Disclaimer: Always seek professional medical advice. A doctor did not write this article. Everybody has a different body that reacts differently to various products and irritants. This is to be read only a general introduction to the world of sexual hygiene.
Was it just me who missed the day in sex-ed when they gave out actual practical advice on sexual health? No?
It seems like secondary school sex education never got into discussing things in explicit terms. One might speculate that this is because it’s difficult for educators to justify comprehensive sexual health education to schools who stigmatise going beyond the “must know” details, or who see no point in educating students in stuff they’re supposedly too young to make use of. And of course, there’s no sex-ed session in most Australian tertiary learning environments.
But now is the time to go beyond the basic condom, pads, and tampons talk. Human sexuality is so much more diverse than penetrative sex, and the precautions and practices we can use in these numerous situations are simply not discussed. It’s time to break down some essential practices of sexual hygiene to ensure we’re staying safe and healthy in all our sexual adventures.
Peeing after sex is the one must-know tip my older sister gave me when I started thinking about sex. It’s one of the easiest techniques for preventing urinary tract infections (“UTIs”). This is pretty commonly known, even though it wasn’t taught in any sex-ed I attended. This is applicable to pretty much anyone with genitals! For people with vaginas, it’s even suggested to pee before and after any sexual interaction. That includes any sexual play involving genitals, not just penetrative sex. This helps to clear bacteria in the urinary system. UTIs can be experienced by people of most sexes, but female people are more at risk because of their shorter urethras. A UTI is an infection in one’s urinary system caused by the spread of certain bacteria. The most common symptoms are a persistent urge to pee even when your bladder is empty, a burning sensation when peeing, and cloudy urine. These can be treated by your doctor with a course of antibiotics.
Other important things to do for vagina-havers to prevent UTIs is always wiping front-to-back (so bacteria from the anus doesn’t spread to the vagina), avoid washing genital areas with anything except mild soap and water, wear breathable (cotton) underwear, and don’t sit around in sweaty or wet clothing.
Staying hydrated will help you pee more regularly, as well as contribute to natural lubrication for female people and sexual stamina.
CLEANING YOUR SEX TOYS!
We know how to wash our hair and brush our teeth because our families most likely taught us when we were young. But, there’s no trusted adult for guidance with cleaning sex toys, even though cleaning our sex toys is key to keeping ourselves safe and STI free. The rule of thumb is to always follow cleaning instructions on the packaging of your sex toys. A few key sex toy cleaning rules are:
• Always take out batteries before cleaning;
• Never submerge or wash electrical components, especially not in boiling water;
• Store toys in a dedicated container; and
• A light sex toy clean can involve washing with warm soapy water.
There’s no general rule for cleaning sex toys, however, as cleaning depends on the material. Here’s a quick list of common sex toy materials and advised cleaning advice iii:
• Glass: wash with soap and water.
• Stainless steel: place in dishwasher or boil in a 1:9 solution of bleach-to-water.
• Rigid plastic: clean with anti-bacterial soap and water.
• Silicone: put it in the top draw of your dishwasher, boil in water for 5-10 mins, wash with anti-bacterial soap and water.
• Rubber: use condoms on rubber toys, as they have a porous structure making them difficult to sanitise or disinfect.
• Cyberskin and vinyl: Yeah I’ve never heard of cyberskin either (or maybe I just haven’t been in enough sex shops yet!) but it is a soft, elastic thermoplastic that warms with friction and feels more like human skin than other materials. Wash this and vinyl with warm water and air-dry. You can also put some corn starch on it to prevent stickiness.
• Nylon: wash with anti-bacterial sensitive skin soap. You can even chuck these in the washing machine if you want!
• Leather: wipe down with a soapy cloth or leather cleanser.
This being said, there are some additional options for extra protection. You can buy universal sex toy cleaners to help prevent bacterial growth.
LUBE IT UP!
Material engineering students- I’m sure you’re all over this, so no worries here. For the rest of you, listen up: you have to use the right lubes for certain condoms or toys!
It’s always advisable to use the right lube for different types of sexual activity: vaginal, anal, or any other type of activity where reduced friction will make things more pleasant, or easier, during your first time trying out something new.
For example: Do not use silicone-based lube with sex toys made of silicone, because silicon lube will break down your silicon sex toys. I doubt you want to ruin your sex toy worth $50+. Also, not a good idea to use flavoured lubes for vaginal sex. Getting a nice flavour requires addition of glucose which can upset the bacterial balance of vaginas.
Here’s a list of different types of lubricants and their pros and cons
• Safe to use with silicone sex toys • Safe to use with all condom types • Doesn’t stain fabric • Sensitive skin friendly • Easy to wash off • Balanced pH- so won’t affect genital pH (particularly important for people with vaginas!)
Absorbs quickly into skin and body parts, so you may have to reapply during your session Safe to use with all condom types • Not the best option for anal sex because of the above, as that requires more lubrication than vaginal sex
• Great substitute for massage oil for your pregame • Can go longer without reapplying than with water-based lube
• Associated with a fungus called Candida, which precipitates yeast infections • Hard to wash out of sheets and fabrics • Not safest option for use with latex condoms
• Safe for condoms • Can go longer without reapplying then with water-based lube
• Not safe for use with silicone toys. Especially as the degradation can leave micro abrasions that are hard to clean, so can harbour bacteria • Stains sheets and fabric
There are, of course, other options out there, like petroleum-based lube or natural ingredients-based lube. Always be sure to check lubes for potential irritants like glucose and glycerine (which upset vaginal bacteria) and other ingredients that you know don’t work for you. The best advice, as always, is to talk to your GP or the medical professionals at MQ General Health who provide sexual health services.