Question: That fine man you’ve been dating is giving you the please-baby-please speech but says he doesn’t use condoms. You decide to have mutual unprotected oral sex. After all, that’s much safer than condom-free vaginal sex, isn’t it? TRUE or FALSE
A. False. “Oral sex in this country is considered problem-free, but you can still transmit herpes, gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases and infections,” explains Aimee R. Kreimer, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute. You can add the human papillomavirus (HPV), long linked to cervical cancer, to that list. A study coauthored by Kreimer found that oral HPV infection is the strongest risk factor in the development of throat cancer. For oral sex, you need to use barrier methods—that means a condom on him. So if he doesn’t have one, send him to the corner store, pronto. And if he’s returning the oral sex favor (and he should!), he’ll need to use a dental dam or plastic wrap. Just don’t use microwavable wrap, which has very tiny holes that body fluids can leak through.
Question: You got herpes in college, but you haven’t had symptoms in years. Are you clear to have unprotected sex? YES or NO
A. No. “Once you’ve been diagnosed with herpes, you’re still at risk for having recurrent episodes and infecting others,” says Kimberly D. Gregory, M.D., an obstetrician–gynecologist, associate professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and vice-chair of obstetrics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Avoid sex completely if you’re exhibiting symptoms. If you’re not, tell your partner about your condition and use barrier methods to decrease the chances of transmission. Tired of explaining your STI to every potential sex partner? Check out Prescription4love.com, an online dating site where people with similar health conditions (including herpes and HIV) can find each other.
Question: You’re getting ready to go out with your guy and get your groove on—but you don’t want to ruin the moment when you have sex. If you put in a female condom before you go out, can you leave it in so protection isn’t an issue? YES or NO
A. Yes. “Female condoms really put you in a position of power,” says Renee Beaman, R.N., executive director of the Bethel AME Church’s Beautiful Gate Outreach Center in Wilmington, Delaware. Just don’t leave one in for more than eight hours—and try inserting and removing them a few times before wearing one during sex. “They can be tricky to put in,” says Beaman. A female condom looks like a giant male condom with flexible rings on each end and must be inserted deep into the vagina. It may feel like a tampon when inserted properly, but “you’ll also have about an inch of latex and a ring hanging outside your vagina,” Beaman says.
Question: Over the weekend you’re out at dinner and unexpectedly bump into your ex. Caught up in the rapture, you end up having unprotected sex with him. No worries—you can just get an HIV test on Monday. TRUE or FALSE
A. False. Beaman sees so many panicky people request HIV tests after a wild weekend that she’s dubbed the phenomenon Manic Mondays. “But it takes three months before there are enough antibodies in your system to test for HIV,” she says, “so if you’ve just engaged in high-risk behavior, you’re going to have to wait 90 days to know your status.”
Question: Your doctor just told you that you have HPV. She suggests you tell your previous partners. If the man you just broke up with didn’t have any warts, could he still have the virus? YES or NO
A. Yes. “HPV is often a silent disease, especially in men,” says Gregory. “He could still have and spread the virus even though he doesn’t have any visible signs.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of sexually active men will contract HPV during their lifetimes. Unfortunately, there’s no HPV test for the fellas, but your ex should know he’s been exposed so he can protect his future partners.
Question: A new boyfriend suggests a presex shower, telling you he heard that sexually transmitted infections can be washed off the skin’s surface. Will that really reduce your risk of passing on an STI? YES or NO
A. No. You might feel fresh and clean after that shower, but you won’t be any safer. “You can’t wash off an infection,” says Gregory. “That’s like believing douching will keep you from getting pregnant. You’ll still need to use protection.”
Question: You’ve learned that your partner is HIV-positive; your test comes back negative. If you have sex from now on using both a female and a male condom, does that mean you’ll be safer than using one or the other? YES or NO
A. No. “In fact, the friction between the two could cause tearing that bodily fluids could leak through, so you never want to double up,” warns Beaman. Using one or the other properly is the safer way to go.
How did you do on our safe sex quiz? Share your thoughts below.