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Sexuality 101


History of Cultural Attitudes and Sexuality
Myths and Stereotypes
Practical Details
Sexually Transmitted Infections, HIV & AIDS
Birth Control & Pregnancy
Safer Sex
Sexuality Throughout the Lifespan
Sexuality and Health
Some Specifics
Erotica and Pornography
Spirituality and Sex
Sex Work



Many people have difficulty talking to health care providers, counselors, partners and, perhaps even staff at Positive Passions, about sexuality and sexual health for many reasons, even when they clearly are sexually active or are exploring ways of expressing their sexuality. Most people are not raised to discuss sexual matters openly, and when sexuality is taught, it is often done in negative terms. As people move through the stages of life, the dialogue regarding sex and sexuality will evolve and change; a conversation with a sexually active adolescent should differ significantly from a discussion with a married woman going through menopause.

Research suggests that communication about sex and sexuality with health care providers, counselors, and other professionals can improve sexual health. Effective communication has been correlated with increased use of condoms, whereas lack of communication about sex is a risk factor for HIV and STIs (sexually transmitted infections). Many service providers say they don’t broach sexuality issues because they lack the training and skills to deal with these concerns, are uncomfortable with the subject, fear offending the person, have no treatments or solutions to offer, or feel constrained by time. At the same time, 68 percent of people surveyed cited fear of embarrassing a service provider as a reason for not broaching sexuality issues. Clearly, discussing sexuality is difficult for many people – both those who provide service and people accessing services.

Communication between lovers is critical to healthy relationships. That said, there’s a world of difference between being pro-communication on paper and jumping the real-life hurdles in a real-life relationship. We’re raised to believe that sex shouldn’t be talked about. Some parents don’t provide any sex education at all for their kids, and those who do rarely even mention sexual diversity, various modes of sexual expression, and the communities that may be built around the sexually diverse individuals we work with. Without the words to discuss our sex lives, how will we live those lives responsibly? How can we learn those words?

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History of Cultural Attitudes and Sexuality

The social construction of sexual behavior—its taboos, regulation and social and political impact—has had a profound effect on the various cultures of the world since prehistoric times.

The biological phenomenon that women become pregnant and give birth instead of men has shaped the formation of gender roles in world cultures. In the strict sense of "survival of the species", females are far more valuable than males. A single male can impregnate any number of females at once, while a single female is usually only impregnated by one male at a time. Even if there were only one man left on Earth, humankind could probably recover, depending on the man's health and fertility. The gene pool of the species would be somewhat impoverished, however, so the species would be less able to adapt to changes in its environment. On the other hand, if all but one female were wiped out, it is doubtful humanity could recover.

For this reason, classical anthropology claims that species survival has generally dictated that the male be the one to leave the cave, village, or home and go out and face "the dangerous world", and "bring home the bacon", while the female stayed in the safety of the home and took care of the offspring. However, research on hunter-gatherer societies shows that in terms of supplying food the females usually gather the far larger part of it.

In fact, it appears that even in early historical times, it was not clear that there was any male role in reproduction - there is no immediate correlation between sex and reproduction due to the delay in the obvious signs of pregnancy. It appears there were not even any male gods in the early Greek pantheon. However, all civilizations hit upon the concept of male reproduction and, even more importantly, male paternity, most likely from the correlation seen during the development of animal husbandry. The discovery of male paternity led to concepts such as male fathership of children, the importance of ensuring fidelity, the role of marriage as proof of paternity, and holding individual males responsible for the support of their offspring.

This division has shaped many of the gender roles that survive to modern times. As humans have gained increased mastery of the environment, these divisions become less and less relevant, but change, while it is taking place, happens gradually.

Interestingly, while the reverse is often not true, much of the history of different-gender sexuality and romance may be read from the history of same-sex sexuality and romance. The term "homosexuality" was invented in the 19th century, with the term "heterosexuality" invented later in the same century to contrast with the earlier term. The term "bisexuality" was invented in the 20th century as sexual identities became defined by the predominate sex to which people are attracted and thus a label was needed for those who are not predominantly attracted to one sex. This points out that the history of sexuality is not solely the history of different-sex sexuality plus the history of same-sex sexuality, but a broader conception viewing of historical events in light of our modern concept or concepts of sexuality taken at its most broad and/or literal definitions.

Freud, among others, argued that neither predominantly different- nor same-sex sexuality were the norm, instead that what is called "bisexuality" is the normal human condition thwarted by society. A 1901 medical dictionary lists heterosexuality as "perverted" different-sex attraction, while by the 1960's its use in all forums referred to "normal" different-sex sexuality. In 1948 Alfred Kinsey published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, popularly known as the Kinsey Reports.

