How do I reduce my risk of an STI or unwanted pregnancy?
No form of sexual contact is entirely without risk of STI transmission or an unwanted pregnancy. However, you can reduce your risk by following our top 10 tips for safe sex:
- Reduce your number of sexual partners. You don’t need to have a lot of sexual partners to get an STI. STIs don’t discriminate. ANYONE can get one. There are lots of fun things you can do without having sex
- Get tested for STIs before having sex with someone new and ask them to do the same. You can’t tell if someone is infected by how they look and they could be lying
- Set your limits. Decide how much risk you are willing to take. Know how much protection you want to use during different kinds of sexual activities and be prepared
- Always use a condom with a quality kite mark each and every time you have sex (vaginal and anal). Condoms are known as a barrier method and are the only form of contraception to protect against both STIs and unwanted pregnancies. Female condoms are at least as good as male condoms
- Use a dam (square of latex) if you’re having oral sex to cover your partner’s genitals. This is particularly important if you have cuts or sores around your mouth or gums, or have a sore throat. Avoid brushing teeth or flossing before having oral sex
- Enjoy gentle sex. Rough activity (including with sex toys) increase the risk of creating a trauma (cut in the skin) through which STIs may pass. This is especially so for anal sex because the skin in the rectum is delicate and breaks easily
- Avoid sharing sex toys. If you do share them, wash and cover them with a new condom before someone else uses them
- Retain your rationality! Don’t let alcohol, drugs or an attractive partner make you forget to protect yourself. And never accept a drink from someone you don’t know or leave your drink unattended
- Be careful with lubricants. These can reduce the chance that condoms or other barriers will break. However, oil-based lubricants like Vaseline, oils, or creams can damage latex condoms and other latex barriers
- Remember, having sex is a choice. You do not need to have sex at all if you’re not sure. You should never feel pressured into having sex
How do I use condoms?
Putting on a condom for the first time can feel awkward but it won’t take long before you get the hang of it and will so be a pro. Here’s another top 10 tips to using condoms safely:
- NEVER reuse a condom. A condom can only be used once – this includes if you put it on the wrong way by mistake. Use another condom – don’t just flip it over
- After sex, remove the condom before the penis gets soft. Be careful not to spill anything, wrap it in a tissue and put it in a bin (not down the toilet)
- Add some lubricant to the outside of the condom if you want. But remember, if you’re using a latex condom, this must be water-based
- Add a small drop of lubrication inside the condom for extra pleasure but be careful as too much can make the condom slip off
- Pinch and roll. Pinch the tip of the condom between your thumb and forefinger to get rid of any air and allow for a little space at the top as you roll it down the penis all the way to the base. Make sure you do this as soon as the penis is erect (hard)
- Check which way to roll it down before it touches the penis
- Open the packet carefully. Teeth, long nails, jewellery and/or piercings can damage condoms
- Check whether it is a latex condom in case you have a latex allergy and to make sure you use the right type of lubricant. Latex condoms are less likely to break than non-latex condoms but can be damaged by using oil-based lubricants like Vaseline, oils or creams so be sure to use a water-based lubricant
- Make sure the condom is good quality – make sure it has a BSI kite mark or CE mark, hasn’t expired, and that the pack isn’t damaged
- NEVER use two condoms together. This increases the chances of them splitting or tearing
Where can I get more information?
If you want to speak to someone about your sexual health, you have a few different options:
- General Practices. To find your GP practice
- Sexual health clinics – these are sometimes split into contraceptive clinics (often called CASH clinics) and STI clinics (often called GUM clinics). Find your nearest clinic
- Pharmacies. Find your nearest pharmacy
To find out more about safe sex, the British Association for Sexual Health & HIV (BAASH) has a good Guide to Safe Sex.