Safer Sex Guide

(for Brown students by Brown students)

The content on this page was developed by Brown students in collaboration with Health Education staff. On this page you will find a guide to various ways to have sex and information about potential risks. This information, along with self-knowledge and communication with your partner(s), will allow you to choose sex that is most enjoyable and comfortable for you. If you are not sexually active now, thinking about these things now can be helpful for the future.

Sex is about knowing yourself

Before you become sexual with someone (whether for the night or longer-term), know what you are comfortable with. Everyone has a different level of comfort with being sexual. However you feel is okay. Your beliefs, experiences and circumstances are unique and what works for someone else may not be right for you.

Think about...

  • What type(s) of sex you are interested in.
  • Which safer sex supplies you will you use. (Keep them close by.)
  • Whether or not alcohol and drugs play a role in how you are sexual.
  • Your comfort, desires, and beliefs and how they may change over time.

Having these things in mind before you find yourself in the heat of the moment can help you to make effective decisions and have a positive and comfortable sexual experience. At the same time, don't expect yourself to know everything. Healthy sexuality is about learning and exploration.

Sex is about health

Part of knowing yourself is knowing your body. Getting regular medical care is key to your overall health. Your medical care should include regular HIV and STI testing if you are sexually active. Also consider asking your healthcare provider about vaccines that can prevent hepatitis A and B and the most common strains of HPV. (The HPV vaccine is recommended for people of all genders.) For women and female-bodied people, annual GYN exams are an important part of your wellbeing. See the resources section for on-campus and Providence area sexual health care providers.

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Sex is a conversation

Sex is about knowing what you want and communicating that to your partner. Just as importantly, sex is about hearing what your partner wants. The key is for both of you to communicate your desires and your boundaries.

Communication is serious, but the way you talk about sex doesn't have to be. If talking about sex seems awkward, go with it! Sex is silly. Sex is naughty. Try talking that way! Play a sex game. Use your safer sex tools as foreplay. Tell them what you want and how you want it without censoring yourself. You're free to communicate in any way you choose. Explore what works for you. - Brown student, '10

Sex is about consent

Consent is freely, consciously and enthusiastically saying yes. If you are ever unsure, stop and ask.

Whether you are being sexual for the first time with someone, have been sexual with them in the past, or are in an ongoing relationship, you always have the right to change your mind. Again, think about how alcohol and drugs may impact both your and your partner's ability to give consent. You deserve to feel respected and safe in all sexual situations. (Health Education staff can offer support around safety and consent in sexual situations.)

Open communication before and during (even after!) sex ensures consent and makes sex more comfortable and enjoyable.

Sex is about choices

Every sexual activity, with or without safer sex materials, entails some amount of risk. Learning about risks allows you to make informed choices about which sexual practices you engage in and what safer sex materials you will use. Learning about risks may also mean that you choose not to be sexually active.

Think about your risk limits and work to stay within them. Concerns about STIs and pregnancy can get in the way of enjoying sexual experiences. This guide is designed to help you take steps to be safer and to feel more comfortable during sex.

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Your tool box

Safer sex supplies won't do you any good if they aren't on hand when you need them. Plan ahead. Have condoms, latex dams, gloves, lube, and other safer sex supplies nearby if sexual activity is a possibility. Keep a supply within arm's reach of your bed or in your backpack or purse to make sure you have them to use during sex.

Condoms

Condoms greatly reduce the risk of getting or passing on many STIs, including HIV, if they are used correctly each time you have sex or share sex toys. Condoms come in many different types and sizes. You can try out different kinds to see which feel best to you. It is important to know that only latex and polyurethane condoms are effective at preventing transmission of HIV and other STIs. Other condoms, such as lambskin condoms, do not prevent the transmission of HIV and other STIs.

Internal condoms (also called female condoms) are polyurethane condoms you can put into the vagina or anus before sex. Although they are often called female condoms, they can be used by people of any gender for anal sex.

