The Complete Guide To Safe Sex

Long before AIDS made an entry into our dictionaries and our daily paranoias, there were other sexual scares: syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and genital warts, to name a few. But no one really talked those days about safe sex (although some of these other sexually-transmitted infections could also eventually cost victims their lives). In stopping sexual permissiveness dead in its tracks, AIDS may well have done us a favour: because, the careful sexual behaviour that is our best security against AIDS also constitutes our best protection against other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).

The essence of safe sex is avoiding high-risk partners and practices, and using condom-management strategies. But when it comes down to the specifics, many questions arise:

Who are the high-risk sexual partners?

The high-risk groups are homosexuals, bi-sexuals, prostitutes, intravenous drug abusers; heterosexuals from Central Africa where AIDS is common; those who have had multiple blood transfusions in areas where AIDS is rampant. Sexual episodes with high-risk partners are the most common way the infection is passed on.

The risk of acquiring AIDS from one penis-vaginal intercourse episode with someone from a high-risk group has been estimated to be: (with condom) – 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 10,000; (without condom) – 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 1000. (The wide range of odds is because of different rates of infection among high-risk groups).

Of course, someone who’s not a high-risk partner is not necessarily a no-risk partner. When two people sleep together, it’s essentially group sex: they are in effect sleeping with everyone each of them has slept with in the past five to ten years.

How many sexual encounters with a high-risk partner would it take for the virus to be transmitted?

The virus can be transmitted through just one sexual encounter with an infected person. But the chances are less than in the case of multiple encounters with high-risk persons. In one study at the University of California, less than 10 out of 100 persons were found to have contracted the virus through a single sexual encounter with an infected person. But another study found that the odds got steadily worse with continuous sexual activity with an infected partner over a two-year periods – 12 out of 14 people ended up infected.

That is why another cardinal commandment of safe sex: avoid multiple sexual partners. Especially if they are unknown, casual partners, you have no way of knowing which of them is infected, and with every encounter, the laws of probability favour you less and less. Sex with a single, known, trustworthy partner is one of your best armour devices against serious infection. So, if you’ve tried the rest, now try the best: monogamy!

Is a man more likely to give the infection to a woman than the other way round?

Sperm does appear to contain a higher concentration of the virus then vaginal secretions and the virus does appear to be more efficiently transmitted from men to women then from women to men. But men shouldn’t get too smug about this. In Africa, where the disease has had more time to do its work, there’s a one-to-one infection ratio between men and women.

Which is the most risky sexual practice?

Without question, anal intercourse without a condom. The walls of the rectum are thinner than the vaginal walls and therefore more prone to abrasions and tears. So, the AIDS virus from an infected partner’s semen is absorbed more easily during anal sex.

Other high-risk practices (with an infected partner) are condomless vaginal intercourse fellatio, cunnilingus, the sharing of insertive sex toys and anything that would involve blood contact.

Moderate-risk practices are French kissing, oral sex using condoms, vaginal sex using condoms and spermicide, and anal intercourse using condoms and spermicide.

How safe is kissing?

The AIDS virus is carried by bodily fluids – apart from semen and blood, that includes urine, vaginal secretions, tears, saliva and even faeces.

Does that make practices like oral sex and ‘tongue kissing’ unsafe? The virus is found only rarely in saliva. In a study of 83 patients (reported in The New England Journal of Medicine), the virus was detected in the saliva of only one.

In another study reported in the same journal, in families where an AIDS -infected member shared food, drink, cutlery and crockery with the others, not a single non-infected person caught the virus.

In these same households, members kissed each other without spreading AIDS. Kissing on the cheeks and lips appears to be perfectly safe. And, to date, there’s no evidence that saliva transmits the virus.

Still, since the virus has been isolated in saliva (although in rare cases), caution is the better part of l’amour, especially where deep kissing or French kissing – the kind that curls your toes – is concerned. In the U.S., the Surgeon-General has advised against it. While there has been no documented case of the spread of AIDS in this way, it would be difficult to document because people who start with this kind of kissing often don’t stop there. Although most researchers feel that transmission is unlikely even from erotic kissing because there probably wouldn’t be an adequate amount of virus in the saliva or a sufficient amount of saliva exchanged, the fact remains that it’s theoretically possible.

How risky is oral sex?

So far, researchers haven’t confirmed a single case – in either homosexuals or heterosexuals – attributable to it. But, as with deep kissing, it’s difficult to document because oral sex so often goes along with other sexual activities. Therefore, the experts advise against letting semen enter the mouth. The risk is lowered if the man wears a condom or doesn’t ejaculate in his partner’s mouth. But both need to remember that a small amount of the virus may be present in the pre-ejaculatory fluid.

