SEXUAL HEALTH

HIV/STI PREVENTION

Let’s get down to business – sex can make us feel really good! And when we have the tools and knowledge to practice safer sex, it can be even more empowering and fun!

Taking precautions to prioritize our health is a way to show ourselves the love and care that we deserve.
There are a lot of different strategies available to prevent HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from being passed on through sex. It’s good to know what they are so you can decide which precautions you want to take and talk about them when you’re ready.
🌍🤝 Sexual health is everyone’s responsibility! It starts with each and every one of us🤝🌍

Communication 👄

Let’s talk about sex, baby!
The first step in preventing HIV and STIsand having a better sex life! – is knowing what YOU like, what you’re comfortable with, and starting a conversation with your sexual partner(s) about that. It might take some experimenting, time, and practice for you to figure out what you like and what prevention options you prefer to use, and it can even change over time.

Everyone thinks about sex differently and has different preferences. The best way to know what you and your partner(s) want is to communicate that with one another. What might feel right for one partner, might not be good for another, so it’s always good to check in with each of your sexual partner(s) regularly.
Talking things out can really help you figure out how to go about getting what each person wants. Plus, communication can actually make for great foreplay!
Need some ideas on what you can bring up with a new partner as you figure out how to have safer sex? Why not get creative and make it into some dirty talk?!
  • What turns you on? What are you into?
  • When was the last time you got tested for STIs?
  • Do you know your HIV status?
  • Are we going to use condoms? Do we have any?
  • Are you on PrEP?
  • If you’re living with HIV, do you know your viral load?
Having these convos with a new partner can sometimes feel a bit awkward, especially when you're new to doing it—and that's ok! It just takes a little practice. But it can also be super hot! Taking ownership of your own body and sexuality is v important. Plus, wanting to keep both you and your partner(s) safe can be a turn on!

If a partner isn’t open with having this conversation with you, or doesn’t want to respect your boundaries, you might want to think if they’re the best sexual option for you. If you and your partner(s) are having trouble communicating, you may consider if they will be worth the pleasure you are seeking – and deserve! – to have from sex.

It can be hard to talk about sexual health and prevention strategies because there’s still a lot of stigma around HIV and STIs.
Sometimes, just acknowledging this can get rid of some of the awkwardness around it and open up a discussion about testing, condoms, birth control, and anything else that you and your partner(s) might find important for your comfort and pleasure.

When someone opens up to you about their experience with STIs or HIV, it might make you feel nervous or scared because of the stigma that exists around HIV and STIs. While these feelings are totally valid, recognize that they are sharing something very personal and vulnerable with you. It’s important for you to listen and stay kind, present, and knowledgeable.

Make room for honesty, kindness, and vulnerability when you’re sharing hard-to-talk about experiences with one another. And remember: safer sex is always possible, and there is no need to stigmatize anyone for their experiences or health conditions.
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CONDOMS

Using condoms is an easy and safe way to hook up. They’re really good at stopping HIV and most STIs, as well as pregnancy. And, they offer a cheap and fun way to have safer, care-free sex!

Using condoms correctly and consistently (each time) you have sex greatly reduces the risk of passing or getting HIV and other STIs. Did you know there’s more than one kind of condoms?
condoms
External Condoms slide over the penis and prevent semen from getting inside the other person. These condoms are 99.9% effective in preventing HIV, most STIs, and pregnancy. Use external condoms when having anal, vaginal or frontal sex, or when giving oral sex to a person with a penis. They’re easy to get, free at community and public health organizations, and your best bet for preventing HIV and other STIs.  

Dental dams are little square pieces of stretchy, thin latex or a similar material. They’re great for oral sex and just need be unrolled and placed over the vagina, front hole, or asshole to serve as a barrier between someone’s mouth and the other person’ genitals. Dental dams are great for preventing STIs (especially those that don’t always show up like herpes) during oral sex. Dental dams don’t help with preventing pregnancy though. They may be a bit harder to find than external condoms but are typically available at sexual health centres and other community health organizations. You can also make your own with an external condom! See here: DIY Dental Dams.
Internal Condoms look like pouches and are inserted inside the vagina, frontal hole, or asshole during sex. These are a way for a receptive partner to take the lead on using a condom. They can sometimes be harder to find and more expensive, but are usually readily available at HIV/AIDS Service Organizations and other community health organizations. Once you can get your hands on one, the feeling can be great when it’s in you.  