Homosexuality was deemed to be a psychiatric disorder for many years, although the studies this theory was based on were later determined to be flawed. In 1982 homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in the United Kingdom. In 1986 all references to homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder were removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association

The sexual revolution was a substantial change in sexual morality and sexual behaviour throughout the West in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One factor in the change of values pertaining to sexual activities was the improvement of the technologies used for the control of fertility. Prime among them, at that time, was the birth control pill. During the Sexual Revolution, the different-sex sexual ideal became completely separated from procreation, yet at the same time was distanced from same-sex sexuality. Many people viewed this freeing of different-sex sexuality as leading to more freedom for same-sex sexuality.

Although not the case in every culture, most religious practices contain taboos or fetishes in regard to sex, sex organs and the reproductive process. With the rise of government and laws, personal behaviors, including sex, became increasingly politicized. The politics (and, therefore, laws) in regards to sex vary widely. In several countries (and different states of countries) there are or were, laws, both civil and religious, forbidding some sexual practices or to forbid sexual intercourse between partners of difference races. Laws that forbid engaging sex with a person younger than a fixed age are very common.

Scientific and technological advances have significantly affected the enjoyment and outcomes of sex, especially in recent history. Sex toys such as vibrators were introduced to the market in the late 1880s, some 10 years before domestic vacuum cleaners. More recently, Internet sites dealing in sexual images developed the infrastructure for Internet commerce well in advance of most other sectors. The evolution of various methods of birth control has also had a profound influence of society’s views on sex and sexuality, as have the emergence of reproductive technologies, such as donor insemination, infertility treatments, and in vitro fertilization.

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Myths and Stereotypes

The messages we receive about sex from our parents, the media, and our educational, social, and religious institutions tend to be contradictory, and often downright false. One way to combat the lies we’re told about sex is to start cataloguing them. Below is a very incomplete list of some of the biggest lies we’re told about sex.

Sex is genetic: it’s the puppet-master and we’re lucky to be getting our strings pulled now and then.

Because procreation is tied to our species survival, evolutionary scientists and pop psychologists alike argue that the most important understanding of sexuality is the one that links our sexual behavior to procreation. Thus we are told that male sexuality is voracious and dangerous, that female sexuality is a side effect of the need for women to have babies, and that the psychological, emotional, and spiritual aspects of sexuality are not as important as the genetic ones. There is clearly a genetic component to sex, but that doesn’t mean that this is either the most useful or “truest” perspective from which to think about our sexuality.

Sex is natural and simple: you should just know how to do it.

Sex is natural, we’re told, because we have to do it to survive. But this doesn’t accurately describe what human sexuality has become. Intercourse may be instinctual for some (but clearly not all) of us, but sexuality is much more than intercourse, and none of it actually comes easily. It’s it strange that we are taught how to perform most other basic human behaviors (how to eat, how to communicate, how to go to the bathroom) and as we get older we learn the more complicated ones (how to read, write, drive a car, work) and yet we’re just supposed to know how to have sex.

Sex is gender: men are from sex crazed mars women are from soft and romantic venus.

This lie takes many forms:

  • Women just want to cuddle, men want to have raunchy sex.

  • Women are sexual communicators, men can’t talk about their sexual feelings.

  • ”Real sex” takes place between a man and a woman.

  • Men and women can’t ever be friends, sex always gets in the way.

  • Men want sex all the time, and women don’t.

  • Men are more visual than women when it comes to sexual arousal.

All of these are variations on the big double-shot sex lie; that sex is 100 percent tied to our gender, and we are all only one gender. The fact is that how we think about, feel about, and actually have sex is infinitely more complicated than which door we walk through in a public washroom.

Sex is spontaneous: don’t talk about it, just do it.

When you think of it, this lie about sex doesn’t make any sense. If sex is meant to be something fun and exciting, something that makes you feel good about your body and yourself, makes you feel loved and attended to, why would planning for sex ever be a bad thing? Wouldn’t it actually be nice to know you’re going to get to have sex at the end of a particularly hard day? Yet we’re told that the most exciting sex is the sex that “just happens”. In reality sex rarely “just happens”. It’s true that many couples never talk about sex beforehand, but that doesn’t mean that one (or more likely both) partners aren’t thinking about it, wondering when they’re going to have it next, and fantasizing about what kind of sex it will be.

Bigger is better, more is better…better is better.

These statements are true for some people, some of the time. The specific lie we’re told is that these things are true for everyone, all of the time. In reality people have size preferences that change depending on their mood and what sort of sex they want to have. Similarly, we all have different levels of sexual desire, and these levels can change throughout the month, and over the years. Finally, there is a more contemporary lie that tells us we should always be reaching for better sex, trying new things, pushing ourselves and our partners to attain new heights of great sex. Some researchers have pointed out that this competitive attitude can have the opposite effect, making us anxious and on edge about the sex we’re having.

Sex is special: it’s a rare transformative moment that only comes once in a while.

