Having safer sex reduces risk of HIV infection and reinfection
(superinfection). Even though it can be difficult to do, some
people insist on only having safer sex for this reason. They
are not putting themselves or their partners at risk. And theyre
having a great time. How are they doing it?
People who have safer sex tend to have a lot of characteristics
- Comfort with sexual identity: Whether they are gay,
straight or bisexual, they admit who they are and who they
like to have sex with.
- Comfort with drug-free (and alcohol-free) sex: If people
are too drunk to know who they went home with, they
were probably too drunk to think about safer sex. Sober
sex is much more likely to be safer sex.
- Commitment: Safer sex isnt something they consider
optional. These are the "no glove, no love" folks. Some
folks in their teens, twenties, and even thirties have never
had unprotected sex -- and never had a sexually transmitted
disease, either. Some HIV-positive people decide after diagnosis
that "the buck stops here" -- and have never had unprotected
- Self-esteem: The more you appreciate your own self-worth,
the more likely you are to insist on safer sex.
So what if someone rejects you because of it? Only
losers insist on unsafe sex -- and if you feel youve got
something worthwhile to offer, you know youll attract a
winner soon enough.
- Respect: Meaning self-respect as well as respect for others.
- Concern about health: People who have safe sex are
concerned about their own health and are unwilling to
take risks with it.
- Comfort with intimacy: Quickie sex with a total stranger,
especially in a public setting, is least likely to be safer sex.
Sex that involves intimacy, knowledge of the other person
and sharing of personal information is more likely to be
- Personal identity: People who have safer sex are less
likely to give in to pressure from a partner because they
have a good sense of who they are and what they want.
They are ready to counter a line like, "But dont you trust
me?" with a reply like, "Why should I, when youre trying
to talk me into something dangerous?"
So loving yourself to love others means learning to be more like this yourself and insisting on partners who
share your views and concerns.
Sometimes old issues get in the way for people. People with
a history of sexual abuse, especially in childhood, may have
real problems feeling strong enough to negotiate safer sex.
People with a history of depression seem less likely to engage
in good self-care sexually. If you have problems that you feel
are getting in your way, consider therapy, self-help groups,
or other ways of trying to mend.
But even if you feel strong and healthy emotionally, does this
mean you wont ever be tempted? Of course not. How do
you deal with the temptation to have unsafe sex?
- Plan ahead: Think of situations which might tempt you
in the future, and anticipate how you will deal with them.
"Lets live for the moment, baby" thinking leads to a lot
of disease transmission. Think about more than the moment
-- think about the rest of your life.
- Keep safer sex supplies around everywhere -- not just
the bedroom, but in your car, in your backpack, in your
purse, in your gym bag, in your jacket pockets. You wont
have to deal with the temptation of "I really want to and
we dont have any protection available ..."
- Again, avoid mixing sex with drugs or alcohol. You can
deal with temptation much better when youre sober.
- If youre positive, remember how angry you felt at the
person you think infected you, whether you knew
specifically who it was or not. Do you really want someone
feeling that way towards you?
- If youre negative, take a hard, cold look at what being
HIV-positive really involves. Do you want to have to face
prejudice, possible medication side effects and all the rest,
if you dont have to?
- If you slip once, dont fall for the "it doesnt matter
now" thinking. Jump right back on the safer sex
bandwagon. You can still keep your risk lower.
Remember that the love you give others will be so much
better when you love yourself enough to take care of you and
Sandra K. Trisdale, Ph.D., an expert in HIV and mental health,
writes frequently for PositiveWords, WORLD, and other HIV-related
publications. She lives in San Diego, CA.