STARS is an easy-to-remember acronym that helps to begin a conversation leading to consensual great sex.
STARS stands for STI Status, Turn-On’s, Avoids, Relationship Intentions and STI Etiquette.
By using STARS, you create a safe space for talking about subjects we often keep to ourselves, so… Make Time For The Talk!
Think of it as a way to check in with yourself about your needs, desires, boundaries, and any other aspects of your sexuality that are important for you and your partner to understand. It’s perfectly normal that these will change over time and with different partners.
At first, you may feel more comfortable emailing or texting the questions. You’ll find that the conversation becomes easier over time. You may not address it all in one sitting, but making these points known to your partner is fundamental to establishing good boundaries and understanding each other’s needs.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are caused by bacteria, parasites and viruses that are passed from person to person by sexual contact. Many of the bacteria and parasites can be treated with antibiotics or other medicines, but some are becoming resistant to these treatments. If you have an STI caused by a virus (such as HIV, Herpes Simplex and HPV), there is no cure, but medicines can generally keep the disease under controlled. Testing and knowing the status of one’s partner prior to sexual contact can reduce the risk of catching and spreading infections. Using condoms correctly greatly reduces, but does not completely eliminate, the risk of transmissions. There are more than 20 types of STIs, with the most common linked below.
To do the STI talk, start with your own information:
The last time I was tested for STIs was…
I was tested for…
My results were…
I get tested every…
I like my partners tested every…
Then, ask: “How about you?”
Gonorrhea can cause an infection in your genital tract, mouth, throat, or anus. Symptoms in men include penile discharge and pain with urination. In women, early symptoms are mild enough to go unnoticed, and may include vaginal discharge and pain during sex. Gonorrhea can often be treated successfully with antibiotics, but antibiotic-resistant strains are becoming more common.
Chlamydia can infect both men and women in a similar fashion as Gonorrhea. Symptoms may not appear for several weeks, if at all, and may include mild pain with urination and some discharge. Even without symptoms present, Chlamydia can be transmitted between sexual partners.
Oral Herpes (HSV1) Herpes simplex virus type 1 causes sores on your mouth (“cold sores”), which can spread to genitals through oral contact. HSV symptoms are called outbreaks because a painful blister lesion occurs. Most people get HSV1 during childhood and by kissing. It is thought that up to 80% of people have been exposed to or have HSV1.
Genital Herpes (HSV2) can cause sores on your genital or rectal area, buttocks, and thighs. HSV 2 is transmitted mainly through genital to genital contact when a person has a lesion but can occur without a lesion as well. It can take between 20 days and 6 months for a lesion to first occur. HSV remains in your body for life, and is controlled by your immune system’s ability to keep it suppressed. Correct use of condoms, antiviral medicines and a strong immune system can help lessen symptoms, decrease outbreaks, and lower the risk of passing the virus to others.
HPV: Human Papilloma Virus is the most common STI. It is so common that most people are exposed and infected by it by the age of 30, but the immune system is strong enough to fight it and it goes away without any signs or symptoms. HPV has many different strains, some of which are responsible for cervical, anal, mouth/throat cancers, genital warts and even benign warts on skin.
The best prevention against cervical cancer is to get vaccinated against the most lethal strains of HPV, to use condoms, and for women to get regularly screened for cervical cancer from ages 21 through 65. Vaccination against HPV is now recommended for all boys and girls starting at ages 11 or 12 years. Catch-up vaccines are recommended for males through age 21 (or age 26 for men who have sex with a men) and for females through age 26, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger.
Syphilis infections are on the increase, particularly in men who have sex with men. Symptoms can be divided into three stages. The first is a painless sore that can be confused for an ingrown hair, zipper cut, or other seemingly harmless bump. The sore can last from 3 to 6 weeks and heals regardless of whether or not you receive treatment. Syphilis sores can be hidden in the vagina, anus, under the foreskin of the penis, or in the mouth. Without treatment, syphilis infections move to the second stage, a non-itchy body rash that can show up on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet, all over your body, or in just a few places.
HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, weakens your immune system by destroying important cells (T-cells) that fight disease and infection. No effective cure exists for HIV but the infection can be controlled with antiviral medications. Over time the damage to the immune system makes it harder and harder for the body to fight off infections and some other diseases. Opportunistic infections or cancers take advantage of a very weak immune system and signal that the person has AIDS.Today, more tools than ever are available to prevent HIV. In addition to safe sex, you may be able to take advantage of newer medicines such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis(PEP).
How Often Should I Get Tested?
GC & Chlamydia: Annually for sexually active women 25 and younger. See below for people who are at higher risk.
Herpes Simplex Virus: Testing is only recommended when an outbreak occurs. You need to get tested early in the outbreak to be able to culture the shedding virus. An antibody test (type-specific serological test) is also available to check if your body has been previously exposed to HSV. Due to the high rate of false positives (a positive test result that is not truly positive) and the fact that medication has not shown a reduction for a future outbreak or spreading of disease, this testing is not currently recommended. If you are at higher risk of being exposed to HSV (multiple partners, men who have sex with men) then you may still want to know this information.
