Having Safe Sex? Think Again.

Many young women think that as long as they’re using a reliable method of contraception, they’re having safe sex, since they’re being protected against getting pregnant. But this is not what safe sex means. Its real definition is “engaging in sexual activity while using precautions that reduce the chance of acquiring sexually transmitted infections, STDs (also called STIs.)” The most effective method of avoiding STDs is to simultaneously use condoms. It goes without saying that it’s important for the woman to take the responsibility to avoid unintended pregnancies, but the concept of safety goes beyond that. For some reason, few young women seem to get this message. Perhaps the fault lies with the healthcare community in poorly educating the sexually active community. Or maybe the female partner assumes that since she’s using contraception, she’s done her part. Unfortunately, this is fuzzy thinking. In my office, I see patients everyday who are using, say, the birth control pill, but who are found to have a newly-acquired STD. In my practice, fully 95% of such patients deny simultaneous use of condoms!

This is less true of patients on the pill, but it is especially common among high school girls using LARC, long acting reversible contraception (methods such as the IUD or implantable devices.) In this age group, LARC is 99% effective in preventing pregnancies. According to CDC researchers, this fact highlights the need for strategies to increase condom use.

To me, the take-home message is two-fold. First, it’s incumbent for medical professionals to do a better job of reinforcing the need for condom use, regardless of the contraceptive method. Second, and probably more important, is for the woman to assume all responsibility for every aspect of her reproductive health care. I hate to be a man-basher, but under no circumstances should the woman rely on her male partner for her contraceptive or STD-protection needs! If there was ever a time to be pro-active, this is it. As the sayings go, put on your big girl pants and step up to the plate. Remember, when it comes to sexual activity, you have the ultimate say. These matters are too important to leave to others.