'Safe sex' is having sexual contact while protecting yourself and your sexual partner against sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy.. Sexual contact that doesn't involve the exchange of semen, vaginal fluids or blood between partners is considered to be safe sex.
‘Safe sex’ is having sexual contact while protecting yourself and your sexual partner against sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy. Sexual contact that doesn’t involve the exchange of semen, vaginal fluids or blood between partners is considered to be safe sex.
Unsafe sex may put you or your partner at risk of STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, HIV or hepatitis B, or result in an unplanned pregnancy.
Using condoms to stay safe
Condoms offer the best available protection against STIs by acting as a physical barrier to prevent the exchange of semen, vaginal fluids or blood between partners. Safe sex is also called ‘safer sex’ to highlight the fact that condoms and other barrier methods are not 100 per cent effective in preventing STIs. However, condoms do offer the best available protection when used correctly.
For vaginal, anal and oral sex, you should use condoms. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The male condom is a fine, strong, latex rubber sheath available in a variety of sizes and styles. Condoms made from polyurethane are available for people allergic to latex.
- The female condom resembles a regular condom made of polyurethane designed to fit inside the vagina. The female condom is pre-lubricated and is ‘one size fits all’. Use other barrier methods – for example, use condoms on dildos and other penetrative sex toys, wear a latex glove for digital penetration of the vagina or anus and use a dental dam, which is a sheet of latex worn over the female genitals during oral sex.
- Remember that a diaphragm (a cap worn high in the vagina to cover the cervix) offers good protection against pregnancy but low protection against STIs.
- To be effective, condoms must be used from the start of sex to the very end.
- Always use a new, lubricated condom every time you have sex. Check the use-by date and open the packet, being careful not to tear the condom with fingernails, jewellery or teeth.
- If more lubricant is needed, use only water-based lubricants.
Condoms do not provide a 100% guarantee
Condoms, even when used correctly, don’t guarantee 100 per cent protection against STIs or unplanned pregnancy.
Issues to consider include:
- Sex with a condom may still spread an infection if the condom does not fully cover the infected area. For example: Some infections, such as pubic lice, scabies, the genital wart virus and the herpes simplex virus, are spread by close skin-to-skin contact. Condoms provide a certain level of protection against these STIs, but not full protection.
- A condom may break, particularly if it has not been stored properly or the right (water-based) lubricant has not been used. Do not expose a condom to prolonged heat. Don’t use a condom that is past its use-by date. Don’t try to re-apply a used condom and don’t use oil-based lubricants like baby oil and Vaseline.
Other tips for safer sex
Safer sex is also about having sex when you and your partner are ready and having sex that's enjoyable, respectful and protected.
Ways that you can practice safer sex include:
- Having sex with only one partner, when neither of you has any STIs, is the safest way to have sex.
- Being STI free by getting tested for common infections and have treatment if necessary, especially if you change partners. Avoid sexual contact until the doctor or nurse tells you that you are no longer infectious.
- Communicating with your sexual partner about what you both want, enjoy and need.
- Being aware that drugs and alcohol may affect your ability to make good decisions. Protect yourself from having sex that you might regret or were pressured into because you weren't thinking properly.
- Using other types of contraception in addition to a condom to avoid unplanned pregnancy.
Safe sexual activities
Sexual contact that carries a low risk of STI transmission includes:
- Kissing, including open-mouthed kissing (also called deep or French kissing) if neither of you has a mouth sore and no blood is present
- Mutual masturbation
- Ejaculating on unbroken skin
- Sexual intercourse using barrier contraception – such as a condom or female condom.
High-risk or unsafe sexual activities
Unsafe sex outside of a monogamous relationship is risky. Examples of unsafe sexual activities include:
- Having sex without a male condom or female condom
- Withdrawing the penis before ejaculation instead of using condoms (pre-ejaculatory fluid may be infectious and can also contain sperm)
- Trying to re-use a condom or using a condom that is past its use-by date
- Using a condom incorrectly or continuing to have sex once the condom is broken
- Doing anything that involves blood-to-blood contact
- Getting bodily fluids like menstrual blood, semen or vaginal fluids inside another person’s body (for example, mouth, vagina or anus).