Oral sex is less risky for a heterosexual man, because he usually comes in contact with less fluids. Still, the virus can exist in small concentration in vaginal fluids.

What are the safe-sex activities you can indulge in with a partner of doubtful credentials?

There are several such activities you can enjoy short of intercourse: dry kissing, hugging and caressing, massage and mutual masturbation (provided the man does not ejaculate near the woman’s vagina; and provided vaginal secretion do not come in contact with broken skin).

Don’t condoms offer foolproof protection against STDs?

Condoms have been shown to be laboratory-effective in blocking the transmission of gonorrhea, syphilis and herpes. The most efficient are latex condoms which have been studied under the electron microscope – neither bacteria nor viruses have been able to penetrate them. That includes the AIDS virus, which is about 25 times smaller than a sperm.

Some experts however have their doubts about the efficacy of condoms made from natural skin, such as lambskin, in blocking transmission of the microscopic AIDS virus. These condoms are made of hundreds of layers of porous collagen. Although the chances of a virus navigating through them are slim, lab tests have shown it’s possible.

However: Even with latex condoms, when it comes down to actual practice, they have never been anywhere near 100 per cent reliable. They slip, they break, and people often don’t use them soon enough, or withdraw them carefully enough. Consider this noteworthy statistic: one out of 10 women who rely on condoms as contraception still get pregnant each year – although contraception can occur only a few days each month. In contrast, you are susceptible to the AIDS virus 365 days a year.

Here’s how condoms fared in one real-life study of couples, one of whom was infected and relied on condoms to prevent the spread of the virus to the non-infected partner. After using condoms for between one to three years, three of the 18 spouses contracted the virus, a failure rate of 17 per cent. Says the study’s chief researcher, Margaret Fischl of the University Of Miami School Of Medicine, “Our study shows that using condoms decreases the risk, but clearly it’s not a foolproof system”. Evidently, there is still no such thing as ‘safe sex’ with an infected partner – only degrees of risk.

How can you improve your margin of safety using condoms?

  • One of the best ways is to use them in tandem with s spermicide which contains the active ingredient nonoxynol-9. This ingredient has been shown to kill the herpes and AIDS viruses (at least under lab conditions).
  • Choose latex condoms over those made of animal membrane such as lambskin. Latex is less porous.
  • Choose the well-known brands. They are more likely to have undergone thorough testing and less likely to have undetected holes.
  • As a general rule, the thicker the condom the greater your margin of safety. (That again makes latex your best bet).
  • Check that the condom you use has a reservoir or receptacle at the end so that semen can’t spill over the sides during ejaculation. By catching semen in its reservoir, this kind of condom also lowers rupture risks to near-zero.
  • Never use petroleum-based lubricants such as petroleum jelly with a latex condom – they will cause the latex to disintegrate. But, lubrication does help prevent condom from tearing. Use K-Y jelly, water or – best of all – a spermicide containing nonoxynol-9. (Do not use saliva).
  • Put on the condom as soon as erection occurs, don’t wait until ejaculation is imminent – some viruses may escape in the pre-ejaculatory fluid.
  • When you remove the condom from its wrapper and place it over the tip of your penis, make sure it doesn’t catch on a ring or fingernail.
  • The condom should seal tightly to your skin. A condom that makes hasty withdrawal necessary, and semen spillage possible, is injurious to your partner’s health!
  • Withdraw right after ejaculation, because if the erection is lost the condom may slip off, allowing semen to escape. Hold on to the rim of the condom as the penis is being withdrawn.
  • Dispose of the condom safely so that no one (a child, for example) could accidentally come in contact with semen.
  • Don’t ‘store’ a pare condom in your wallet or the glove compartment of your car. Heat damages latex. Condoms should be stored in a cool, dry place like a bedside drawer.

What else, in the sexual arena, increases your risk of catching AIDS?

Sexually transmitted diseases, particularly syphilis and chancroid, are associated with genital ulcers, which allow the HIV virus easy access to the bloodstream.

Isn’t there any foolproof protection against AIDS?

There are two. One is to stay celibate: an answer which, for most of us, is of course a non-answer.

The second is to have sex only with a partner who has been tested for AIDS. But this is not an easy, or practical, as it sounds. It arises from the fact that the so-called “AIDS test” is not really a test for AIDS at all. It is a blood test that detects the presence of antibodies produced by the body to fight the invading virus – called the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. (It’s therefore called the HIV test). If the test detects these antibodies, what it means is that, at some point of time, the person was infected by the virus.

However – and this is where the main snag arises – it takes anything from a fortnight to six months for the body to produce the HIV antibodies. This is the so-called “window phase” – the period during which the infection, while already present, may not be signaled by the test because the antibodies haven’t yet been produced. What this means is that a negative result on the HIV test (no antibodies) is valid only if the test has been done at least six months after the last sexual exposure.

