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These days there’s no shortage of sexually charged entertainment, sexual commentary or new sex scandals. Just turn on ‘Jersey Shore.’ But even with all this overt sexuality, there’s a surprising lack of knowledge about how to keep ourselves sexually healthy.

I once had a patient nonchalantly inform me that she was sleeping with two different guys- and not consistently using condoms. When I asked if the guys were currently sleeping with other people or if they regularly got STD testing, she admitted to not knowing. She added, “I don’t think it’s any of my business whom else they’re sleeping with. I mean, neither one of them is my boyfriend.”

This may seem shocking, but I can assure you that it is not an uncommon mindset about sex. Sexual irresponsibility is very dangerous. These days, having sex poses many health risks. But following these 4 important steps before you get your freak on will definitely help reduce those risks and protect your sexual health.

1. Have standards. Actions have consequences. Sex has physical and/or emotional consequences. So whether it’s discussing your partner’s sexual history, requiring STD testing before sex, or requesting a monogamous relationship, it’s important to assess the sexual risk, get some standards, stick to them, and ditch anyone that tries to get you to act contrary to your standards.

2. Use protection. Use protection during sex (vaginal, oral, and anal). Do not rely solely on what someone tells you about their sexual past or present. The reality is people lie, for various reasons. And if you don’t want to use protection, there’s nothing wrong with asking your partner to be tested for STDs before having sex with them, and regularly throughout the relationship. Just be aware that some STD infections may not show up immediately on tests.

3. Get regular STD testing. Even if you’re using protection, sexually active men and women should make it a personal priority to regularly visiting their doctors for annual STD testing and wellness exams (i.e. pap smear).

5. Be prepared for a sex emergency. And I don’t mean, being prepared for when you want a quickie. A sexual emergency means things like unplanned pregnancy or STD infection. It takes two to tango. So you and your partner should have a plan in place in case of failed contraception, failed protection, and/or infection.

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