Sex is fun, and most people do it. University is an exciting introduction to freedom and independence, and part of this, for many students, involves sex and experimenting. But to keep it fun and beneficial to all parties involved, UP’s Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender (CSA&G) encourages practicing ‘safer sex’, and remembering that no sex is “completely without risk”. To keep sex as safe (and as fun) as possible, students are encouraged to ensure safer sex through consent, communication, protection, hygiene and comfort. In 2021, safe sex also involves being familiar with your partner or partners, and protecting yourself and others against COVID-19.
Sexual Wellbeing explain that “being sexually active with another person involves some risk of COVID-19 transmission, especially as some people may have no symptoms while they are infectious”. Partners can consider “mutual masturbation or remote sexual activity as alternatives to physical sexual activity with partners” during the pandemic, as well as limiting sexual activity to partners in the same shared space. Sexual Wellbeing recommend avoiding sex with people outside your household or inner circle, and maintaining social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing to ensure your inner circle – and sexual partners – are as safe as possible.
The first step in any sexual exchange is consent. Sex without consent is rape, and consent cannot be given by minors, unconscious or asleep people or highly intoxicated people. Safer sex occurs between consenting adults who can withdraw consent at any point before or during sexual acts. Ensuring all parties have consented and feel safe is crucial to enjoying healthy and safe sex. This is also part of the need for communication, and open and honest exchanges between sexual partners. The CSA&G explain that communication is crucial, especially regarding comfort and honesty about sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Being sexually active means facing the risk of STIs (and now, COVID-19) and ensuring you protect yourself and your partners as much as possible. Being tested regularly and being honest about sexual partners is key to safer sex, and students can be tested for STIs by the Student Health Services on Hatfield, Groenkloof, Prinshof, Mamelodi and Onderstepoort Campuses, as well as receive testing and treatment at the CSA&G.
Aside from abstinence, protection is the only method of preventing STIs such as HIV, herpes, chlamydia, HPV and others. But it is important to know the limitations to protection options. The CSA&G reminds students that some forms of protection against pregnancy are not effective against STIs. While students may “block pregnancy, not everything is protected against”, and physical protection is still required for all sexual acts. All skin-to-skin acts, such as vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex, anal oral and group sex, are risks for STIs and should be made safer and more fun by using protection. There are many options, and the CSA&G emphasises finding a method that suits your preferences, and knowing the “level of risk” associated with each. For sex involving a penis, male condoms are the most common and accessible means of protection. They can be used for anal sex, oral sex with a penis and vaginal sex. Female condoms can also be used for vaginal sex, but the CSA&G emphasise that these should never be used at the same time as male condoms, as friction can cause the condoms to break. For oral sex with a vagina or an anus, dental dams can be used (and condoms can be adapted for use as a dental dam). Drugs like PrEP can help prevent HIV transmission, and PEP can be used if you have been exposed to HIV to prevent infection. In addition to protection against STIs, people who menstruate should also ensure they are protected against unwanted pregnancies. Contraceptive options students may consider include the oral pill, the implant, an IUD and the diaphragm.
Beyond consent, protection and contraceptives, personal hygiene is imperative to practicing safer sex. Good personal hygiene during and after sex ensures greater comfort for all parties, and protects you against health problems like urinary tract infections (UTIs). This also includes using clean toys, unopened protection, and engaging in sexual acts in a clean environment. Hygienic sex also helps minimise the risk for STIs. However, the CSA&G warns students with vaginas to “only use water to clean”, as “over cleaning the vagina” can cause UTIs, candida, and uncomfortable sexual acts.
Ultimately, the comfort and pleasure of all parties is of utmost importance. Speaking openly about desires and concerns, using water-based lubricants (and not oil-based), openly consenting, honestly discussing kinks and fetishes and ensuring a clean and safe environment all contribute to the overall comfort and pleasure of parties during sex. The CSA&G credit safer sex to “comfort, pleasure and communication”, and being aware of the emotional and physical risks and associations of sex. Knowing what you want and understanding what partners want and how these can be combined into a mutually safe, beneficial and pleasurable experience are crucial when entering the sexually liberal space of university. Open communication, good hygiene, adequate protection and, above all, informed consent, will ensure you practice safe and fun sex, and look after your own needs and those of your partner or partners.