On the one hand it’s true that sex can be transformative and that some of us don’t get to have sex as often as we’d like, but on the other hand, sex is an incredibly common and regular occurrence. Yet many of us are raised to think of sex like it’s a non-renewable resource that’s about to dry up. If instead we put sex in its place among all our other activities of daily living and all the ways we communicate with the people around us, we might have a lot less anxiety about how we’re doing it, when we’re doing it, if we’re doing it right, and who we’re doing it with. Sex doesn’t need to be treated with kid gloves, it can take it, if we start to dish it out.

We can make it on our own: sexual agency is the same as sexual independence.

We can thank the mostly positive influence of the women’s movement on sexual expression for this subtle lie. What’s true is that we all have a right to sexual agency; to experience sexual pleasure on our own terms, think sexual thoughts, and have sexual desires separate from those around us. But the silent lie is that sexual agency equals complete independence. In truth, none of us are completely independent from those around us, and we rely on others in ways few of us acknowledge. Among the few people who have managed to really figure this out are folks living with disabilities who require assistance with regular daily activities. When you rely on others for some form of help it becomes very apparent the way we are all connected. If you don’t, you can go through life imagining that you’d be fine without anyone around. Yet even masturbation, which is often fueled by sexual fantasy, requires some external stimulation (even if you’re only dreaming of the UPS guy or gal, they’re still involved to some extent).

There’s a right way and a wrong way to have sex.

Whether we’re being told we have to do it with someone else (masturbation isn’t “real” sex), we have to do it with someone of the opposite sex, we have to do it in a bed, 2.5 times a week, or some other form of this lie, there are no lack of people who want to feed you the lie that there is only one (or two) right ways to have sex. The truth is that there are no rules (beyond age and consent) to how you can have healthy and fun sex. Whenever you catch someone feeding you this lie, call them on it.

Great sex is all about…

Is it about sexual technique? Is it sexual communication? Is it the “spark”, or the bed sheets, or the sex toys, or the weather system? Amazon lists over 150 books with great sex in the title, each one offering you an endless stream of advice on what constitutes great sex. It’s no lie that great sex can be had, but the lie is that one person’s great sex will be your great sex. Great sex probably isn’t like a great chocolate chip cookie recipe, which works best if you follow the directions to the letter. Learning more about sex can probably only add to your experience of good sex, but in the absence of any proof, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that great sex happens in the way you uniquely put it all together, not in following a step by step guide book written by someone whose main goal is to sell you a book.

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Practical Details

The Physiology of Pleasure

Sexual pleasure involves a lot more than just what's in your -- or your friend's -- pants, but getting to know "the lay of the land" sure doesn't hurt. The truth is, we can experience more pleasure in our sexual encounters if we're better informed about genital sensation. Here are a couple of maps to get you started.


Genitalia -- female, male, transgender and intersexed -- all vary greatly in size, shape, color and response to stimulation. The female external genitalia are referred to as the vulva. This includes the outer lips (or labia), the inner lips, the clitoris and the vaginal opening. Men's external genitalia consist of the penis and scrotum. One to two people out of every thousand are born intersexed, yet surgeons alter most at birth. These individuals are born with genetic or hormonal variations that may affect their genitals, gonads and other characteristics. Intersexed people can have both female and male genitalia in varying combinations, or genitals that are ambiguous. A transgender person is someone born with a body that doesn't accurately reflect the gender they feel themselves to be, and may possess any of the above sets of genitalia. Transgender and intersex folks may name or define their genitalia in any way they feel is accurate. We're all born with bundles of nerve endings in different packages -- how we think of them, what we do with them, and what feels great varies according to the individual.

Some transgender people choose to pursue hormone therapy and/or sexual reassignment surgery. In male-to-female surgery, the penis is turned inside out so that the walls of the vagina are the former penis shaft, and the sensitive corona of the penis is used to create the clitoris. At present, female-to-male transsexuals can choose between two operations: phalloplasty and metoidioplasty. In phalloplasty a penis is surgically constructed from skin grafts and the clitoris is left at the base of the new penis (above the scrotum) to allow for sexual stimulation. Metoidioplasty involves releasing the testosterone-enlarged clitoris from its hood and creating a scrotum out of the labia majora. The resulting penis can be smaller than one built through phalloplasty but retains sensitivity, whereas a penis created through skin grafts can have limited sensation. Hormones can be taken before or after surgery, and some folks opt to take hormones and have no surgery. The introduction of new hormones into a body causes a variety of physiological changes, including enlargement of the clitoris and shrinkage of the breasts (female to male) and enlargement of the breasts with shrinkage of the penis (male to female). While some transsexual and transgender people may experience a reduction of sex drive when they begin to take hormones, others will find that their level of arousal increases sharply. Often, these changes in sex drive occur in the first few years of hormone therapy, with the changes leveling out over time.

