Student health center promotes Safer Sex Week in conjunction with Valentine’s Day


Condoms are one of the only forms of contraception that protect against most sexually transmitted infections.

Lea Petersen

Valentine’s Day might have passed, but hearts are still aflutter as ISU students celebrate the holiday throughout the week. Thielen Student Health Center has long been celebrating Valentine’s Day week as well, although it is affectionately called “Safer Sex Week.”

Safer Sex Week was coined to encompass all areas of sexual encounters and focuses not only on abstinence, but also on healthy ways to engage in sexual activity.

“We talk about steps to safer sex, not ‘safe sex,’ because all sexual behavior has some element of risk,” said Reonda Washington, prevention specialist at Thielen Student Health Center. “There may not be risk of disease or pregnancy – there may be risk of embarrassment.”

Washington described the five elements to safer sex: communication, clinical abstinence, clinical monogamy, latex and other barriers and contraceptives.

Communication is as obvious as it is key to a successful, healthy relationship. It is a way to establish what you and your partner like and don’t like, Washington explained.

“Clinical abstinence is defined as not engaging in vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse, oral sex on a man or oral sex on a woman. It is not the absence of sexuality,” Washington said. “Clinical monogamy is when two people engage in the four sexual behaviors [vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse, oral sex on a man or oral sex on a woman] exclusively with each other.”

However, in university and college environments it is not uncommon for students to have multiple partners.

“If either partner has had previous sexual partners, that partner needs to be tested for sexually transmitted infections or STIs [previously known as sexually transmitted diseases or STDs]. Testing ensures lower risk [of passing on the infection],” Washington said.

Protecting yourself against STIs is a large part of having safer sex. Latex and other barriers, such as condoms and dental dams, are the only forms of contraception that protect against most STIs, Washington clarified.

“Dental dams are used for oral sex on a man or a woman,” Washington said. “The dam is a thin square of latex that covers the vagina [or] anus; oral sex is performed on the other side. This keeps the fluids from the mouth, and mouth from the vagina [or] anus.”

Washington also said, “With condoms and dental dams, it is best to use water-based lubricants, because oil-based lubes eat through latex in 30 seconds and will ruin the condom.”

Latex and barriers are not the only mediums used to protect against unplanned pregnancy. “There are over 22 different types of contraception,” Washington said. “Different methods work best on different people.'”

Some contraception methods include birth control pills, a birth control implant, a birth control patch, birth control shots, a birth control sponge, diaphragms, cervical caps, spermicides, intrauterine devices, male and female condoms and abstinence. 

Greg Yeakel, chief staff pharmacist at the health center, echoed Washington’s statements.

“At Thielen we offer the whole gauntlet of contraceptives,” Yeakel said. “Not only are various birth control pills available, but [intrauterine devices], NuvaRing, Implanon and patches are other choices for students. See a doctor or pharmacist to discuss which method of contraception will work best for you.

“If the method of birth control you are using fails, Thielen offers Plan B emergency contraceptive for students over 18 without parental consent.”

Both Washington and Yeakel stressed that abstinence is the only form of birth control that is 100 percent effective against STIs and pregnancy.

“Effectiveness can be decreased if contraceptives are not taken properly,” Yeakel said. “A student on the birth control pill, especially those who are taking low-estrogen pills, must take care in always taking her pill at the same time every day. Patches and NuvaRings must be replaced and/or exchanged at the appropriate times as well to ensure effectiveness.”