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Sexual Health: Frequently Asked Questions


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Here are frequently asked questions about sexual health. They are separated by category below.

General Information

What is sexual responsibility?

Sexual responsibility is being aware of your own choices, other people's choices, and your partners' state of mind when making sexual decision

What is safer sex?

Safer sex means there is consent from both parties. Neither partner is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Latex barriers are used every time you engage in sexual activity, including a latex condom for vaginal or anal sex, the use of a flavored latex condom for oral sex, the use of a latex doily (or dental dam) during oral-to-vaginal or oral-to-anal contact. Only water-based lubricants like “KY” Jelly or “WET” with latex condoms and doilies should be used.

What is abstinence?

Abstinence is the only 100% safe choice. It means waiting for the right person, time, and place to have sex and can last for an evening, years, or any time in between. Abstinence can also include talking, touching, dry kissing, massage, and masturbation.

Contraception Information

What contraceptive works best?

There are a lot of things to consider when thinking about which contraceptive is right for you, including your personal beliefs and desires, product effectiveness, safety, cost, and benefits. Talk to your partner and contact your doctor to discuss which contraceptive is right for you. To make an appointment at the EIU Health Service please call (217) 581-2727. To learn more about various contraceptives and their effectiveness, contact the HERC at (217) 581-7786. 

Is pulling out considered safe?

"Pulling out," or having the male partner "pull out" his penis before ejaculation, is not considered safe sex. First, prior to ejaculation, there is pre-ejaculate fluid that does contain both sperm and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV if the male is infected. Secondly, there are many STIs that do not require ejaculation to occur in order for the male to infect his partner. Not only does "pulling out" offer absolutely no protection against STIs, but it is not an effective method of pregnancy prevention either. Again, the pre-ejaculate fluid does contain sperm. Finally, there is the issue of self-control. In the heat of the moment, how certain are you that he will be able to "pull out" in time? 

How do dental dams work?

Dental dams are square pieces of latex that come in all different colors and flavors and act as a barrier between the mouth and the vagina or anus during oral-to-vaginal or oral-to-anal sex. Dental dams are an important tool for those practicing safer sex.

Is there any way to have safer sex in a hot tub?

Having sex in a hot tub can make the possibility of safer sex very difficult for many reasons, the most common being that the water may cause the condom to slip off. To put to rest the myth: no, the heat and chemicals in a pool or hot tub do not kill sperm or STIs. Having unprotected sex in a hot tub or swimming pool is no safer than having unprotected sex in your bed; you are still putting yourself at risk for STIs and an unplanned pregnancy.

Are specialty (e.g. flavored or glow in the dark) condoms less effective?

Glow-in-the-dark and other "novelty" condoms are funny gifts, but, as is normally indicated on the box or package in which they are sold (if the package says "For Novelty or Entertainment Purposes Only"), they are not recommended for vaginal, anal, or oral sex nor do they provide protection against STIs.

How do you know if you have a latex allergy?

Since the symptoms of a latex allergy (skin rash, itching, swelling) can also resemble the symptoms of an allergic reaction to either spermicide or nonoxynol-9 or symptoms of a sexual transmitted infection, the best thing to do is to visit a doctor to find out for sure. For more information, contact EIU Health Service at (217)581-2727.

Is one brand of condom more effective than another?

In general, the answer is no. However, keep in mind that latex condoms provide protection against STIs, whereas polyurethane and lambskin condoms only protect against pregnancy. In 1999, Consumer Reports tested 30 models of condoms and found that there were far fewer failures among the condoms tested than in previous years.

Is using a condom the male or female's responsibility?

The recommendation for using a condom or other protective barrier during sexual activity is the responsibility of BOTH partners. Regardless of who actually wears the condom (there are female condoms, too), communication about sexual activity as well as sexual history should ideally occur well before the initiation of any sexual act. There are many variables to discuss depending upon the relationship, but both partners should make their needs, desires, opinions, and decisions known to the other person before engaging in sexual activity.

What brands of condoms are available at the HERC?

Brands change over time due to cost and availability, so for the most updated information, call the HERC at (217) 581-7786, and to learn more about Rubber Lovers, visit the upcoming presentations page.

Are birth control pills available at low cost? How much?

For information on prescriptions and pricing, call the EIU Pharmacy at (217) 581-3013.

Can you become pregnant through oral sex?

It is physically impossible for a woman to become pregnant by swallowing ejaculate during oral sex. Anything that is swallowed goes through the digestive system, not one's reproductive organs. Keep in mind, though, that a woman is at risk for contracting STIs by giving unprotected oral sex. It is recommended that flavored latex condoms or dental dams are used correctly and consistently during oral sex.

Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) Information

Are there any STIs that are linked to HIV?

If a person is diagnosed with any sexually transmitted infection (STI), he or she is at an increased risk of acquiring HIV because of the risky (i.e. unsafe) sexual behavior that has caused the person to acquire an STI, which also makes that person more susceptible to contracting HIV if he or she has been exposed to the virus. In addition, STIs such as genital herpes, genital warts, and syphilis can all result in open sores on the genital area, which greatly increases a person's risk of acquiring HIV since an open sore provides a direct path for HIV to enter the bloodstream.

Considering the fact that there are certain STIs that have no cures, how would an infected individual be able to have a normal life?

There are many people, who are infected with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) who have happy sex lives. First of all, open communication with every sexual partner is highly recommended. In addition, there are various groups you can contact to learn more about the disease and/or speak with others who are in similar situations. Try the CDC National STD Hotline at (800) 227-8922. You can also contact the American Social Health Association's Resource Center at (800) 230-6039 to subscribe to certain newsletters and receive more information. (Source: http://www.goaskalice.columbia.edu)

How many different STIs exist?

