September is Sexual Health Awareness Month, so Thrive Reno’s Director of Primary Care Services, Becky Barnett, PA-C, offered professional insights about practicing safe sex. Get all her expert tips below.
What does it mean to practice safe sex and why is it important?
We generally think of the term “safer sex” to be more appropriate than “safe sex.” To practice safer sex means a couple is taking precautions to reduce their risks of sexually transmitted disease and unintended pregnancy. The best way to do this is to avoid exposure to bodily fluids that can be exchanged during a sexual encounter, such as ejaculate (cum), pre-ejaculate (pre-cum), vaginal fluids, and discharge from genital sores. The use of male condoms and female condoms are the best options for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, and the use of effective birth control methods is the best option for the prevention of unintended pregnancy.
The term safe sex encompasses more than just physical health. When sex is practiced in a holistically healthy way, it should be enjoyable, and even promote one’s mental and emotional wellbeing.
What are some common misconceptions about safer sex?
Even with “perfect” use of safer sex practices, there is nothing other than abstinence that will protect someone 100 percent from acquiring a sexually transmitted disease. Although condoms are excellent protectors against the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, there are still ways that infections can be passed from one partner to another if there is any skin-to-skin contact.
What mistakes do people make when attempting to practice safer sex?
Some people think it is okay to start to have sex without a condom, but then they put one on just before ejaculation. This allows for skin-to-skin infections – HPV and herpes, most notably – to be transmitted, and there is also a measurable number of sperm that can be present in the pre-ejaculate, which can place someone at risk for pregnancy. It is also important for people to carefully read the instructions for proper use of male and female condoms, and to practice putting them on/in before using them during a sexual encounter so they are familiar with the use and fit.
What should individuals do after having unprotected sex?
If someone has had unprotected sex, they should immediately consult with their medical provider to determine how soon they can be tested for sexually transmitted infections. If someone is at risk for pregnancy, they can also ask their medical provider if emergency contraception is appropriate.
When is it okay to have unprotected sex?
A couple may decide to have unprotected sex if they are monogamous (only having sexual interactions with each other) and if they have both been tested for sexually transmitted infections. Bear in mind that infections all have different window periods, so always ask your medical provider when it would be an appropriate time to test based on your last sexual encounter.
How does Thrive support the primary care and sexual health of its clients?
When appropriate, clients who are seen in the primary care realm of Thrive are screened for sexually transmitted disease risk and provided information on methods of protection. Our providers can order appropriate sexually transmitted disease screening as well as counsel people on safer sex practices and birth control methods. We are also able to advise clients as to whether or not they are appropriate candidates for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) or emergency contraception (“the morning after pill”).
Additionally, Thrive’s therapists are able to counsel you through any concerns you may have with the emotional and mental aspects that are connected to sexual health.
A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO SEXUAL HEALTH
The World Health Organization states, “Sexual health is fundamental to the overall health and well-being of individuals, couples and families, and to the social and economic development of communities and countries. Sexual health, when viewed affirmatively, requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”
At Thrive, we ascribe to this definition, and through medical and therapeutic support, we can help you practice sexual health. We understand that sex and intimacy affect your mental and emotional wellbeing as well as your physical health. As such, we address sexual health holistically. In addition to primary care, Thrive offers therapeutic support that can guide you in healing any sexual trauma and help you confidently embrace sexual intimacy.
About the Author
Becky Barnett, PA-C — Thrive Reno Director of Primary Care Services
Becky Barnett, PA-C, has worked as a Physician Assistant for over 25 years with a primary focus on women’s health. She earned a bachelor’s degree from U.C. Riverside in 1991, and graduated from the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (now Western University of Health Sciences) as a Physician Assistant in 1995. She has worked in various venues including community health centers, residential mental health facilities, large HMO settings and private practices as she moved throughout California and then into Nevada in 2001. She is proud to represent the medical team of Thrive Wellness of Reno, and is thrilled to be a part of such an authentic and passionate group.
Becky has two sons who attend schools in the Washoe County School District. She enjoys taking weekend excursions into the various wonders Northern Nevada has to offer, going on cruises, and spending time with her friends and family.