HPV: There is no test to find out a person’s “HPV status.” Also, there is no approved HPV test to find HPV in the mouth or throat. There are HPV tests that can be used to screen for cervical cancer. These tests are recommended for screening only in women aged 30 years and older. They are not recommended to screen men, adolescents, or women under the age of 30 years since a positive test is common and is usually cleared by the immune system by age 30.
Syphilis: Annually for men who have sex with men and people with HIV, with more frequent testing (every 3 to 6 months) if at increased risk * (see below). While there is no recommend testing for men and women without those risk factors, it is a good idea to be tested annually if you have any increased risk factors*.
HIV: CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. About 1 in 8 HIV-positive people in the United States don’t know they have it.
You are at increased risk and should be tested at least once a year if any of the following apply to you:
- Man who has had sex with other men
- Penetrative sex—anal or vaginal—with an HIV/Syphilis/Herpes 2/ other STI-positive partner
- More than one sexual partner since your last testing
- Injecting drugs and sharing needles or works (water/spoons/cotton) with others
- Exchanging sex for drugs or money
- Diagnosed with or sought treatment for another STI
- Having sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions or someone whose sexual history you don’t know
Neither you nor your partners are mind readers. Even people in long-term relationships can’t always tell what their partners want or desire. Learning how to be with a new partner requires openness to talking, listening, and observing. Expressing desires and exploring together can be one of the most exciting aspects of a developing sexual relationship, but even in a one-time encounter, letting the other person know in advance what you enjoy and can agree upon together will greatly improve the experience for both of you. As you question, explore, and grow sexually, you will discover that it can be an amazing tool for deepening your understanding of yourself.
My erogenous zones are: ____________________________________________________
I like to be caressed lightly here: _______________________________________________
I like firmer touch here: ______________________________________________________
A sexual fantasy I’d like to explore is: ___________________________________________
I like to hear these words: ____________________________________________________
I like it when my partner does this: ______________________________________________
I like it when my partner enjoys me doing this: _____________________________________
What’s off-limits for you? What should your partner avoid saying/touching/doing (or avoid asking you to say/touch/do)? Sometimes we know our triggers, and other times we discover them unintentionally. Situations like this can be confusing for both partners and if good communication isn’t established, new triggers and bad experiences can occur. Not everyone has triggers or an abuse history, but if you have a specific boundary or history of sexual abuse it is critical to express that up front. Something that is a “no” right now could change in the future, but being informed helps ensure that one partner doesn’t make assumptions that could negatively affect the experience for both of you.
Say – these words/phrases are off-limits: __________________________________________
Touch – these areas of my body are off-limits: ______________________________________
Do – these activities are off-limits: _______________________________________________
People hook up for a variety of reasons. State clearly what you’re looking for and understand that your partner has their own agenda as well. If it feels like your and your partner’s intentions are out of synch, at least you’re both making an informed decision if you decide to proceed. Being aware of your intentions and stating them clearly can save you both disappointment and/or hurt feelings. If you already have another partner, or partners, it is important to disclose those relationship agreements with any new partners. If you do not have agreements with them, how do you see yourself with this new partner? This is also a good place to discuss how you like to communicate and expectations for that. By text? Phone? In person? How often? Limitations?
Practicing safe sex can protect you from STIs and unwanted pregnancy.
Both male and female condoms are an excellent option for safe oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Wearing latex or nitrile gloves during vaginal/anal play creates a hygenic barrier between sensitive membranes and dirty fingernails. Dental dams or plastic wrap can be used as barriers during oral play around vaginal/anal areas. Both you and your partner should be clear on your choices, as well as the back-up plan if your chosen method should fail.
tl;dr Condoms can be 98% effective at preventing pregnancy, but common misuse decreases that to 82%.
Condoms are effective because they block contact with body fluids that cause STIs and pregnancy. In the USA, the actual breakage rate is a low two percent. Most reports of condom failure are the result of inconsistent or incorrect use, not breakage. Forty percent of male college students recently surveyed reported that, within the previous three months, they had not left space for ejaculate at the tip of a condom, and fifteen percent had taken a condom off before completing intercourse. Of one hundred women whose partners use condoms correctly, only two will become pregnant in a twelve-month period. However, if condoms are used inconsistently or imperfectly, the number of pregnancies jumps to eighteen out of one hundred. Additional advantages of condoms for safe sex include low cost, easy access, simple disposal, minimal side effects, and longer-lasting foreplay.
Other forms of birth control, and their effectiveness, include:
- Oral contraceptive pill (combined hormones), 92% effective
- Nexplanon contraceptive implant, 99% effective
- NuvaRing contraceptive vaginal ring, 92% effective
- Evra contraceptive patch, 92% effective
- Mirena and Skyla IUD (intrauterine device, with hormones), 99.9% effective,
- Paragard Copper-T IUD (intrauterine device, without hormones), 99.2 % effective
- Depo-Provera injectable progesterone, 97% effective
- Rhythm Methodertility awareness, 75% effective
- Withdrawal, 73% effective
- No protection, 15% effective