Increasing the risk of unsafe sex
Some of the factors that can make unsafe sex more likely include:
- Being drunk
- Using drugs
- Feeling pressured to have sex
- Thinking that it’s okay ‘just this once’
- Believing that you can tell if someone has an STI.
Reject the safe sex myths
Some people believe, or may try to make you believe, all sort of myths about safe sex including:
- Planning ahead for sex ruins the mood.
- You can tell by the way someone looks that they do or don’t have an STI.
- Practising safe sex implies that one of us has an STI.
- Practising safe sex implies that one of us is an intravenous drug user.
- Lesbians don’t get STIs.
- Taking the pill means I practise safe sex.
- Condoms ruin the feel of sex.
- Buying condoms is embarrassing..
Overcome safe sex barriers
- Safe sex doesn’t have to be a drag. Try these tips:
- Be prepared for safe sex – it doesn’t have to be a passion-killer. Carry condoms in your wallet or purse and keep them handy at home so that you don’t have to interrupt having sex to look for one.
- If you find condoms reduce the pleasure that you or your partner experience, drop a bit of water-based lube in the tip of a condom for extra feeling and sensitivity.
- Learn how to use condoms. They may take a little getting used to, but it’s better than catching an STI.
- Involve condoms in foreplay – for example, applying a condom using your hands or mouth.
- Buy condoms from vending machines in some public toilets, from mail-order sites or grab a handful from a community/sexual health centre if you feel too embarrassed to buy them in a pharmacy or supermarket.
- Hormonal contraceptives, such as the oral contraceptive pill, only provide protection against unplanned pregnancy. They provide no protection against STIs.
- Prioritise your sexual health – it is important.
- Don’t think you can tell if someone has an STI just by looking at them. Most STIs don’t have any obvious signs.
- Educate yourself about STIs. Anyone who has sex is at risk.
- Be mature about STIs and reassure yourself and your partner that an STI is not a moral judgement of character, but an infection like any other. Having an STI does not mean that you are ‘dirty’ or ‘cheap’.
- Have STI tests if you are in a committed relationship and you want to have sex without a condom. Both partners should be tested. Think of STI testing as a sign of love and respect for each other.
What to do if you have unsafe sex
- Avoid vaginal or rectal ‘douching’ (or irrigating these areas with water or other fluids) as the irritation to delicate tissues could increase the risk of infection.
- Ensure you are not at risk of pregnancy. Consider taking the emergency contraceptive pill within 72 hours if you are worried.
- See your doctor promptly for testing.
- If you are a man who has had unprotected anal intercourse with another man, consider post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent HIV. Call the PEP line to assess if you require post-exposure prophylaxis.
Where to get help
- Your local doctor
- Family Planning Victoria Tel. (03) 9257 0116
- The Action Centre if you are 25 years old or younger Tel. (03) 9660 4700
- Melbourne Sexual Health Centre Tel. (03) 9341 6200 or 1800 032 017 or TTY 9347 8619
- The Women’s Health Information Centre (WHIC) Tel. (03) 8345 3045 or 1800 442 007
- Connectline – HIV and Sexual Health Line Tel. 1800 038 125
- PEP Line 1800 889 887 (For advice on post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent HIV. A specialised nurse is on the line 24 hours, 7 days)
Things to remember
- ‘Safe sex’ is sexual contact that doesn’t involve the exchange of semen, vaginal fluids or blood between partners.
- If used correctly, condoms can dramatically reduce the risk of most sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancy.
- Having regular STI screening and reducing the number of sexual partners also reduces the transmission risk of STIs.
You might also be interested in:
- Contraception - condoms for men.
- Contraception - condoms for women.
- Contraception - diaphragms.
- HIV and men - safe sex.
- HIV and women - safe sex.
- Sex education - talking to young people.
- Sexually transmissible infections.
- Sexually transmissible infections - avoid the risk.
- Sexually transmissible infections - signs and symptoms.
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