What is safe sex?
Safe sex means doing things that will reduce your risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI), or an unplanned preganancy, and where you and your sexual partner/s feel safe and comfortable. Safe sex means using condoms and water based lubricants as well as a range of other things you can do during sex to help reduce the risk of catching or passing on STIs or HIV.
Why have safe sex?
Safe sex is the best way of protecting you and your sexual partner/s from STIs, including HIV. Remember that you can have an STI and not show any symptoms, but still pass them on to other people. There are very good reasons why sexually active people need to practice safe sex including:
- You can't tell whether someone has an STI based on how they look, dress, behave or who they have slept with.
- Practicing safe sex provides you with peace of mind.
- Thinking 'it won't happen to me' provies no protection.
- Some STIs are quite common and using condoms will reduce the risk on an infection.
- People with HIV or STIs often don't know they are infected.
- STIs and HIV exist in all countries and cultures and can affect anyone.
- Condom and water based lubricants are easy to use and prevent STI and HIV transmission.
- Safe sex protects you from unintended pregnancies.
What STIs could I get from unsafe sex?
Chlamydia, genital warts, herpes and gonorrhoea are the most common sexually transmitted infections causing genital symptoms. Hepatitis B, HIV and syphilis can also be transmitted sexually. In addition, pubic lice (crabs), scabies, and other less common infections can also be sexually transmitted. Click here to learn about each STI; transmission, signs and symptoms, treatment and prevention.
How can I protect myself from STIs?
You can reduce your chance of infection greatly by using a condom. To find out more about condoms and how to use them, click here.
The female condom is an alternative to the male condom as an effective barrier to STIs during vaginal and anal sex. They:
- are designed to fit all women and suitable for all ages
- can be used during menstruation
- are made of polyurethane, not latex, and is pre-lubricated with a silicone based lubricant. People who are allergic to the latex used in male condoms or to the ingredients in water-based lubricants can use it. Oil based lubricants can also be used with the female condom.
- can be inserted well in advance of sexual penetration if preferred.
- conduct heat, so sex can feel more sensitive.
- Can't be used with a male condom, because this can cause the female condom to move out of place or the male condom to slip off.
Safe Oral Sex
Oral sex is less risky when it comes to getting or transmitting an infection, but some STIs can still be passed on through oral sex. To be as safe as possible:
- use condoms (try flavoured ones) for oral sex involving the penis
- use dental dams for oral-vaginal and oral-anal sex
- don't get semen or blood in your mouth
- avoid oral sex when you have mouth ulcers, bleeding gums or cold sores
- don't brish your teeth immediatley before oral sex
Using Dental Dams
A dental dam (or oral dam) is a very thin rectangular "satin-like" piece of latex. It gets its name from the protective shield dentists use during oral surgery.
Dental dams will reduce the risk of transmission of many STIs including HIV, but are not 100% effective.
While the thought of using a sheet of latex during oral sex may seem strange, dental dams are easy to use and don't decrease sensation during oral sex.
Other ways to prevent STIs and HIV are:
- To not have sex - you could consider doing other things like kissing, mutual masturbation, self pleasuring, touching or hugging, instead of having intercourse.
- To have sex only with one partner (and for your partner to only have sex with you)
- Both undertake a sexual health check-up including a HIV test early in the relationship to ensure neither of you has HIV or any STIs.
A Note on the Contraceptive Pill
The birth control pill, like most of the other contraceptive methods, prevents unplanned pregnancies, but does not protect against STIs. A sexually active person should always use a condom during sexual contact (vaginal intercourse, oral sex and anal intercourse) to reduce the chances of getting an STI. Click here to read more about contraceptive options.