Condoms can come in different sizes (diversity matters!), with flavours for blowjobs, with different textures for different pleasure sensations, and without latex for people with allergies! There’s something for everyone!

Looking for some big tips on condoms? (pun intended😉) Check out this blog post!

Condoms only work if you use them. Not everyone may choose to use condoms, and people can have different reasons for that and there’s no shame in it. If you’re not using condoms, knowing all your other prevention methods is even more important! Read on to see the strategies we love.


Ultimately, condom use is all about communication, agency, consent, safer sex, and fun!

LUBE

Lube is short for lubricant and is a slippery liquid that makes it easier for different body parts to slide together. Lube makes it easier to slide a penis, strap-on, fingers, a butt plug, and toys into a hole.

It also makes it less likely to tear or rough up the skin inside a person’s anal, vaginal or frontal hole, making it less likely for HIV and other STIs to be passed on during sex. Plus, using lube adds to the pleasure and comfort of sex. There’s no shame in using lube and you can never use too much!

Water-based lubricants and silicone-based lubricants are safe to use with condoms. Avoid using oil-based lubes (like Vaseline) with latex condoms, as they can break condoms and put you at risk.  

Despite what you may hear, spit is not a good substitute for lube. It dries up quickly and stops the fun! Stick to water-based and silicone-based lube, which you can usually find for free at sexual health clinics and community-based HIV organizations.

Some organizations even distribute free condoms and lube at bars, clubs, and bathhouses. You can also buy condoms and lube at a grocery store or pharmacy, sometimes in the “family planning” section.
lube

ROUTINE TESTING

If you are someone who is sexually active, getting tested regularly is important. Making testing part of your sexual health routine is a good habit that takes your own health and agency back into your own hands.

The only way to know whether or not you have an STI, HIV or multiple STIs is to get tested.

Knowing your status gives you the right information to help you take the steps you need to keep you and your sexual partner(s) healthy—and this can be empowering as hell!

To read up on when you should get tested, where, and what to expect, check out our page on testing.

PUBIC HAIR

Your pubic hair is a natural part of your body and doesn’t need to be removed (unless you want to!), despite what society may tell you! Our pubic hair can protect our sensitive genital areas from dirt, oil, and bacteria entering inside us.  

When we remove our pubic hair, we’re increasing the chances of having cuts or micro abrasions on and around our genital area, which can make it easier for STIs to enter the body through those cuts during sex.

We ❤ our pubic hair and natural bodies!

If someone tells you that you need to shave or wax before you sleep with them—you don’t need ‘em! And if society makes you feel pressured to shave it all off—ignore that noise! Our pubic hair is beautiful and can play an important role in our sexual health!

If you want to groom, do it for YOU, and consider the trimming option—but trim carefully! If you’ve just groomed and are thinking about having sex, it might be a good idea to consider combining other prevention methods (e.g. use condoms, lube, etc.).

Whatever you decide to do down there, it’s time for you to show your body some extra love! Head over to our Personal Pleasure section to see more.

PREP

Get PrEPped for sex!

PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. It’s like the birth control pill but for HIV.

It’s a prescribed daily pill that contains a combination of two anti-HIV medications that people who are HIV-negative can take to prevent HIV transmission from happening.  

In Canada, generic Truvada is used and has the anti-HIV meds: emtricitabine and tenofovir. PrEP is highly effective when taken every day.

In some provinces, PrEP is covered by public health plans. In British Columbia, PrEP is 100% covered, and in Ontario, youth 24 and under can have free access to PrEP via OHIP+. Check out this link for more info.

Registered First Nations and recognized Inuit people also have federal coverage of PrEP through the Non-Insured Health Benefits program (NIHB). For more info, check out this link. Looking for who to contact with questions? Go here.
How long does it take for PrEP to be effective?