Different people prefer different kinds of condoms. Whether you like condoms that are flavored, unflavored, internal, external, latex or polyurethane, the important thing is for you and your partner(s) to decide which are best for you and to use them every time.

Two important notes on lubricant and spermicides and condoms:

  • If you are worried about your risk of HIV and STIs, spermicides, such as Nonoxynol 9, should be avoided. Spermicides, and condoms with spermicidal lube, can cause irritation of the vagina, anus and penis. This irritation increases the chance of getting or passing on HIV and other STIs.
  • For vaginal sex (and for oral sex on a vulva), it is best to use condoms or lube that are not flavored and which don't contain glycerin. Glycerin can make yeast infections more likely for some people.

Dental dams

You can use dental dams during oral sex on the vulva or anus to prevent the spread of HIV and other STIs. Dental dams are square pieces of stretchy latex or plastic placed between the mouth and the vulva or anus. (If you drop the dental dam, use a new one. You won't be able to tell which side you were on.)

If you don't have a dental dam you can make your own -- use a large piece of plastic wrap or cut a condom or glove into a flat rectangle and use it in the same way.

Lube

When putting a penis, fingers or a sex toy inside a vagina or anus, using lots of water or silicone based lubricant can lower friction a lot, making sex more pleasurable, and help keep a condom from breaking. With latex condoms use only water or silicone based lubes. Never use oil-based lubricants, such as Vaseline, massage oils, or food oils, because they can break down the latex in the condom causing it to be ineffective at preventing HIV and STI transmission or pregnancy.

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Gloves

When putting fingers inside the vagina or anus, you can wear latex, polyurethans or nitrile gloves to reduce the risk of getting STIs though tiny cuts on your hands.

Stocking your tool box

Safer sex supplies are easily available on campus. Choose from the following locations:

  • Vending machine in the gender-neutral bathroom in the mailroom in J. Walter Wilson.
  • Health Services, Andrews House, corner of Brown and Charlesfield. 1st and 3rd floor bathrooms and Health Promotion offices on the 3rd floor of Health Services (non-latex condoms and internal condoms are available here in addition to the latex condoms, dams, and lube available at most other locations).
  • LGBTQ Center, 3rd floor of the Campus Center.
  • RPLs' doors in residence halls.

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Understanding risk

Know which sexual activities can put you at risk for STIs or unintended pregnancy.

Oral sex

An important note: During oral sex, STIs can be transmitted from the genitals to the mouth or from the mouth to the genitals.

Mouth to anus

Known risks
hepatitis A
parasites
bacterial infections
herpes
syphilis

Unknown risks
HPV
chlamydia
gonorrhea

Mouth to vulva

Known risks
herpes
syphilis

Possible risks
HIV
hepatitis B (giving oral sex, if there is menstrual blood)

Unknown risks
HPV
chlamydia
gonorrhea

Safer sex tips:

  • Place a dental dam over the vulva or anus. (Our link also gives instructions on how to make your own dental dam.)
  • Use some lube on the inside of the dam to feel good. It is best to use non-flavored and non-glycerin lube on vulvas.
  • Use your dam as a tool to add sensation and increase your partner's pleasure. Ask what kind of pressure or movement works for them or experiment together.

Mouth to penis

Known risks
herpes
syphilis
gonorrhea
chlamydia

Possible risks
HIV
hepatitis B

Safer sex tips:

  • Use a condom! The best condoms for oral sex on a penis are non-lubed condoms or flavored condoms.
  • If you don't use a condom, don't take cum in your mouth.
  • Wait at least an hour after you've brushed or flossed your teeth, before having oral sex.
  • Avoid oral sex if you have bleeding gums or sores in your mouth.

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Vaginal sex and anal sex

During vaginal or anal sex, both people are at risk of getting and giving STIs, including HIV. The risk for contracting HIV is higher for the receptive partner (the lining of the vagina or and offers HIV an easier entry into the body). Sharing sex toys can also put people at risk for STIs.