On the other hand, there have also been problems with the use of the ELISA test to detect HIV antibodies – quite commonly, especially in the case of heterosexuals, ELISA has shown false positives! To exclude the possibility of error, a positive result with ELISA must be confirmed with the so-called Western Blot test. If the results are confirmed, that’s bad news, but both tests should be repeated a few weeks later to ensure that there was no mix-up in blood samples in the lab.

However, even if a potential sexual partner has been certified as HIV-negative, remember that sex with such a partner is ‘safe’ only until his/her next sexual encounter. After that, as they say, all bets are off. (Unless, of course, you and this partner enter into a mutually monogamous relationship – after you too have tested negative!)

What’s the bottomline in safe sex?

It’s that, where safe sex is concerned, it’s better to be a believer in healthy overreaction than to go by the no-case-yet norm. As late as 1984, the medical world was saying we have ‘no case yet’ of the heterosexual spread of AIDS. One year later, oops, we’d got one. Since AIDS may have a few other unhealthy surprises in store, it’s better to err on the side of caution.

One morsel of good news: while some people acquire the virus after just a single exposure, others don’t acquire it after repeated exposures. What this means is that, even if you’ve been having unprotected sex for years, it’s conceivably not yet too late to start protecting yourself.

Use condoms, use caution, use commonsense – remember, the AIDS virus cannot get you without your active co-operation!

Organic Health Food Real Or Paying For a Fancy Name

Organic Health Food has of late become such a catchphrase that it has entered the language of the common or garden Yank to almost day-to-day use. It is a note of which many folks believe they know the meaning, but few do.

1 or 2 seconds of hard speculation produces a myriad of questions: what’s unique about organic food vs the garden-variety superstore wares? And what about organic baby food? Is it seriously different or superior? What are the benefits? Am I able to trust the labels? Below run some regularly asked questions and non-permanent answers, just doing my part to help in your education what’s unique about organic food vs the garden-variety superstore wares? Essentially the differences on your plate occur in two spheres : additions and chemicals.

The prior can imply anything that changes the standard of the food in color, consistency, taste and marks. The 2nd is anything that keeps food fresh for longer amounts of time and is sometimes some variety of sodium product. As the northern US diet is dangerously high in sodium, there’s not any need for the consumption of further salts as chemicals. On the farm level, the differences become even more dramatic.

And what about organic baby food? Is it noticeably different or superior? Organic baby food boasts all the same benefits as regular organic food spotted above. Since baby’s body is loads more fragile to poisons than is an adult’s, the benefits of avoiding additions increase noticeably. Disposing of additions and chemicals in organic baby food also quite essentially suggests that there are less ingredients to which baby may develop allergies and that digestion of organic baby food is easier. Organic baby food is quick-cooked so that less nutriments will be lost, an unlucky derivative of cooking food typically. This is going to be reduced by making your own or feeding baby more iron-rich food. What are the benefits? Well, this is the selling point of organic product. Less poisons in your diet mean avoidance of certain commercial maladies.

Organic ingredients give the possibility for the average consumer to grasp exactly what they are eating. And, when you have experienced this phenomenon, you’re unlikely to take a look at non-organic food labels the same way again. Am I able to trust the labels? This one is troublesome. Just as there are zillions of lobbyists and worried citizen action groups, there are zillions of company employees and counsels finding tactics around existing law.

Simple research helps a lot to slash through the claims and counterclaims. For example, if a baby food label is marked chicken, this suggests that chicken must comprise as little as forty percent of the ingredients’ total mass. If two ingredients are listed, the initial need only make up ten percent and in the second less is acceptable. If it is full of flash, oily promotional guarantees and a deficit of solid data, become suspicious.

Therapy for Sex Addiction: Dealing With Intimacy

Any definition, discussion or exploration of compulsive sexuality begins thusly:

“Sex addiction is an intimacy disorder characterized by” blah, blah, blah.

Then it goes on to name the symptoms: pre-occupation with thoughts sexual; persistent, unrelenting urges to sexually act out; continued use despite adverse consequences, loss of control and so forth.

Such definitions are frustratingly vague. While emphasis is given to the symptoms of sex addiction, the idea of it being “an intimacy disorder” never seems to be addressed. This is unfortunate, indeed. I think a “disordered” pattern of intimate relations is at the core and foundation of this debilitating syndrome.

Vanilla sex addiction, fetishism, exhibitionism/voyeurism, BDSM, and all the other various and moribund kinds of sexual perversions are fueled by the very basic (and healthy) motivation to connect.

