With so many sexy visitors in town it can be easy to forget the basics of safe sex, as KARL ECCLESTON reports.

For many Mardi Gras is not only a time to party, it is also a time of exotic sexual encounters.

But while the mere thought of getting it on with a Copacabana banana or a Lithuanian leather-daddy is enough to leave some of us feeling hot under the collar, the influx of international tourists brings with it a greater responsibility for safe sex.

Thankfully these days attitudes to safe sex are about as global as Coca-Cola. Most international visitors to Mardi Gras hail from countries where attitudes to safe sex mirror attitudes here.

According to ACON Community Health director Geoff Honor the use of condoms and lube by guys to prevent transmission of HIV “is as basic to gay men keeping themselves safe in Canada, Germany, Britain, South Africa, NZ and elsewhere as it is here”.

But sometimes international visitors party harder and push their own boundaries, making themselves and others more vulnerable to risk.

Sometimes too, cultural differences can mean there are different perceptions of what safe sex means.

“In some countries no-condoms sex may imply participants are all HIV negative, while in other places no-condom sex can mean the reverse,” Honor said.

It is difficult too, Honor adds, to tell if there is an increase in STI infections around Mardi Gras.

“It’s often suggested [that there is an increase] but there really isn’t much evidence for spikes in STIs around Mardi Gras,” he said.

“Many STIs are asymptomatic and people don’t always test when they have just been infected which makes it even more difficult to track any pattern.”

Still, there is no doubt that the risk of acquiring an STI is higher during Mardi Gras, if only because there are so many people in the mood to play.

According to Honor, the best way to ensure you always have safe sex is to take the initiative yourself.

“Grab condoms and be the first to put them on.”

In Sydney, the safe-sex culture is well established, with condoms widely available from supermarkets, convenience stores and hotel vending machines.

In addition, many of the events and parties held as part of Mardi Gras provide free condoms and lube. All Sex-On-Premises Venues (SOPVs) provide the same.

Safe-sex guidelines can also be found at the ACON website as part of the Slip it on campaign. You can also order ACON’s HIV Basics kit from the website with information on reducing the risk of HIV transmission.

Whoever you do decide to get it on with, the important thing, Honor said, is to stay safe and enjoy yourself.

“Consider your boundaries and stick to them,” he said.

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