someone you love. Is it really worth taking the risk?

Is it true that having an STD increases the likelihood of getting HIV?

Yes, having an STD, particularly one that causes genital ulcers, greatly increases the risk of getting HIV.

If I am menstruating, am I more likely to get infected with STDs/HIV?

Women who have unprotected sex during their periods are more likely to be infected with STDs/HIV or to transmit the infection if they are already infected.

How you don't get STDS or HIV

You cannot get an STD or HIV just from being near someone who has an STD or HIV, through contaminated food or water or from mosquito bites.

How do I know if I have an STD or HIV?

Both sexes may experience soreness or itching on or around the genitals, pain when urinating or lumps, sores, blisters or warts on or around the genitals. Hen may also have clear or white discharge from the penis. Women may have vaginal discharge (which may be frothy, yellow or smell unpleasant) or abdominal pain. If you have any of these symptoms you should not have sex, and seek medical advice immediately. Many people infected with an STD or HIV have no symptoms. If someone you have had sex with tells you that they have an STD or HIV you should visit an STD clinic or see your doctor.

What are the consequences of STDs or HIV?

Sexually transmitted diseases can have devastating consequences if untreated. leading to infertility, chronic ill health. sexual dysfunction and death. HIV in almost all cases leads to AIDS, which is usually fatal.

High risk

Vaginal sex (penis in vagina) without a condom
Anal sex (penis in rectum) without a condom
Semen (or blood) taken into the mouth during oral sex
Any sexual activity that makes you bleed

Low risk

"Protected sex" - sexual Intercourse using a condom consistently and correctly
Oral sex - fellatio (mouth on penis without taking semen into the mouth) cunnitingus (mouth on vagina without taking blood into the mouth) anilingus (mouth on anus)
Deep wet kissing

Safe sex (no risk)

Masturbation
Massage
Rubbing
Touching genitals


Figure

Can STDs or HIV be treated?

Most STDs can either be treated or effectively managed with drugs (usually antibiotics) and creams. There is as yet no cure or vaccine for HIV or AIDS. There are drugs available which can postpone or reduce the symptoms of AIDS. However, these drugs are not only prohibitively expensive, but also have unpleasant side-effects (including vomiting and diarrhoea).

Aren't HIV and AIDS only a problem for homosexuals and drug addicts?

No, anyone can get HIV/AIDS, not just homosexuals or drug addicts who share syringes. In fact, most new infections (70 per cent) are transmitted through unprotected - heterosexual intercourse.

Do you have to have many sexual partners to get Infected with STDs/HIV?

No, if you or your partner have had more than one sexual partner. you can get infected. The risk increases if you have more sexual partners.