Pleasure Inside the Body

The walls of the vagina rest against each other most of the time, yet when aroused can expand to varying degrees to accommodate what feels best, from fingers to large dildos. The outer third is more sensitive than the rest of the vagina and responds well to friction and vibration; the inner two-thirds are smoother, contain fewer nerve endings and are more responsive to pressure and motion. When stimulated the vagina usually self-lubricates; however, lubrication should not necessarily be measured as a sign of arousal, since a woman's natural lubrication can vary for many reasons.

Female Genitalia

The base of the penis extends inside the body, and pressing your fingers against the area between testicles and anus you can feel the root, or bulb. This area can be pleasurable to touch and is stimulated either through the skin or from within the anus.

Male Genitalia

G-Spot, Prostate, & Ejaculation

The G-spot is the spongy, ridged area on the front wall of the vagina (towards the bellybutton). It is loaded with nerve endings and is an erogenous zone for many women -- yet for some, stimulation of this area may be irritating and unpleasant. The G-spot can best be massaged by inserting a finger, penis or curved sex toy two to three inches into the vagina and stroking towards the front of the body with a "come hither" motion. Some women require quite a bit of pressure; it helps to use a lubricant so the pressure does not feel irritating. Of those who greatly enjoy this type of stimulation, some women experience an ejaculation of fluid upon orgasm or as part of arousal. This fluid is a product of the paraurethral sponge, is clear and odorless, and should not be confused with urine.

In the male, the prostate gland is comparable to the G-spot.

The prostate is an internal organ that produces ejaculatory fluid and is tucked close to the root of the penis. Ejaculation is often considered the same as orgasm, yet some men can have orgasms without releasing ejaculatory fluid, and vice-versa. The prostate is a source of great pleasure for many men -- some have orgasms from its stimulation alone -- and it can be used to enhance genital stimulation, though for some this may feel unpleasant. The prostate can best be massaged by inserting a finger two to three inches into the anus and stroking towards the front of the body with a "come hither" motion, exactly as you would for a G-spot stroke within the vagina. When aroused, the prostate swells and hardens, becoming more receptive to firm stimulation.

Anal Pleasure

The anus, richly endowed with nerve endings, is the closest erogenous neighbor of the genitals and contracts rhythmically during orgasm. Stimulating the anus can indirectly stimulate the penile or clitoral legs (see next paragraph on external touching and masturbation), or can directly stimulate the prostate gland. Inside, there are two sphincter muscles. The external muscle can be tensed at will, while the internal muscle can tense automatically, even if you are trying to relax. When stimulating the anus use plenty of lubrication and go very slowly, always listening to the feedback of the person who is being penetrated. With the anus there are particular safety concerns. Rectal tissue is very thin and does not self-lubricate, so it can tear easily (make sure to use lots of lube), and it's important not to insert anything that might break or have sharp edges. Also, the involuntary expanding and contracting of the sphincter muscle can quickly pull in (as well as push out) anything you're inserting, so be sure that the item you use has a flared base to prevent it from "getting lost" in the anal canal. Not everyone enjoys anal stimulation, but those who do find it adds an extra dimension to their sexual repertoire.

External Touching & Masturbation

The clitoris and head of the penis contain concentrated bundles of nerve endings that respond pleasurably to touch and other types of stimulation. The clitoris is tucked under folds of skin where the top of the labia meet, and pulling back the skin will usually reveal what is referred to as the clitoral glans, or head. (In some women the glans is obscured by the hood.) The visible part of the clitoris is just the tip of the iceberg. Directly beneath the surface of the glans is something that feels like a short rod of cartilage. This is the clitoral shaft. Inside the body, the clitoral shaft separates into two legs that extend in a wishbone fashion for about three inches on either side of the vaginal opening. The entire clitoris consists of erectile tissue just like the erectile tissue of the penis. During sexual arousal the tissue fills with blood, and the glans, shaft and legs swell, becoming firm and sensitive. In many cases the swelling -- or erection -- of the clitoris is visible. Because of the internal position of the legs, when you stimulate the urethra, vagina or anus, you indirectly stimulate the clitoris as well.

The head of the penis (also called the glans) is more sensitive than the shaft, particularly around the coronal ridge. The coronal ridge is comparable to the tip of the clitoris. Spongy erectile tissue and blood vessels run the length of the penis, and extend into the body. These separate into two legs, comparable to the legs of the clitoris. During sexual arousal erection may occur when this tissue fills with blood and the penis swells, becoming more firm and sensitive. Erection, however, is not always a measure of arousal. All men are born with a foreskin, a retractable nerve-rich hood covering the head of the penis. Some men are circumcised, meaning that this skin covering has been cut off. Since an uncircumcised glans is protected by a foreskin, it is usually more sensitive when exposed. Stimulation of the foreskin itself can be very pleasurable.

