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Safe sex

7-minute read

If you have been, or think you may have been sexually assaulted and you don't feel safe, call triple zero (000).

Key facts

  • Any type of sexual activity, including vaginal, anal and oral sex, can carry a risk of infection.
  • Safe sex is important to reduce your risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unplanned pregnancy and sexual abuse.
  • Always use a condom to reduce your risk of STIs and an unplanned pregnancy.
  • See your doctor or local sexual health clinic to check for STIs on a regular basis and before starting a new sexual relationship.
  • Tell your partners if you are diagnosed with an STI.
  • If you have unprotected sex, get tested for STIs. If you are female and don’t want to be pregnant you can use emergency contraception.
  • Seek help if you experience sexual assault.

What is safe sex?

Safe sex means having sex without having contact with your partner’s body fluids (blood, semen or vaginal secretions). It also means avoiding contact with parts of your partner’s body that might be infectious. This reduces your risk of catching an STI.

Withdrawing your penis before you ejaculate is not safe sex, as fluid can release before you ejaculate.

If you don’t plan on being pregnant, safe sex also means using the right contraception for your situation. Your doctor can help you decide what contraception option is best for you.

Safe sex means making sure that sexual activity always takes place with both partners’ consent and that you both feel respected and not pressured. Sexual assault includes any unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that makes you feel uncomfortable, frightened or threatened. Before you have sex, it’s very important that you feel comfortable talking to your partner about sex and making decisions together about safe sex and using condoms. You have the right to say no to sex if your partner refuses to use condoms.

What is an STI?

STIs are infections that pass from one person to another through sexual contact.

Infections spread through sex include:

How are STIs spread?

STIs can spread through unprotected sex, including:

  • vaginal sex
  • anal sex
  • oral sex
  • oral-anal contact
  • placing fingers or objects with fluid on them into the vagina or anus

Some STIs can spread through skin-to-skin contact.

STIs can affect anyone of any gender or sex. You can catch an infection from your sexual partner, whatever their gender or sex.

What can I do to stay safe?

It’s important to always use a condom. A condom can protect you from catching or spreading an STI and from unintended pregnancy. Even if you’re using a different method of contraception, you still need to use a condom to protect you from STIs.

A dental dam, which is a thin piece of latex, should be used during oral sex to prevent the spread of STIs. It can be placed over the genitals or anus (back passage) before giving oral sex.

Sharing sex toys can also spread STIs, so each person sharing toys should use a new condom. Wash sex toys thoroughly each time you use them.

Remember that condoms and dental dams should never be reused — always use a new one and make sure to use it correctly.

You can reduce your risk of STIs by limiting the number of sexual partners you have.

Make sure that you and your partner are checked for STIs before you start having sex.

It’s very important not to have sex if your partner has a sore or lump around their mouth, genitals or anal area.

Remember that some STIs, such as genital warts, herpes or pubic lice, can spread even if you’re using a condom or dental dam, because they are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.

How do I know if my partner has an STI?

There’s no way to know for sure if your partner has an STI. Sometimes people don’t have symptoms and don’t know they have an STI. You can reduce your risk of infection if you and your partner both get checked for STIs before you start having sex and neither of you have other current partners.

Condoms don’t prevent all STIs all the time, so anyone who is sexually active should have regular tests with their doctor or local sexual health clinic. It's worth getting tested even if you feel healthy.

What should I do if I think I have an STI?

If you suspect that you have an STI, see your doctor or local sexual health clinic immediately to be tested. Some STIs can cause health problems if they are not treated early.

Many STIs can be treated with antibiotics. Some, such as herpes and HIV, have no cure but can be treated to prevent them getting worse.

If you think you may have an STI, talk with your partner before you have sex and make sure you only have safe sex. Tell your current partners and any previous partners if you are diagnosed with an STI so that they can be tested and treated. You have a right to know if any of your sexual partners have an STI and your sexual partners have a right to know if you have an STI.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What should I do if I've had unprotected sex?

If you are concerned about STIs, see your doctor or local sexual health clinic.

If you are female, it’s important to check if you are pregnant. If you don’t want to be pregnant and have had unprotected sex in the last 5 days, you can use emergency contraception such as the emergency contraceptive pill (sometimes called the ‘morning after pill’). This should be done as early as possible after unprotected sex.

You can do a pregnancy test when your next period is due. If you are pregnant and don’t want to be, it’s your choice whether to continue with the pregnancy. Speak to your doctor or local sexual health clinic to discuss your options. There are many services available to support you.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

What should I do if I feel unsafe with my partner?

Any sexual attention that is unwanted and makes you feel uncomfortable or threatened is sexual assault.

If your partner touches you sexually without your consent, or if your partner forces you to give consent, this is sexual assault. If this happens, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 for help and advice. There are also several state and national helplines that you can call.

See your doctor or local sexual health clinic for help with STI testing, emergency contraception (if this is relevant to you) and counselling.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2022

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