Safer sex

For many, safer sex is the practice of protecting yourself and your partners from a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or an unintended pregnancy.

However, safer sex is also about having a fulfilling and pleasurable sex life without fear, stigma, or shame. Having open discussions with your partner (s) about the sex you might want can help you both have a healthy and happy sex life. It’s your sexual wellbeing so don’t be scared to advocate for your needs and explore those of your partner (s).

Find out about the different types of sex and the risks associated with each type of sex

Vaginal sexThis is when a penis enters a vagina. Infections can be passed on even if the penis doesn’t fully enter the vagina. Some infections can also be passed on from genital-to-genital contact (non-penetrative sex) such as genital warts and genital herpes. Wearing a condom will help to prevent STI’s and prevent unintended pregnancies. 

Anal sex -Is where a penis enters a partner’s anus. Both men and women may choose to have anal sex. Anal sex has a higher risk of spreading STI’s than many other types of activity. The lining of the anus is thin so is more easily damaged during sex making it more vulnerable to infections. Wearing thicker condoms designed for anal sex helps to protect against STI’s. 

Oral sex – Involves licking or sucking the vagina, penis, or anus. There is a risk of STI’s if you are receiving or giving oral sex, although the risk is higher if you have any sores or cuts around the mouth, genitals, or anus.  If you have a cold sore and you give your partner oral sex, you can infect them with the herpes virus. Similarly, herpes can pass from the genitals to the mouth.  The risk of passing on or getting HIV during oral sex is lower than anal or vaginal sex without a condom. However, the risk is increased if there are any cuts or sores in or around the mouth, genitals, or anus. 

You can make oral sex safer by using a condom or dental dam as it acts as a barrier between the mouth and the genital area.  

How do I practice safer sex?

Here are some top tips help reduce the risk of STIS, unintended pregnancy and have a more enjoyable sex life: 

  • Communicate. Before sex, create a safe space with your sexual partner (s) to chat about physical intimacy, desires, what kinds of sexual activity you enjoy and your boundaries. It is important for you to feel safe & protected. A good partner will listen, understand, and respect you
  • Masturbation is a fun and safe way to explore your body and help you understand what you do and don’t like sexually. Knowing what gives you pleasure will help make you feel more comfortable in communicating your needs with a partner
  • Reduce your number of sexual partners. You don’t need to have a lot of sexual partners to be at risk of getting an STI. STIs don’t discriminate. ANYONE can get one
  • Get vaccinated for certain STI’s - Hepatitis B and HPV 
  • Get tested for STIs before having sex with someone new and ask them to do the same. Testing is the only way to know if you have an STI
  • PrEP is a drug taken by HIV-negative people before and after sex that reduces the risk of getting HIV. If you struggle to use condoms for anal or vaginal sex and/or have had a recent STI or recently needed PEP, you may benefit from using PrEP to reduce your risk
  • U=U or Undetectable = Untransmittable. When a person living with HIV is on effective treatment and has an undetectable viral load HIV cannot be passed on sexually. If you have a partner with HIV who has an undetectable viral load, they will not pass HIV on to you. To protect against other types of STIs you should use condoms
  • 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 every time you have anal, vaginal, and oral sex. Condoms are known as a barrier method and are the only form of contraception to protect against both STIs and unintended pregnancies. Female (internal) condoms are at least as good as male (external) condoms
  • Use a dam (square of latex) if you’re having oral sex to cover your partner’s vagina or anus. This is particularly important if you have cuts or sores around your mouth or gums or have a sore throat. Avoid brushing or flossing before having oral sex
  • Enjoy gentle sex. Rough activity (including with sex toys) increases 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
  • Clean sex toys. Sharing sex toys increases the risk of passing on STIs. To ensure you reduce the risk wash sex toys before and after use. Place a new condom over your sex toy every time it’s used on a new person   
  • 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 
  • Use lubricants. Water-based lubricants reduce the chance that condoms will break and can enhance pleasure. However, oil-based lubricants like Vaseline, oils, or creams can damage latex condoms and cause them to break
  • 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. It’s okay to say no or to stop at any point. When talking about sex with your partner (s) it’s important to explore consent and respect their choices  

Choose the right size condoms

Please see the NHS video below which explains how to choose the correct size male condom before you have sex:

How to use condoms safely

Putting on a condom for the first time can feel awkward but it won’t take long before you get the hang of it.

Here’s some top tips to using condoms safely: 

  • Choose the right size condom
  • Make sure the condom is in date
  • Make sure it has a UKCA mark or CE mark on the packet
  • Open the packet carefully. Teeth, long nails, jewellery and/or piercings can damage condoms 
  • Place the condom over the tip of your erect penis
  • 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) 
  • After sex withdraw the penis while it is still erect. Hold the condom at he base of the penis
  • Place the condom in the bin, not in the toilet. You may want to wrap this in a tissue

How to put a condom on

Please watch the NHS video to show you how to put a condom on:

Where can I get condoms

You can get condoms free from your local sexual health clinic. 

Teesside – If you are aged between 16-24 you can order male and female condoms online. Lube will be sent out with all orders. Some of our local pharmacies also offer condoms to young people aged 13-24 years.

Cheshire West and Chester – We work in partnership with Body Positive. If you are aged 16-18 you can sign up to the C-Card scheme. If you are aged 19 and over, you can order condoms online here

Oldham, Bury or Rochdale – If you are aged 16 and over you can order male condoms online. Lube will be sent will all orders.

Where can I get more information?

We have lots of information on our website. Please see some useful links and pages below:

Date of last review Feb 2023


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