Q: How safe is "safe sex"? A: Few professionals are using the phrase "safe sex" anymore; most have switched to saying "safer sex" because condoms do not provide 100% protection. If they are used correctly and consistently (every time any sexual contact occurs), condoms can reduce the risk of transmitting most STDs, but they work differently against different STDs. They are most effective against HIV but much less effective against other infections, especially STDs that are spread by skin-to-skin contact, like Herpes. For those, the infected area is often not covered by a condom, which means the condom is doing nothing to prevent transmission of that STD. The only way to completely avoid risk of STDs is to wait to be involved in sexual activity until you are in a faithful, lifelong relationship (like marriage) with an uninfected partner.

Q: Is oral sex considered safe? A: While oral sex does not put you at risk for pregnancy, it does still put you at risk for STDs and for the emotional consequences of sex. STDs are contracted through the exchange of body fluids or skin-to-skin contact. Every STD you can get through vaginal sex can also be spread through oral sex. Oral sex is not safe sex.

Q: If I have sex at an early age but don't get pregnant or get an STD, how could it affect me? A: Having sex at an early age often has an intense emotional impact on the people involved. In particular, breaking up can cause serious emotional pain including anxiety, heartache, guilt, and regret.

Q: If you aren't religious, why wouldn't you have sex before you're married? A: Regardless of spiritual beliefs, the healthiest choice for anyone is to wait until they are in a faithful, lifelong relationship to have sex. Outside of that relationship, there are risks associated with sex, including STDs, unplanned pregnancy, and intense emotions that can make it hard when the relationship ends. Without a formal commitment like marriage, relationships have some level of insecurity because either person can leave at any time. Many people decide that these risks aren't worth it, and choose to wait.

Q: How can I know if my boyfriend really loves me or is just with me for sex? A: One way to find out about his sincerity is to stop having sex. You don't want to use sex as a way to get something from him. But you are exposing yourself to risks, and your concern about his motives strongly suggests that putting sex off is a good plan. If he really cares about you, your guy will respect your feelings and not pressure you. If you're doubting his feelings, think about how else he shows you he cares, besides physically. When you spend time alone together, is it always physical? Does he say nice things to you, talk with you about his life, care when you're going through a hard time, plan fun (non-sexual) things for you to do together, and otherwise treat you well? If not, don't sell yourself short, girl - you can do better!

Q: If we are committed to each other and living together, why should we wait to have sex until marriage? A: While many couples believe that living together is a good way to 'test drive' what it's like to be married, studies show that couples living together have more arguments and relationships are marked by less stability than married couples (Ref 1). Affairs are twice as common among couples who live together than among married couples (Ref 2). Commitment involves more than living together- it is a deep, lasting bond between two people who are willing to stay with each other for the long haul through whatever life brings.

(1) Stets, Jan E. The Link Between Past and Present Intimate Relationships. Journal of Family Issues. 1993: 14, p 236-60. (2) Treas J and Geisen D. Sexual infidelity among married and cohabiting Americans. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 2000: v 62, p 48-60.

Q: My boyfriend and I have been having sex but I want to stop. I'm afraid he'll break up with me. What should I do? A: You can always choose to stop having sex, regardless of your choices in the past. If your boyfriend really respects and loves you, he'll know that you're worth the wait.

It can be hard to stop having sex once you've started, but it's definitely possible if you think about your reasons ahead of time and are prepared to slow things down if you feel pressure from him or from within yourself. If your guy really cares about you, he'll respect your choice and wait for you. If not, think seriously if you'd be better off without him. What’s the worst that could happen when you have sex? Probably, if you’re like most everyone else, you’re worried about getting pregnant. But did you know that every single time you have sex, you’re actually 4 times more likely to get an STD than you are of getting pregnant?