It depends on what type of sex you have.

For receptive anal sex, PrEP takes about 7 days to reach maximum protection. This means that if you’re interested in receiving anal sex, you should take PrEP at least 7 days before the day you have sex, on the day you have sex, and continue taking PrEP every day after the encounter.

For vaginal or frontal sex, PrEP takes about 20 days to reach maximum protection. This means that if you’re interested in receiving vaginal sex, you should take PrEP at least 20 days before the day you have sex, on the day you have sex, and continue taking PrEP daily after that.

PrEP is also safe to use for trans folks on hormone therapy, as Truvada does not reduce hormone levels. You can find more info about it here.
Is PrEP Right For You?

PrEP needs to be prescribed and is not for everyone. PrEP is often used by people who know they are at a higher risk of getting HIV.

For example, PrEP is often used by people who:
  1. Have a hard time using condoms
  2. Enjoy condomless sex
  3. Have lots of anonymous sex partners
  4. Want to give up condoms with a regular partner
  5. Are dating a person living with HIV who is not on consistent treatment
  6. Use drugs when having sex
  7. Know they are at high risk for getting HIV.
PrEP can be expensive and requires a conversation with a doctor. It’s not super common for younger people to be using it, but more and more people are taking PrEP, so it’s good to know what it means.

Check out this PrEP Assessment Tool to see if PrEP would work for you!
prep

PEP

Consider this your PEP talk!

PEP stands for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis.
It’s like the plan B for HIV.

It’s a pill containing a combination of three anti-HIV meds that people who are HIV-negative can take for 28 days (four weeks) to prevent HIV transmission from occurring if they think they’ve been exposed to HIV within the last 3 days (72 hours). 

For PEP to be effective, it must be taken every day for 28 days within 72 hours of exposure to HIV.

PEP is meant for a single exposure, meaning if you have an ongoing risk for HIV, for example, if you’re having sex with someone living with HIV, consider going on PrEP.

Some scenarios of when PEP might be needed include:
  • You didn’t stick to your safer sex plan and are worried.
  • You don’t know if the other person was living with HIV or not.
  • The condom broke during sex and you don’t know your partner(s)’ status.
  • You got a needle poke injury.
If you think you are at risk for becoming HIV-positive, go to your local emergency room and ask to speak with an infectious disease doctor to see if PEP is right for you.

Undetectable = UnTransmittable! 💯

People living with HIV who are on effective treatment can achieve viral suppression, meaning that there is so little virus in their blood, it’s undetectable on a blood test. And when someone who is living with HIV achieves an undetectable viral load, they cannot pass HIV onto their sexual partner(s)! This is called U=U, undetectable = untransmittable.

U=U is backed up by scientific proof that when HIV is undetectable, it’s untransmittable!  

The message of U=U is so important because it shows the advancements we’ve made through years of research and science that have improved the treatment and prevention of HIV, and the tireless efforts of advocates who have fought to pressure governments to recognize these advancements and raise awareness about U=U.  

U=U allows people living with HIV and their sexual partners to have social, sexual and reproductive choices that they never thought would be possible. U=U can help improve the sex lives of people living with HIV and their overall mental and emotional health, and reduce the stigma for people living with HIV today.

Learn more about it here.

WHY PREVENTION MATTERS

Prevention can be empowering because you are showing up for yourself and taking an active role in not only your sex life but your overall health and well-being, and even your relationships!  
From a health standpoint, the longer HIV and STIs get untreated, the more complicated the treatment can potentially become, and the higher the risk of getting HIV. You can learn more about that here. 
Ultimately, using a combination of these prevention strategies is the most effective way to take control and ownership of your sexual health and sexual practices. For example, if you shave your pubic hair, wear condoms and definitely use lube! If you don’t prefer to use condoms, consider going on PrEP and using lube! And get tested regularly. Communicate if you aren’t going to use condoms. The possibilities are endless and there’s no shame in your practices, but it’s good for you to know all that’s at your disposal!
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