Known risks
HIV
gonorrhea
chlamydia
syphilis
herpes
HPV
hepatitis B
Vaginal sex: Trichomoniasis

Unknown risks
hepatitis C

Safer sex tips:

  • Use a new condom or internal condom for each act of sex.
  • Reduce friction! Add extra lube (even if you are using a lubed comdom).
  • Remember that pregnancy is possible with penis to vulva contact, even if penetration does not occur.
  • Get full condom use tips here. Get full internal condom use tips here.

Genital rubbing and outercourse

Genital rubbing and outercourse can transmit STIs. Using a condom or dental dam can help to reduce these risks. STIs that can be transmitted during penetrative sex can also be transmitted during genital rubbing, although not as easily. For example, there is a misconception that vulva to vulva sex is without risk. In fact, STIs like HPV and herpes can be transmitted, as well as yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.

Sharing sex toys can also transmit STIs. Change condoms or wash the toy when you share a toy with a partner or use a toy for a new area of the body (moving from anus to vulva for example).

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Oops!

If you don't think your safer sex materials have been effective (for example, if the condom breaks) or if you did not use any, consider the following:

  • Emergency Contraception (Plan B): Also known as the "morning after pill", EC is most effective at preventing pregnancy within 72 hours after unprotected sex, but may be effective up to 120 hours (5 days) later.
  • Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP): If you believe that you have been exposed to HIV, PEP is a series of several drugs you take over a month that can help to prevent you from contracting HIV. Timing is extremely important for PEP as it is not effective beyond 72 hours after the exposure.
  • STI Testing: If you think you have been exposed to an STI due to unprotected sex, get tested.
  • Pregnancy Testing: You can take a pregnancy test as soon as your period is late. Some tests work a few days before a missed period. You can buy a DIY test at any drugstore or see a provider to be tested.

The community resources section immediately below has information on where to get EC, PEP, and STI and pregnancy testing services.

Resources at Brown

Health Services, 401.863-3953
Health Services provides comprehensive primary health care including STI testing, pregnancy testing, contraception, and emergency contraception for Brown students. Provider visits are free, but lab and prescription fees are charged. All services are confidential.

  • Safer sex supplies are available in the 1st and 3rd floor bathrooms and in the Health Education office on the 3rd floor.
  • The Oraquick rapid (oral swab) HIV test is available. Free for Brown students. The test is confidential. Tests are given by appointment. Results will be available during your visit.
  • Emergency contraception is available any time in the pharmacy. $30. No prescription is needed if you are 17 or older. Do bring an ID which shows your age.
  • Pregnancy testing is available by appointment. Tests are free for Brown students. Results will be available during your visit. (Home test kits are also available in the pharmacy for $7 for a package of 2.)
  • Providers at Health Services can prescribe post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for likely HIV exposure and the PEP medications can be obtained from the Health Services pharmacy.

Health Services is located in Andrews House, on the corner of Brown and Charlesfield streets, across from Keeney. Call ahead (401.863-3953) to schedule an appointment. Medical advice is available 24/7 at 401.863-1330.

Health Promotion, 401.863-2794
Health Promotion offers:

  • Sexual health information including brochures and a lending library.
  • Appointments available with Naomi Ninneman to discuss sexual health questions or issues.
  • Appointments available with the Bita Shooshani to discuss consent and sexual assault issues or experiences.

Health Promotion is on the 3rd floor of Health Services, on the corner of Brown and Charlesfield streets, across from Keeney. Call (401.863-2794) to make an appointment or stop by the office between 9 and 5 when classes are in session.

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Resources in Providence

Planned Parenthood
11 Point Street, 401.421-9620
HIV and other STI testing, pregnancy tests, contraception, abortion services.

Miriam Hospital Immunology Center
1125 N. Main Street, 401.793-4715.
HIV and other STI testing. Free. Anonymous testing available.

AIDS Project Rhode Island
404 Wickenden Street, 401.207- 8377.
HIV testing only. Free. Anonymous.

AIDS Care Ocean State
605 Elmwood Avenue, 401.781-0665
HIV testing only. Free. Anonymous.

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