Some men find stimulation of the urethral opening -- where urine comes out -- pleasant, while others find it irritating. When a man is aroused, the urethral opening can lubricate itself with a clear substance called pre-ejaculate. The ridge of skin running from the underside of the head, down the shaft and along the middle of the scrotum to the anus is also sensitive to touch, and touching here can be quite pleasurable.

The scrotum is the loose sac of skin and muscle hanging below the penis, containing the testicles. The testicles are very sensitive, and though even light tapping on them may be painful, for some men firm pressure, steady pulling or squeezing the scrotum can feel good.

Many folks learn their capacity for pleasure and orgasm by investigating what feels good when they touch themselves. What feels right at a particular time or age may change, and masturbation techniques can be explored throughout the course of our lifetimes. No matter the physical stage of the individual, all people can have rewarding sex lives whether solo or partnered.

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Sexually Transmitted Infections, HIV, & AIDS

The easiest way to get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is through unprotected sexual intercourse (ie. NOT using a condom, dental dam, or other barrier). STIs can be spread through vaginal, oral or anal sex as well as through outercourse. 


Chlamydia is a very common STI that is caused by a bacteria. If treated early, chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics. Chlamydia can be very serious if left untreated. In women, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause infertility or to tubal pregnancy (pregnancy in the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus). In men, the infection may cause sterility (not being able to father a child). Symptoms may include an unusual discharge.  However many men and women don't have any symptoms, and can pass the infection without realizing it. If you are being treated for chlamydia your sex partner or partners should be treated as well.  By taking a swap of the suspected infected area, physicians will be able to test for chlamydia.

Crabs/Pubic Lice or Scabies

Crabs are small lice that live in pubic hair and sometimes in the hair of the armpits, eyelashes and eyebrows. You can get them by close physical contact with someone who has them, or by sharing bedding, towels or clothes with someone who has them.

You will feel intense itching caused when the lice bite you. You may also notice small black spots or minute bloodstains on your underwear. You can also feel their eggs -- little bumps at the base of the hair.

Crabs can be cured, by using a non-prescription lotion or shampoo that you can get from the drugstore, clinic or your doctor. You will also need to use a fine-toothed comb or your fingernails to scrape the eggs off your hairs. Your sexual partner or anyone that you share clothing or a bed with will also need to get treated. After treatment, you need to wash all clothing, towels and bedding in hot water to get rid of any eggs.

Scabies, often called "the Itch", are tiny mites, or members of the spider family. They are too small to see, but you will feel them as intense itching. The female lays her eggs inside the skin of the hands, wrists or genital area. This leaves marks that look like scratches. The mites are spread through any body contact. Using a special lotion on the whole body will usually get rid of them.


Gonorrhea is caused by a bacterial infection and is easily passed from person to person during vaginal or anal intercourse, or oral sex. It can affect the penis, cervix (opening to the uterus), rectum or anus, throat and eyes. Painful sex, urination or unusual discharge may be indications of a gonorrheal infection.  Gonorrhea must be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, it may cause serious health problems, including infertility, or it can cause blindness in a baby born to an infected woman.  If you think you may be infected, a swap of the area may be tested.

If you have gonorrhea, all your recent sex partners need to be tested too. You can tell partners yourself, or the Public Health Unit can do it for you without mentioning your name.


Herpes is a common viral infection that is spread through skin to skin contact (including vaginal, anal and oral sex) with an infected person. The Virus may also be transmitted to a child during childbirth.  The virus can cause blisters or sores; however a person can be infected with herpes without having any sores. Many people who are infected with herpes are not aware that they have it. Herpes can be spread to a sexual partner even if sores are not visible. The most risky time for sexual transmission of herpes to occur is when sores are present. The sores heal, but new outbreaks of sores can occur. Medications can help reduce the incidence of herpes sores, but herpes cannot be cured. However, herpes is a manageable infection. In some communities, herpes support groups operate to help people who are living with the infection.

HPV and Genital Warts

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a common viral infection that is spread through skin to skin contact with an infected person. Some forms of HPV cause genital warts. Other forms of HPV can lead to cervical cancer in women. It is important for women who have been diagnosed with HPV to get regular pap smears.

Health Canada has recently approved a vaccine against four strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV).  Marketed by Merck Frosst Canada under the name Gardasil, the new HPV vaccine has been shown to be effective against HPV strains 16 and 18, which cause 70% of cases of cervical cancer, and against HPV strains 6 and 11.  In total, these four strains of HPV are thought to be the causes of 90% of cases of genital warts.

Gardasil, which has been approved for girls and women aged nine to 26, is expected to be available in Canadian pharmacies by the end of August. The vaccine needs to be given in three does over a six-month period; each dose is expected to cost about $135. Gardasil is not yet currently covered by any provincial health plans.

