This guide focuses on the basics of safer sex, and on how to make whatever precautions you choose feel as pleasurable as possible. Safer sex precautions are obviously not necessary when neither you nor your partner(s) have anything you could transmit to each other (and will be completely safe in your interactions with anyone else during the course of your relationship, and when birth control is not an issue, etc.), but in all other cases your peace of mind can be enhanced by making your own choices about safer sex ahead of time and sticking to them. Please note that safer sex is about dramatic risk reduction against the most serious sexually-transmitted ailments, not complete risk elimination for every possible condition (for example: the virii for cold sores and warts can be spread through unbarriered contact with any infected area, including health-looking skin that a condom would not cover).
Intercourse - The single most effective thing you can do to stay healthy while being sexually active is to use latex condoms for intercourse. All condoms are not made alike; men should experiment with different brands until they find the one they like best (many men prefer Kimono Microthins, which also taste fine for fellatio if you get them without Nonoxynol-9). When you put on a condom, pinch its tip as you unroll it (all the way down!) to prevent an air bubble from forming in the reservoir tip. For intercourse, you should then put some water-based lube (such as Astroglide, I-D, Foreplay, Wet, or Probe) on the outside of the condom for comfort, mutual pleasure, and to keep the condom from tearing during sex (some men find that more sensation is transmitted to them if they put a small amount of water-based or silicone-based lube INSIDE the tip of their condom before putting it on). It's very important for men to hold onto the base of their condom as they withdraw (i.e. after becoming soft) so it doesn't slip off. For a while, health experts were recommending that people choose safer sex products with Nonoxynol-9 to protect against HIV transmission: recent scientific evidence is resulting in this advice being formally retracted, and unless you are using Nonoxynol-9 as a contraceptive rather than for HIV prevention, it may be wise to cease using it entirely. If a condom fails during anal intercourse, the receptive partner shouldn't douche; if any Nonoxynol-9 contraceptive foam is handy it MIGHT help for him or her to insert it and leave it in for about 15 minutes, and it would certainly help to immediately remove the condom from inside the anus if it was left there. Men can give themselves a little extra protection after potentially being exposed to an STD by immediately visiting the restroom, urinating, and then possibly washing their genitals with an anti-bacterial soap. Please remember that it one should use a new condom for each new partner if there are multiple partners and it should NEVER be reused.
Oral Sex - Opinions differ on the use of safer-sex barriers for oral sex. It's clear that herpes can be transmitted from genitals to mouth or mouth to genitals during unprotected oral sex, but some people feel the risk is acceptably low outside of the most infectious period (which starts with the tingling "prodrome" sensations that precede an outbreak, and continues until several weeks after the sores go away). It is possible to pick up a bacterial infection of the mouth or throat by going down on someone who currently has a bacterial STD (typically Gonorrhea, more rarely Syphillis or Chlamydia), but these can generally be cured with antibiotics once they're identified. It is clear that the risk of transmitting HIV is much, MUCH lower for unprotected oral sex than for unprotected anal intercourse, and that the risk is MUCH lower for the person being sucked or licked than for the person doing the sucking or licking. For the person doing the sucking or licking, the risk of transmission is lower if your gums (and lips/mouth/throat) are healthy, if you don't let men come in your mouth, and if you don't perform cunnilingus on a woman while she is menstruating. Some sex educators recommend NOT flossing or brushing your teeth for an hour before giving unprotected oral sex (use Cool Mint Listerine or some other anti-bacterial mouthwash if you're concerned about bad breath or just want to freshen up), and others recommend quickly looking over the genitals you're about to go down on for obvious signs of contagious STDs (including genital warts, which can on rare occasion be transmitted from genitals to mouth). If your policy for performing unprotected fellatio is to not let your partner come in your mouth and he does so anyway, it's better to immediately spit than to either wait or swallow, and it may help (especially for bacterial STDs) to then go use an anti-bacterial or peroxide mouthwash. Pre-cum can contain HIV, and although not letting men come in your mouth SIGNIFICANTLY reduces your already low risk to even lower levels, if you are concerned about becoming infected via pre-cum while performing fellatio you have two risk-reduction options: not taking the head of his penis in your mouth or using barriers for oral sex. If you decide that your personal safety standards include barriers for oral sex, then you'll need to use latex condoms (without Nonoxynol-9) for fellatio, and either saran wrap or one of those "Glyde" dams for cunnilingus (for cunnilingus, put a little water-based lube on your partner's side of the barrier to increase the sensation transmitted to her). The same barrier techniques used for cunnilingus can also be used for analingus (rimming), where they should be considered essential if the person doing the licking isn't immunized against hepatitis A or if the person being licked may have a bacterial infection.