Sadly, somehow or other, the urge to connect is misfired. Rather than seeking a real relationship with a real person who might, in fact, satisfy some of one’s real relational needs, the sexually compulsive tries to connect with the “unreal” in fantasy. It is a solo act. Sex, for a person who has a perversion or addiction, is always a narcissistic, self-centered endeavor. It is not related sex. The endorphin rush of the sexual high is so dear to them that it precludes any idea of sharing sexual pleasure with a cherished one in the service of enhancing a bond.

What is intimacy?

Let’s look at the word “intimacy”. From the dictionary: the word is derived from the Latin intima, meaning “inner” or “inner-most.” The definition suggests that to be intimate, you need to know your real self. This ability to be in touch with our inner core is a requisite to being intimate.

Our intima holds the innermost part of ourselves, our most profound feelings, our enduring motivations, our values, our sense of right and wrong and our most embedded convictions about life. Importantly, our intima also includes that which enables us to express these innermost aspects of our person to “the other”.

So, to be in relationship, and to know yourself/your partner sexually, you need to know and respect your intima. The intima is also the way in which we value and esteem ourselves and determines how we are with being with others. To put it simply, if don’t value yourself, you can’t value another. If you’re not aware of needs and wants, or are shamed by them, then sex becomes no more than a fuck.

I think every person I’ve ever seen in my consulting room for sexual compulsions suffers from estrangement from his intimus. We can survive the disapproval of others. The feeling can be painful, but it’s nothing compared to the disapproval of ourselves. Your personal well being and your ability to love another cannot survive your dislike or disrespect of yourself. If you dislike yourself, you’ll never be comfortable with your sexuality.

It bears repeating… the outstanding quality of intimacy is the sense of being in touch with our real selves. When “the other” also knows and is able to express his/her real self, intimacy happens. Sexuality is both an expression of that intimacy and a bond that enhances intimacy. With this kind of personal/sexual intimacy, our growth experience as humans is energized, enhanced, and fueled. Intimacy is the most meaningful and courageous of human experiences. It’s why people long for it so.

The Perils of Intimacy

However, despite this universal longing, fear and avoidance of intimacy is a reality for many people. People fear and even dread that which they most long for. No wonder there’s such a demand for psychotherapists!

So why would people fear, avoid or sabotage this wonderful thing called intimacy and, in the process, avoid person-related sex?

Sexual compulsion is the end point, the tip of the iceberg, if you will, of a long history of developmental events that begin in early attachment difficulties with caretakes, subsequent overwhelming experiences the child is unable to assimilate, an impaired ability to regulate feelings and impaired self-development.

The capacity for bonding with others is vital for human survival and well-being. Our capacity for intimacy is formed in the crucible of the first two years of life. Mothers that are needy, narcissistic, depressed, enmeshed (over-involved), distant, too protective, controlling, chronically angry, addicted to substances, frustrated with their husbands and displace their needs onto their children… raise children who have the psychic imprint of closeness as being dangerous. They also raise children who will carry self-hatred into their adult lives unless they get good treatment.

If the child’s need for attention, soothing, stimulation, affection, touch, discipline, validation, and so on goes unmet, or is met with feedback that is punishing, invalidating or rejecting, the consequences are woven into the structure of the developing personality. Such children may turn into themselves and disconnect from others, regulating their emotions through the use of substances or process addiction, like sex. They fail to learn to utilize others to soothe or comfort themselves. This increases the child’s vulnerability to mental health problems. These people actively seek familiar environmental interaction, thereby recreating and reenacting familiar early rejections and frustrations with others. They spend their lives further cementing their original isolation.

They develop a rigid defense system (boundaries, walls, turning inward to not need others) in order to psychologically survive. But what worked for them as children doesn’t work for them as adults. For these people, the vulnerability of intimacy harkens back to a time when they were vulnerable as children and they fear re-traumatization in their current relationship.

When a person like this is loved – seen in an affirmative light and encouraged to grow and change – this rigid defensive structure is threatened, so their psychological equilibrium is disrupted. Being loved is not congruent with the negative tapes they run about themselves. They can’t allow the reality of being loved to affect their basic defensive structure. Being vulnerable and open to change feels so threatening that they eschew close relationships and mature sexuality.

Entering into a relationship without having some resolution of childhood wounds results in various kinds of fear of intimacy: fear of being found inadequate, fear of engulfment, fear of the loss of control, fear of losing autonomy, fear of attack, fear of disappointment and betrayal, fear of guilt and fear of rejection and abandonment and so forth.

For this reason, I believe that current sex addiction therapy doesn’t go far enough. Focusing on symptom change techniques, such as relapse prevention, abstinence and social skills training, is necessary, but not sufficient. Successful treatment for sexual compulsions ultimately depends on a depth-approach that can ameliorate the underlying attachment disorders and manifestations in adult intimacy. Literally, a new pattern of way of attaching needs to be “carved” into the brain – the person learns a totally different model of relating.