We all know – or at least I hope we all know – that you can contract a sexually transmitted disease. Also known as an STD, they can be transferred through both vaginal and anal sex. Yes, those unwanted, unpleasant, disturbing infections and diseases find their way into our system via direct contact with an infected partner’s blood other body fluids, particularly semen and vaginal discharge. For college students, STDs pose a huge risk to our health and safety.

Many of us do not really know our partners or their history and blindly engage in risky behavior under the guise that, “my campus is safe.” However, in recognition of the risks that vaginal and anal sex possess, many students have elected to engage in alternative sexual activities, including, but not limited to oral sex, fellatio/cunnilingus, dry sex, outercourse, and manual sex, masturbation, hand job, etc. In theory, it’s a great idea. If his penis and my vagina or ass do not come into direct contact, or vice versa, I’m safe right? Once again, not so much. Understanding the risks inherent to alternative sexual activities is essential to deciding which activity or activities are right for you and your partner and allows you to cut down on the risks associated with whatever activity you choose.

It has been shown that over 50 percent of 15-to 19-year-old teens engage in oral sex, and that percentage increases with age. Although oral sex is a lower risk activity than vaginal or anal sex, it is still possible to contract an STD. Using a condom, dental dam or other barrier decreases this risk, but does not eliminate it. Herpes, a disease transmitted by skin-to-skin contact with a developing or existing sore, is the most common STD to be transmitted via oral sex. The virus transfers between genitals and mouth if the person giving oral sex has or is developing a cold sore, or if the person receiving oral sex has or is developing a genital sore. That means that even if you don’t see it, your partner could have a developing cold sore that leaves you at risk to contract the disease. Gonorrhea, an STD transmitted through bacteria infected body fluids, can also be transmitted through oral sex. The person most at risk for contracting gonorrhea is the partner giving oral sex, who, via the receiving partner’s genital fluids, can contract gonorrhea of the throat. It is also possible to transmit HPV, also known as genital warts, Hepatitis B, Syphilis, HIV and Chlamydia via oral sex. Although statistically the risk is lower. The bottom line is, use a barrier.

For many college students fearful of the risks inherent in both vaginal and anal sex, dry sex seems like the way to go. Hey, your clothes are still on, nobody’s touching or inserting anything into anybody else so what’s the problem? The risk of contracting an STD is very low if both partners are wearing pants. However, if dry sex is practiced in just underwear, the risk of transmission is greatly increased.

The loose cotton weave of most underwear does not protect against an exchange of fluids, which can lead to both the contraction of an STD as well as a possible pregnancy. So don’t be fooled. If your idea of dry sex is two mostly naked people loosely covered by thin cotton, the risk is there. The bottom line is, keep your pants on.

Perhaps the most misleading form of alternative sexual activity is manual sex, whether in the form of masturbation or a good old fashioned hand job.

When it comes to manual sex and the transmission of STDs, the key thing is the concept of indirect touch.

If you touch yourself, and yourself alone, then the risk of contracting an STD is non-existent. However, if you and a partner are masturbating simultaneously in a twisted grown-up version of early childhood parallel play, and at some point you choose to touch your partner, the risk of transmitting or receiving an STD becomes apparent.

Even if you can’t see it, if you touch yourself and get wet and then touch your partner, or let your wet partner touch you, you are literally placing potentially contaminated fluid into your body, thus leaving yourself open for disease transmission.

To avoid these risks, prevent the direct transfer of fluids. Bottom line – wash your hands before touching your partner.

Sex is a normal part of life and for many, college is the time for experimentation.

Students wary of vaginal or anal sex will often engage in one of the aforementioned forms of alternative sexual activity, often without thinking through the risks associated with their sexual actions.

Remember that whenever fluids are involved – and let’s be honest, fluid will be involved – there is a risk for the transmission of an STD.

Understand the risks associated with your sexual activity of choice, take appropriate precautions and get pleasured safely.

Newman works in the Health Promotion Office of the University Health Service and can be reached at jnewman@campustimes.org.

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