What’s Your Definition Of Safe Sex? 13 Bustle Readers Share What Precautions They Take

We all know by now that sex isn’t safe — not completely, that is. That’s right, no method of contraception is 100 percent effective, and don’t even get me started on how difficult it is to completely protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), some of which you can get without actually having sex (since they’re transmitted by skin-to-skin contact). Yet despite these realities, nearly everyone decides, at least a few times in their lives, to have an encounter with the body of another person that could be defined as “sexual”. And when they do, they have to decide what makes them personally feel safe enough to do it.

Of course, overall, there are lots of things you can do to reduce risk — we call this practicing safer sex. If you’re worried about pregnancy, this can look like getting an IUD (one of the most effective methods of contraception), or it can look like using the rhythm method (which has a lower efficacy rate but may work better with your lifestyle. If you’re focused on protecting yourself from STIs, you can minimize your risk by using condoms, which protect against most (but not all) STIs.

Where safer sex gets creative is that everyone thinks about it a bit differently. We asked 13 Bustle readers to share how they weigh the known and unknown risks of having sex with their own sexual desires so that they feel secure while they’re being sexual. This is what they had to say.

Melissa, 29

Tess, 25

Beth, 32

Condoms for oral sex? Absolutely not! I like giving oral sex (a lot) and using a condom completely ruins the experience for me. [But for penetrative sex,] I always use a condom with a new partner. I will go without a condom with a guy I've confirmed has been tested recently (2-3 months) and is not having condomless sex with anyone else. With the exception of a few poor choices, I also only go without condoms if I've been having sex with the guy for more than 3 months. This seems like a long enough time to trust the other person and trust that they're being safe with other people.

Megan, 37

Russell, 32

Terry, 32

Samantha, 27

Sophie, 26

As a non-monogamous, mostly-hetero woman, I'm always surprised and a little frustrated to find pushback among so many men about using condoms during sex. Far too often, I find that I'm the one who has to hold the hard line when it comes to using protection.

But the truth is that I find it really hard to stick to my own standards about this stuff. In a perfect world, I would never have unprotected intercourse with a man who wasn't my exclusive partner who I knew was clean. But it's not a perfect world, and in the moment, caught up in excitement or lust or drunkenness, I've definitely "slipped up," as they say. I have an IUD and I'm confident in its ability to protect me from pregnancy. I wonder sometimes if I would be more careful if I was worried about accidentally making a baby.

Katherine, 26

Azia, 28

Elle, 27

I grew up listening to TLC in a progressive community, so safe sex was a given to me long before I had ever had sex. The message was: only idiots don't use condoms, and if you don't use them, you probably will get herpes or AIDS and become a social pariah. I was worried that if I got an STI from a person I liked but wasn't the end-all-be-all, I would be unworthy of love and die alone. It took a long time for me to get over this type of thinking.

Where I am now, it’s important to me to ask my partners to disclose their statuses before we get too hot-and-heavy. If this is a conversation I feel too uncomfortable having, I probably shouldn't be banging them anyway, you know? I enjoy myself most when I feel safest. I have yet to encounter a partner who is positive of anything (to my knowledge), but if I did, and they were someone who was really important to me, I'd like to think I'd have the compassion and love to figure out a way to make things work. Which is all I'd want if the tables were turned.

Molly, 25

Images: Katie Tegtmeyer/Flickr; Giphy