Despite the availability of a vaccine, HPV cannot be cured with medication. HPV can be spread through sexual contact, even if a person does not have any visible warts.  HPV may also be passed to a child during labour. Although the virus will still be in an individual's body, visible warts can be removed by a doctor. HPV is a manageable infection. In some communities, HPV support groups operate to help people who are living with the infection.

LGV (Lymphogranuloma Venereum)

LGV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that was, until recently uncommon in industrialized nations.  LGV is a bacterial infection that causes ulcers on the penis, vagina, vulva, sometimes the cervix and the anus. These sores can provide an opening for the contraction of other STI’s such as HIV, hepatitis and other infections that can be transmitted through the bloodstream.  LGV can be treated with antibiotics in its early stages in order to prevent more serious complications such as deformation of the rectum and/or genitals, swelling, or the increased risk of contracting other infections through the open sores. 

The initial symptoms of LGV during the 3-30 day incubation period include a papule (an elevation of the skin) at the site of transmission that can quickly turn into an ulcer.  The second stage of the infection involves the growth of a lesion, which is often accompanied with a fever.  The third stage, which is often more common in females is scarring and permanent damage to the genital area. 


Syphilis is a serious disease that is caused by bacteria. Syphilis can be spread from person to person during vaginal or anal intercourse, or oral sex. Syphilis must be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, syphilis can lead to permanent damage to your heart or brain, and can even cause death. It can also pass from a pregnant woman to her fetus, causing birth defects.

There are 3 stages to syphilis infection. The first signs of syphilis appear a few weeks after exposure and include a red sore or sores. Even though the sores disappear in a few weeks, the bacteria are still in the body and will begin to cause other problems including fatigue, fever and a skin rash. These symptoms will also disappear, but the bacterium is still attacking parts of your body.

The only way to know if you have syphilis is to get a blood test. You will need follow-up blood tests after treatment to make sure you are cured. If you find out you have syphilis, all of your sex partners must be tested and treated too. You can tell partners yourself, or the Public Health Unit can tell them for you without mentioning your name.


Trichomoniasis, also called "trich", is caused by a parasite that is usually passed from person to person during sexual contact. The parasite can also live up to 24 hours on wet clothing or towels, so it may be possible to pass it on by sharing these items.  By taking a swab of the vagina, the sample may be tested and diagnosed.

Trichomoniasis can be treated with medication. It is important that you and your sexual partner be treated at the same time, or trich will just pass back and forth between partners.

Vaginal Infections and Yeast

The vagina is always wet with fluid. This fluid is usually clear and white, and has very little smell. If there is an unusual discharge from the vagina (unusual colour or consistency, strong smell, excessive amount of discharge, discharge mixed with blood or itching) there may be a fungal imbalance in the vagina. There are different types of vaginal infections. One of the most common vaginal infections is caused by an overgrowth of yeast.

If you think you have a vaginal infection, you can get tested and treated by a doctor. If you have never had a yeast infection before, it is best to see a doctor.  A sample of the discharge is taken by a swab and analyzed.  If you know you have a yeast infection, you can get an over the counter treatment at the drugstore. If an infection doesn't clear up with treatment or if it comes back again, see a doctor. Sometimes, your sexual partner will need to be treated too, to stop the infection from being passed back and forth.

Here are some things you can do to help prevent vaginal infection:

  • Keep the outside of the vagina clean and dry.

  • Avoid perfumed or scented soaps, douches, tampons, sanitary napkins, sprays, or bath bubbles and oils.

  • Wear cotton underpants and pantyhose with a cotton-lined crotch.

  • Don't wear clothes or pajamas that are too tight in the crotch and thighs.

  • Avoid intercourse that hurts. Use a water based lubricant if more lubrication is needed.

  • Avoid sugar and caffeine.


AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, and HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. A person who has AIDS has one or more of about 21 different AIDS-related illnesses, or “opportunistic infections”. They have the HIV virus in their body. Having HIV is also called being "HIV-positive". HIV spreads through your body and attacks your immune system. This means that your body can't fight off illnesses. There is no known cure.

HIV is carried in blood, semen, fluids from the vagina, and breast milk. HIV can enter your body through even the tiniest cut or opening. People usually don't have any signs when they get HIV. Some people live for many years without getting AIDS-related illnesses. But people who have the HIV virus can pass it on through unprotected sexual activity or needle sharing even if they appear healthy! The virus can be also passed from an infected woman to her fetus, or by an infected mother who is breastfeeding her baby, although with specialized medical care, the risk of mother-to-child transmission can be as low as 1 – 2%.

You cannot get HIV through ordinary, day-to-day contact or touching a person who has AIDS, or through sharing cooking utensils. You won't get it by taking care of an infected person. And you can't get it by donating blood. Many sexual practices cannot spread HIV and are perfectly safe. Hugging, necking, petting and mutual masturbation are part of safer sex.