According to the CDC National STD Hotline, it is estimated that there are close to 30 or more STIs in existence, but some of those are very rare or are not common in the United States.

How many STIs are deadly? Which ones can't you get rid of?

Any viral sexually transmitted infection (STI) is one that you "can't get rid of", including: HPV (human papilloma virus), genital herpes (herpes simplex virus 2), and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Other STIs, which are caused by bacteria or parasites and can be easily cured with antibiotics, can be deadly or do permanent damage to the body if left untreated, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis. Although these STIs are treatable, most of the time you won't know you're infected unless you get tested. The consequences of having an untreated STI, such as infertility, can be permanent. Finally, a diagnosis of an STI increases a person's risk of acquiring HIV, the most deadly STI of all.

Of all STIs, how many are condoms effective against?

First, keep in mind that condoms are not 100% effective in preventing the transmission of any sexually transmitted infection (STI). The only 100% safe choice is abstinence. That said, when used consistently and correctly, condoms are highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV. In addition, when used consistently and correctly, condoms can reduce the risk of transmission of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. Correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce only the risk of genital herpes and syphilis when the infected area or site of potential exposure is protected/covered by the condom. The effect of condoms in preventing HPV infection is unknown. STIs like genital herpes, HPV, and syphilis can manifest themselves on areas not protected/covered by a condom, so open communication with your partner about risk and sexual history is critical. Since many STIs show no symptoms in those infected, getting tested is extremely important.

Once you receive a viral STI, does it always linger in your body or can you get rid of it once and for all?

Viral sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as herpes (herpes simplex viruses), HPV* (human papilloma virus), and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), are the "ones you can't get rid of." While there are antiviral medications and other treatment options available to lessen the severity of the symptoms associated with the disease, there is no cure for these viral STIs, and they stay in your body. Even if the symptoms go away or never surface, you still have the virus and can pass it on to someone else.

*Presently, there is plenty of debate and research being done on HPV. Although researchers simply aren't sure, it has been reported that some strains of HPV may disappear on their own. However, researchers aren't sure if it completely goes away or comes back. For the most recent updates on HPV, check out the CDC Division of Sexually Transmitted Diseases at http://www.cdc.gov/nchstp/dstd/dstdp.html and the American Social Health Association at http://www.ashastd.org/.

What are the most common STIs?

In the United States, the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) (in order of highest number of estimated new cases each year) are genital HPV infection, trichomoniasis, chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, syphilis, and HIV/AIDS.

What STIs can be cured?

Bacterial and parasitic sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be treated with antibiotics. These STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis. However, if left untreated, these STIs can cause serious and permanent adverse health effects, including infertility.

What are some warning signs to recognize an STI?

Please keep in mind that almost all STIs frequently show NO symptoms at all in the majority of individuals infected with them, so it is important not to rely on the physical manifestation of visible symptoms to determine whether or not you may have contracted a STI. Instead, talk to a health professional and assess your degree of risk to determine whether you should get tested.

What are the STIs with no visible signs?

It is possible to be infected with almost any STI and have no visible symptoms. Some STIs don't show symptoms until serious irreversible permanent damage has already been done, and others have symptoms that are so mild that they are mistaken for other things (like a rash or bladder infection) or not noticed at all. If you are sexually active, you should not wait for symptoms to show before going to get tested.

If you are sexually active, how often should you get tested how STIs?

Obviously, if you are showing symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection (STI), you should see a doctor immediately. However, since many STIs have no symptoms, if you are sexually active, it is a good idea to include your sexual health in your annual physical health check-ups. If you see a doctor once a year for a physical or annual pap smear, remind yourself to also go get an STI and HIV test too (either from your doctor or at a separate site). Women: do not assume that your gynecologist is testing you for STIs during your annual pap smear. While an abnormal pap may indicate the presence of HPV, and STI, you are not specifically getting tested for STIs unless you ask!

Can you get an STI(e.g. Herpes by sitting on the same toilet seat as an infected person?

No. First of all, STIs, including HIV and genital herpes, cannot be transmitted through everyday, casual contact, which includes public restrooms, public telephones, door knobs, hot tubs, etc. Secondly, most STI viruses or bacteria simply do not live long enough outside the body to infect another person. And finally, there must be close, intimate contact (skin to skin) or exchange of fluid for transmission of STIs to occur.

Can you get herpes from kissing someone?

Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) causes infections of the mouth and lips, often called “cold sores” or “fever blisters”. Yes, a person can get HSV-1 by coming in contact with the saliva of an infected person. Typically, the virus that causes infection of the genitals is HSV-2 (herpes simplex virus 2), and a person almost always gets genital herpes during sexual contact with someone who has a genital HSV-2 infection. However, it is definitely possible for a person to have HSV-1 infection of the genitals by having oral-genital sexual contact with a person who has the HSV-1 infection of the mouth.

What types of STIs can you get from oral sex?

First, you can get any sexually transmitted infection (STI) from GIVING unprotected oral sex, though the risks vary depending on the STI. For example, there is a lower risk of contracting HIV, HPV, or chlamydia through unprotected oral sex than through unprotected vaginal or anal sex, although a risk still does exist. However, other STIs can be transmitted much more easily through oral sex, including yeast infections, herpes, gonorrhea, and syphilis. If you are RECEIVING oral sex, transmission of an STI is less likely, unless your partner has herpes (cold sores or fever blisters) on his or her mouth.