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Safe and Healthy Relationship Advice for this Valentine’s Day

At Mabel Wadsworth Center, our interns are responsible for updating the bulletin board in our waiting room once a month. In case you haven’t had the chance to visit us recently, you can read about our bulletin board here.  This post is by our intern, Thomas Witten, a student at the College of the Atlantic.

Valentine’s Day is exciting for some and aggravating for others. If you are in a relationship, casual or otherwise, it’s a great time of year to do a quick refresher on safer sex and relationship practices. And what could be more romantic than checking in on you and your partner’s (or partners’) sexual and emotional health?

Healthy Relationships:  Everyone deserves a healthy relationship, and healthy relationships, both sexual and otherwise, are vital for psychological wellbeing and happiness. Here are some important aspects of healthy relationships:

  1. Mutual respect.
  2. Honest verbal communication and actively listening to what your partner is saying both verbally and non-verbally.
  3. Supporting and respecting each other’s wishes, goals, and needs. You can support and respect them without sharing the same ideas.
  4. Supporting and respecting each other’s likes and hobbies, even if they are not the same as yours.
  5. Providing space: You can’t expect someone to spend all of their time with you. Just because someone is seeking their own space doesn’t mean they don’t love you.
  6. Self-respect and care: While it’s good when someone makes you happy, your happiness should not be entirely dependent on your partner. Taking time to do the things that you like and practicing self-care will only improve your relationship.

Consent in Relationships: Consent is an important aspect of sex and intimacy, even in long-term relationships. Deciding if you want to have sex, when you want to have sex, and what kind of sex you want to have are all things that should be discussed and agreed upon together. You always have the right to say no, even to a long-term partner/partners and even if it’s an act you have done before.

Once you’ve established consent, with either your long-term or short-term partner(s), it’s time to get down to business. But wait! Even ignoring the reality of unwanted pregnancy, there are still many risks to consider when having sexual encounters. Practicing safer sex can help alleviate those risks, though never completely.

Safer Sex: Practicing safer sex requires just three easy steps:

  1. Use barriers during sex, like condoms and dental dams.
  2. Get tested: It is recommended that you get an STI screening and a sexual health exam once every year or after each new partner. Go with your partner(s) and get tested together!
  3. Make lifestyle choices that limit your exposure to infection: This can include limiting new sexual partners, not sharing supplies or stopping intravenous drug use, and using clean needles/supplies for tattoos, drug use, etc. Staying healthy and keeping your immune system strong are also a big help. (Taken from Corinna, Heather. S.E.X. Boston: Da Capo Press, 2016)

What are these risks we are trying to avoid? Sexually Transmitted Infections, of course! In the last few years, Maine has seen a distinct rise in the rate of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs for short, though they are sometimes referred to as Sexually Transmitted Diseases or STDs).

Common Sexually Transmitted Infections:

STIs are quite common, and there is no shame in having one. Most STIs are transmittable even when they are not presenting symptoms, so active prevention through barriers (like condoms and dental dams) is quite important. They are also generally easier to treat the sooner they are diagnosed, so routine testing is highly recommended. Below is a list of the most common STIs in Maine:

  • Chlamydia: around 4,000 new cases in Maine in 2015
  • Gonorrhea: around 420 new cases in Maine in 2015
  • Syphilis: around 50 new cases in Maine in 2015
  • HIV: around 50 new cases in Maine in 2015
  • Herpes: around 1 in every 4 people has genital herpes

Should I get tested?

If you have ever had sex or have been sexually assaulted, you are at risk for an STI and should consider getting tested. This is a routine, non-invasive procedure that can help keep you and your community be safer. People at particular risk are young people, those with multiple sexual partners, men who have sex with men, and people who use intravenous drugs (who have an increased risk for HIV and Hepatitis C). It is recommended that sexually active people and people who use drugs get routinely tested once every year and whenever they begin with a new sexual partner.

If you and your new partner plan to begin having unprotected sex or start using non-barrier based birth control, it is a good idea to get tested together before starting! It’s a quick and easy way to reduce your risk. Remember that many STIs don’t show physical symptoms, but can have long term negative health impacts (including increased risk of cancer, infertility, and complications during childbirth and pregnancy), so getting tested is an easy way to find out if you already have an STI.

Mabel Wadsworth Center provides STI testing and care, birth control services, LGBTQ+ healthcare, and mental health counseling in a client-centered and safe environment. Show your partner(s) you care about their wellbeing, and come get tested today!