Your Hands - If you've had your fingers in someone's anus, or had someone come on your hands, then it's a good idea to wash your hands with hot water and anti-bacterial soap before touching your eyes or anyone else's genitals (individually-packaged anti-bacterial towlettes might be useful if you're outdoors). If your skin is compromised in any way, if you want to avoid needing to leave the scene to wash your hands, if you're going to be engaging in anal fisting or exposing yourself to any blood, or if you just want to be extra-safe, then try using disposable latex "examination" gloves - they're available at most drug stores. Of course, if you've just had your ungloved fingers in somebody's ass, then you'll want to be sure to clean your hands particularly thoroughly (especially under your fingernails) before putting your them in or near anyone's mouth.
Safer Sex Kits & Vaccinations - It's helpful to get a little hip pack for your safer-sex supplies, your smaller bottle of water-based lube, and anything else you commonly use. You might also want to pack a portable toothbrush and a travel-sized toothpaste tube in case you end up staying overnight somewhere. There are two STDs for which permanent vaccines are available: hepatitis B and hepatitis A. Hepatitis B can be spread easily through intercourse and (less easily) through oral sex or rimming, and hepatitis A is easily spread through rimming. Getting these two vaccinations (which you can do at the same time) would be an excellent idea if you don't always use barriers for these activities. By contrast, there is currently NO vaccine against Hepatitis C (though Hep C is spread primarily through direct contact with human blood, e.g. through sharing needles, and only rarely through sexual contact - see http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/hepatitis/c/faq.htmfor more details). Researchers have recently discovered a possible vaccine against HPV subtype 16 (the strain of "genital warts" most likely to cause cervical disease, particularly for women who are not getting the annual Pap tests that might otherwise detect this problem in time to prevent it), but their vaccine is not available to the general public yet. Treatment, Testing, Supplies, and Additional Information - If you have additional questions about STDs or HIV, call the National STD Hotline at 1-800-227-8922 or visit http://www.thebody.com/. Information about clinics in your area where testing is available can be obtained by calling the National STD Hotline or by visiting http://www.unspeakable.com/locator/index.jsp. As the bacterial STDs are almost always curable with antibiotics and the incurable viral STDs (such as HIV, herpes, hepatitis, and HPV) are now more easily managed than ever, it's in your best interest to get tested if you think you might have been exposed to anything. Please keep in mind that, for standard HIV testing, a minimum of three months needs to go by since your last potential exposure for the test to be reliable: in other words, if you and your partner would like to drop safer sex precautions with each other and are primarily concerned about HIV, you'll need to go through a period of time where you're completely safe with each other and everyone else before you'll be able to get a meaningful test result (you'll also be advised on this matter when you go in for testing). If you require more detailed information on STD/HIV treatments, the best online document is the CDC's Guidelines for Treatment of Sexually Transmitted Disease at http://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment/TOC2002TG.htm. The only element lacking in this document is good pictures of herpes sores (and symptoms caused by other STDs) for those who want a better chance of being able to identify some of them by sight; for pictures, visit http://www.thebody.com/sowadsky/symptoms/symptoms.html Latex allergies are an increasing area of concern, particularly for health care workers. Fortunately, if you or your partner have any sort of latex sensitivity, non-latex alternatives for safer sex are available: Avanti condoms, Saran Wrap for cunnilingus and analingus, and Nitrile gloves.