The only way to know if you have HIV is to get your blood tested for HIV antibodies; this test can be done by asking for it at any doctor’s office. In some places, you can also get an Anonymous HIV test where you don't have to give your name or health card number – in Saskatoon, this is done by appointment only at the Public Health Services Sexual Health Clinic, located on Idylwyld Drive at 24th Street. Their phone number is 655-4642.

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Birth Control & Pregnancy

Birth Control

There are many different forms of birth control available in Canada. There is no way to determine which is the ‘best form’ of birth control because everyone is different. Physical attributes, lifestyle, and personality all contribute to whether a certain type of contraception will work for an individual. So, instead we talk about fitting an individual with the best form of birth control for them. When choosing a form of contraceptive there are many things to be aware of and to consider, including:

  • Personal and family health history

  • Potential side effects and drug interactions

  • Suitability with your lifestyle (for example, can you remember to take a pill everyday or are you willing to plan ahead to use a diaphragm?)

  • Cost

  • Availability

For updated information regarding the various methods of birth control, their side effects, accessibility, and other information, visit Sexual Health Centre Saskatoon’s website: http://www.sexualhealthcentresaskatoon.ca/bc/birth_home.htm - SHCS also offers low-cost birth control at their office and clinic. For more information, call 244-7989 or visit their website.

Emergency Contraceptive Pill (ECP)

Emergency Contraceptive Pills (ECP) are a high dose birth control pill given by prescription. The most commonly used pill brand is Ovral. It will be prescribed in two doses of two pills each (total 4 pills). The first dose must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse. The second dose is taken 12 hours after the first dose. The sooner after unprotected sex ECP is taken, the more effective it is.

How it works . . .

Depending on where a woman is in her cycle, ECP will either:

1. Prevent ovulation

2. Prevent fertilization of an egg

3. Stop a fertilized egg from implanting into the uterine wall

All of the above occur before implantation, which, medically speaking, means that pregnancy does not occur. However, a woman should be clear on how this method works as some people feel that a fertilized egg does mean a pregnancy. Once the egg is implanted, ECPs will not work. They will not abort an established pregnancy.

Who shouldn’t take it . . .

Most women can use ECPs safely, even women who can’t normally take the birth control pill.

What are the side effects . . .

ECPs will sometimes cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, cramping, and/or breast tenderness.

Where to get it . . .

Women can access ECP at Sexual Health Centre Saskatoon (SHCS). They have two types. One is free and one costs $15.00. There are other places in Saskatoon where women can access ECPs at no charge (e.g. City Hospital, Royal University Hospital, some clinics). Always ask for a pro-choice Doctor. It is also available by prescription at most pharmacies. SHCS has a complete listing of where to get ECPs.

Pregnancy and Options

Decision-making around a pregnancy can be a stressful time.  You have options.  Make sure you know all of your choices and decide what you feel comfortable with before making your decision. 

Women of all ages, races, religions, economic, and marital status can be faced with an unplanned pregnancy. A woman may become pregnant because of inaccessible, unaffordable, or unreliable birth control methods - no birth control method is 100% effective. Sometimes women find it difficult to assert themselves in sexual situations and consequently are not able to protect themselves by using adequate birth control. Women may become pregnant against their will due to rape, incest, or other kinds of sexual coercion. A change in a woman’s life situation may cause her to re-evaluate her decision regarding her pregnancy.

Deciding whether to have a baby, adopt out or have an abortion can be a difficult decision. A woman needs to decide what she believes is responsible, moral and best for her depending on her needs, resources, commitments, and plans for the future. When making a decision about an unplanned pregnancy, all women deserve emotional support and a chance to reflect on accurate information.

If a woman is faced with an unplanned pregnancy she has three options:

  • Continue the pregnancy and parent the child

  • Continue the pregnancy and make adoption plans for the child

  • End the pregnancy (abortion)

Some women know almost immediately what they will do once they discover they are pregnant; for others the decision isn’t so clear. Although ultimately the decision is hers to make, there are various agencies and services that are available to offer information and support in choosing the option that is best for her.

The following list of questions is intended to promote thought about some of the issues women might want to keep in mind while making their decision.

Questions to consider...

  • How do you feel about being pregnant?

  • Do you know what your three options are? How much information do you know about your three options?

  • Do you have any religious or moral beliefs that will affect your decision? How important are these beliefs compared to your other values and goals?

  • What are your future plans? How will they be affected by each of the three options?

  • What is your financial situation? How would it be affected by each of the three options?

  • Do you know about help available to you in the community such as financial, legal and counseling support?

  • What is your relationship with the father of your baby? Have you discussed your options with the father?

  • Will the father be supportive of your decision both emotionally and financially?

  • Do you want your family and/or friends to have any input in your decision?

