Wrap your junk before you bump

Safer sex is still an important conversation

We all know STI protection is important in theory. Unless you went to a high school that preached abstinence only, you’ve likely sat through your fair share of awkward condom demonstrations involving a banana or a cucumber.

But according to a 2016 study by the CDC, only half of sexually active college students use condoms. One in five have genital herpes, and while breakouts can be managed, there is no cure. Once you have it, you have it for life. Cases of gonorrhea in the U.S. increased 13 percent between 2014 and 2015. Cases of syphilis rose 19 percent. And the number of cases of chlamydia grew to 1.5 million — the highest level the CDC has ever recorded.

If left untreated, gonorrhea in women can cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, which causes severe pain and can eventually lead to infertility or death. In men, gonorrhea can be painful and result in sterility. Syphilis can cause paralysis, numbness, blindness and dementia, and in the late stages, the infection damages your internal organs, resulting in death.

Roughly 60 percent of students surveyed by The Spectrum say they engage in oral sex. Many students assume oral sex is safer than vaginal or anal sex, but that isn’t necessarily the case; you can get certain STIs such as chlamydia or gonorrhea in the throat, and having these infections in the throat may increase your risk of getting HIV. Having gonorrhea in the throat also may also lead to spread of the disease throughout the body. Giving oral sex to a partner with herpes on the genital or anal areas can result in oral herpes, and getting oral sex from a partner with oral herpes can result in genital or anal herpes.

In addition to gonorrhea, syphilis and herpes, performing oral sex on the anus can also result in infections such as the hepatitis A virus, Shigella –– an infectious disease causing nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever –– and intestinal parasites.

Many people don’t realize you need to protect yourself when engaging in oral sex just as you would protect yourself when engaging in vaginal intercourse or anal sex. So that means if you don’t know your partner’s STI status, you should be using protection when engaging in oral sex.

For oral sex on a penis, you should cover the penis with a non-lubricated condom, and for oral sex on the vagina or anus you should use a dental dam. If you don’t have a dental dam, you can open a condom to make a square, and put it between the mouth and the partner’s vagina or anus.

Several STIs are asymptomatic, meaning you can spread them without even knowing you have something, which is why getting tested is key. You should get tested at least once a year or every time you have a new partner.

If you’re short on cash, Student Life provides free safe sex kits. Students who live on-campus can request free supplies, including male and female condoms, dental dams and lubricant. Supplies will be delivered to your on-campus mailbox in a plain manila envelope.

Students who live off-campus can also request supplies too. Once you place an order, you can pick up your package on campus.

You can get free, confidential testing at the Erie County Sexual Health Clinic or Planned Parenthood.

You can also get tested at Student Health Services for free, regardless of your health insurance coverage. However, you may be responsible for any copays, co-insurance or deductible amounts associated with lab work, depending on your health insurance coverage. And your parents might be notified about the test depending on your insurance company.

Talking about safer sex may sound horribly unsexy, but it is important, mature and responsible to protect your sexual wellbeing. If you can’t have an open and honest conversation with your partner about getting tested and how you will practice safe sex, you probably aren’t ready to have sex yet. Engaging in this important conversation shows you respect your partner and yourself, and is a building block of any healthy relationship, casual or otherwise.

So by all means, go have some fun –– just be safe and smart about it.

Maddy Fowler is the editorial editor and can be reached at maddy.fowler@ubspectrum.com or on Twitter @mmfowler13.