Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

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 sexual health and lower body 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


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Safe sex and condoms

Safe sex and condoms - what you need to know to make sure you are having safe sex

Read more on SA Health website

Safe sex

Safer sex means not allowing your partner's body fluids (blood, semen, vaginal fluids) into your body and vice versa

Read more on WA Health website

Safe sex - Sexual Health - Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet

Safe sex means caring for the health of individuals and their sexual partners.

Read more on Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet website

Safe Sex | How to Stay Safe - Sexual Health Victoria

Using condoms is a really important part of safe sex, but it doesn't stop there. Safe sex is about having sex when you're ready and having sex that's enjoyable,

Read more on Sexual Health Victoria website

Oral Sex and HIV Transmission - Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations

Oral Sex and HIV Transmission: Oral sex is considered a very low risk practice in regard to HIV transmission. In the case of oral sex with a HIV positive..

Read more on AFAO – Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations website

Partying safely – tips for teenagers - Better Health Channel

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Low/No Risk Sexual Practices - Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations

Low/No Risk Sexual Practices: There are a great number of sexual practices that are low risk or no risk for HIV transmission that you and a partner can..

Read more on AFAO – Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations website

Your how-to guide for safe sex | Sex | ReachOut Australia

Feeling ready to have sex? Find out how to stay safe with this guide from ReachOut.com. From STIs to contraception, we can answer all your questions.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

Safer sex & STIs | Jean Hailes

What is safe sex and what are sexually transmissible infections (STIs)? The types of STIs including HIV, herpes, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, warts, lice,…

Read more on Jean Hailes for Women's Health website

Sex Safe and Fun | Family Planning NSW

Sex Safe and Fun is a resource to support people with intellectual disability to learn about safe sex messages. It provides a factual and balanced view of the rights and responsibilities associated with a range of sexual activities. There are key messages about consent, enjoyment, intimacy, privacy and safety.

Read more on Family Planning NSW website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.