A woman may find that she is faced with pressure from her partner, family or friends to make a decision that they think is right. A woman may listen to what they are saying, but it is most important that she listen to her own feelings. She is the one who will be most affected by her decision.

Deciding to Parent

If a woman decides to parent, there are agencies in the community that offer many services to parents and their children. These services include: prenatal classes, parenting programs, housing assistance, financial and legal assistance, childcare and childcare subsidies, education and skill development.

Many second hand shops sell inexpensive adult and children’s clothes and furniture. Accept offers from family and friends to help with clothes, furniture, childcare, and meals. Look for help and support from as many people as possible during your pregnancy and especially once the baby is born.

During pregnancy is the time to get information about feeding, diapers, and other baby needs. Keep in mind that babies really only need the most basic clothes and equipment. If there is love and attention, warmth, food, and dry diapers the baby will thrive.

It is hard to be a new mother or father no matter what their age, financial situation or relationship. A demanding baby can be really stressful. It is normal to feel overwhelmed. Find ways to get a break from a fussy baby by asking family or friends for help. Try to make some time for yourself.

The Parent Help Line (1-800-603-9100 or www.parentsinfo.sympatico.ca) is a free 24-hour telephone and Internet service that gives parents a place to turn to for any parenting concerns.

Deciding on Adoption

Some women want to continue the pregnancy through to childbirth but feel for various reasons they are not able to give a child the necessary care and support it will need. They may feel they could not raise a child at this point in their lives. These women may decide that the best alternative is to place the baby for adoption.

Different Kinds of Adoption

There are a few different kinds of adoptions: Confidential/private, Mediated/semi-open, fully disclosed/open, and independent adoption. Each varies in levels of contact between birth and adoptive parents.

  • Confidential/Private:  Minimal information is shared between adoptive and birth family members and is never transmitted directly; exchange of information stops with the adoptive placement.

  • Mediated/Semi-open:  Non-identifying information is shared between parties through adoption agency personnel, who serve as go-betweens. Sharing could include the exchange of pictures, letters, gifts or infrequent meetings at which full identifying information is not revealed.

  • Fully Disclosed/Open:  Involves full disclosure of identifying information between adoptive and birth families; may involve direct meetings in each others’ homes or in public places, phone calls, letters and sometimes contact with the extended family.

Adoptions in Saskatchewan can be arranged privately (through a lawyer, when you know a couple you would like to adopt your baby) or through the Department of Community Resources (Saskatchewan government). If you’d like to work through the Department of Community Resources, contact the Teen and Young Parent Program, at 933-7751.

For more information about adoption, you can contact the local Department of Community Resources at 933-5961, or the Family Support Centre (also the number for the Teen and Young Parent Program) at 933-7751. Another good resource is the Adoption Support Centre of Saskatchewan. You can reach them at 665-7272, or toll free at 1-866-869-ASCS (2727), or online at http://www.sasktelwebsite.net/adoption/.

Deciding on Abortion

Abortions are safest when they are performed early in the pregnancy (between 7-13 weeks from the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period). In Saskatchewan abortion is available up to the 16th week of pregnancy (12 weeks in Saskatoon, 16 weeks in Regina) and is covered under Saskatchewan Health. Outside of Saskatchewan: Alberta up to 20 weeks (covered by SaskHealth) and in some clinics in the United States up to 24 weeks (not covered).

If abortion is one of the options a woman is considering, she should be aware there are agencies and groups strongly opposed to this option. Check carefully when she is calling for help. Ask what the agency’s policy is regarding abortion. Look for an agency that will respect your right to choose.

Warning: All abortions must be performed by an experienced doctor under sterile conditions. Abortions that are self-induced or performed by unqualified people are extremely dangerous and sometimes fatal.

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1Adapted from: “Communication and Sexuality” at Gay Men Play Safe (http://www.gaymenplaysafe.com/sexinfo/communication.php).

2This section adapted from “History of Human Sexuality”, retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/History_of_sex

3Source: Lies We’re Told About Sex, by Cory Silverberg. http://sexuality.about.com/ od/sexinformation/a/sex_lies.htm

4Source: “The Physiology of Pleasure”, http://www.goodvibes.com/Content--The-Physiology-of-Pleasure--id-735.

5Adapted from: “Sexually Transmitted Infections”, Canadian Federation for Sexual Health (http://www.cfsh.ca/ppfc/content.asp?articleid=479).

6Adapted from “Pregnant and Undecided: It’s Your Choice”, published by Sexual Health Centre Saskatoon (http://www.sexualhealthcentresaskatoon.ca/preg/preg_home.htm).

7Adapted from “Pregnant and Undecided: It’s Your Choice”, published by Sexual Health Centre Saskatoon (http://www.sexualhealthcentresaskatoon.ca/preg/preg_home.htm).