As a very Catholic nation, Philippine society still considers sex talk unpleasant, if not taboo. However, periodic reports by the Department of Health about the increasing number of sexually-transmitted infections (STI) are very telling. For one, they show that Filipinos are sexually-active despite a conservative veil cast upon society. Secondly, and more alarmingly, the reports reveal that many Filipinos are engaging in unsafe sexual practices, a reflection of the poor understanding by many of how infections are transmitted. That is why some sexual health advocates are pushing for more sex education initiatives not only across academic platforms but in settings where sex and sexual health can be talked about freely and without reservations. There is no doubt that education about safe sexual practices is still the key to preventing the proliferation of STIs.
While there is a continuing debate over whether condoms can actually filter all harmful microorganisms that cause STI and if it will withstand the friction caused by sexual intercourse, many medical professionals believe in its efficacy in reducing the risk of disease. Before even using a condom, one should check if it has breached its expiration date. It is deemed good if there are no punctures in its packet. The best way to know this is if the wrapper still holds air in it. Other considerations are:
A space should always be left at the tip of the condom once it is on.
A condom should be guided and held firmly at its open end when pulling out so that it will not slip off.
A condom that has been taken off should not be put back on again.
A condom should be properly disposed, its open end tied and should not be reused.
The Scientific Approach
Aside from using a condom, there are also other physical, chemical and psychological ways to have safer sex:
- Use all other available forms of protection for sexual contact – The use of physical barriers, like male or female condoms, should not be limited to penile-vaginal intercourse. They should also be used for oral and anal sex. Dental dams also reduce the risk of contracting disease during oral-vaginal and oral-anal sex.
- Use lubricants in conjunction with condoms – Lubricants, aside from fulfilling their primary function, prevent tears in the lining of the vagina or rectum as a result of friction during intercourse. Meanwhile, water-based lubricants should be used with condoms to prevent condom tears or failure.
- For women, do not use douches or strong anti-microbial intimate washes –These products, while ensuring that a woman’s private area stays fresh and clean, strip off the good bacterial flora that is necessary to prevent infections.
- Get an STI test - Knowing one’s HIV status and getting tested for other infectious diseases guarantees that one will be practicing safer sex. However, this cannot be one way. It is only sensible for the partner to have himself or herself tested as well.
- Discuss safe sex practices with one’s partner - This does not only mean deliberating on whether to use protection or getting tested for STIs. If a relationship is just budding, getting each other’s trust to declare one’s STI status should be one point of discussion.
- Get vaccinated –While there are no vaccines yet for HIV and most STIs, vaccines for HPV and hepatitis B, are available today.
- Be sober when having sex – It is not uncommon for people to have sex when they are intoxicated, especially since alcohol (and drugs!) remove any inhibitions. But being intoxicated can lead to accidents, poor choices, and mistakes as everyone very well knows.
- Don’t feel forced to have sex – Peer pressure is usually the reason why teenagers succumb to pre-marital sex. On the other hand, there are remnants of the old patriarchal society that believe in “rites of passage,” i.e., engaging in sex with a prostitute when one comes of age. Becoming popular or gaining entry into an exclusive group, fraternity or men’s club should not be a reason for engaging in risky sex.
- Have sex only in the context of marriage – While perceived as very archaic, people who engage in sex only after marriage eliminate the possibility of contracting diseases associated with promiscuity. However, it goes without saying that the partner one is going to get married to should also remain celibate or at least get tested for STIs before marriage.
- Practice monogamy - This may be a tough suggestion to follow since it mainly relies on honesty and trust. But again, in the context of marriage or a committed relationship, being faithful should always be a conscious effort by both parties. It also goes without saying that either partner should not solicit the services of prostitutes who are at a very high risk of contracting and passing on STIs.
- Abstain from Sex – Abstinence is a full-proof tip both advocated by the Department of Health and the Catholic Church. It can apply to not having sex before marriage, during marriage, or even in open same-sex relationships wherein the partner is away.
While the Health Department, medical associations, and cause-oriented groups have not been remiss in mounting information campaigns about sex education and promoting safe sexual practices, STIs continue to be a problem. Since the information about safe sex is already out there, it is ultimately up to individuals to take to heart such advice not only to safeguard the health of the couple and their possible offspring but also to give them peace of mind.