While remembering to practice safe — or safer — sex is a constant issue, not all of us really know what that means and that preventing pregnancy isn't the only thing we need to keep in mind. There are lots of ways we can develop an infection based on sexual contact, and lucky for us, there are also many things we can do to avoid that risk.
"Go for the triple play when it comes to preventing infection: wash up, wrap up, and flush out," says Emily Morse, a doctor of human sexuality and the founder and host of the Sex With Emily podcast. "First, before any touching starts, make sure both you and your partner have clean hands — especially under the nails. Next, use a condom, for obvious reasons. Finally, make sure to pee before AND after penetration to ward off UTIs. Of course, you can also suggest some shower sex to maximize cleanliness."
Wash Your Hands Prior to Getting Intimate
We'd never prepare a meal without washing our hands, and we always wash our hands after using the bathroom. Sex deserves the same preparation. "It seems so basic, but our hands carry bacteria that can cause yeast and bladder infections," says psychologist and sex expert Antonia Hall. So wash up well prior to getting down with your partner.
Pee Before and After
Women should always urinate before and after sexual intercourse to prevent urinary tract infections. "It's also important to stay hydrated and restrict alcohol intake, which can dehydrate the body and lower the immune system," says Hall. If you don't have to pee, perhaps make a practice of drinking water before and after so you have to!
Don't Do Anything Else After Anal Without Cleaning Up First
We should be clean before and after any anal play and make a habit of that. "Transferring that bacteria can, and often does, lead to infections," says Hall. Whether it's hands or genitals, it's worthwhile to take a moment to clean up before continuing to play.
Avoid Oral Sex With Unfamiliar Partners
"I know this isn't a popular choice, but oral sex does come with a lot of STI risks," says Hall. If you're monogamous and both have been tested, your chances are far less risky. "To decrease risks, cover male genitals with a condom and female parts with a dental dam to help prevent potentially infectious exchanges," says Hall.
Wear a Condom During Sex
"Condoms are the best way to prevent the spread of infections, other than abstaining," says Hall. Remember that not all STIs can be detected visually, so while a partner may look or seem clean, they can potentially have an infection.
Wash Up After Sex
Hygiene goes a long way when protecting against infection. "Both men and women should use a gentle, fragrance-free soap and water to clean up (front to back, ladies) after sexual play," says Hall. We always wash up after using the bathroom; try to make a habit of it in the bedroom as well.
And That Includes Cleaning Those Sex Toys Right Away
"Don't leave your sex toys lying around dirty in a drawer or under the bed," says Hall. Just make it a habit to carry them to the bathroom with you so you and your toys both get cleaned up after playtime. Whether you share your toys or not, toys should be sanitized to prevent infection. "Toys create a biofilm of bacteria if not cleaned properly, which creates a risk of infection the next time they are used. Sometimes users don't even realize that a vaginal infection may come from an unclean toy. These types of infections can cause a great deal of discomfort — not what you want to experience after a great orgasm from your favorite toy," says Carrie Martz, president and founder of UVee, a toy-cleaning system.