What is safe sex?
Safe sex stops you and your partner's body fluids (blood, semen and vaginal fluids) from entering each others bodies. It also means covering up parts of the body that might be infectious (e.g. herpes, sores or warts) when you are having sex.
The only way to be 100 per cent certain of never getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is to never have sex. However, if you do want to have sex, there are ways that you can reduce your risk of catching or passing on an infection.
Safe vaginal or anal sex
Condoms are the most effective means of reducing the risk of getting, or passing on, an STI when used properly.
Lubricant should be used with a condom as it helps stop a condom from breaking and is essential for anal intercourse. Always choose a water-soluble lubricant (not petroleum jelly like Vaseline) and rub it on the outside of the condom.
|How to use a condom
Using a condom
- Check the use by date on the packet.
- Open the packet carefully with your hands. Don't tear or snag the condom with rings or fingernails.
- Use the condom for the entire time you are having intercourse. Put the condom on before the penis comes into contact with the vagina or anus,and only when the penis is erect.
- Squeeze the teat on the end of the condom between two fingers and hold it against the tip of the penis.
- Gently unroll the condom all the way down to the base of the penis. The penis should be withdrawn immediately after ejaculation with you or your partner holding the rim of the condom to stop any spillage.
- Slip the condom off carefully, wrap in paper and put in the bin (not down the toilet).
- You can only use a condom once. If you want to have sex again, put on a new condom.
The female condom
The female condom is an alternative to the male condom and is an effective barrier to STIs during vaginal and anal sex.
Facts about the female condom:
- They are designed to fit all women of all ages.
- They can be used during menstruation.
- Men may use them as a loose fitting condom for anal sex.
- People who are allergic to the latex used in male condoms or to the ingredients in water-based lubricants can use the female condoms as they are made of polyurethane, and are pre-lubricated with a silicone-based lubricant. Oil based lubricants can also be used.
- Unlike normal condoms, the female condom can be inserted well in advance of sexual penetration if preferred.
- They conduct heat, so sex can feel more sensitive.
- When using a female condom, the male partner does not need to withdraw his penis immediately after climaxing.
- They cannot be used with the male condom because this can cause the female condom to move out of place or the male condom to slip off.
- The female condom can only be used once.
Using a female condom
The female condom is 17cm long with a flexible ring at each end. The outer ring is open and covers the area around the opening of the vagina. The inner ring is closed and helps hold the female condom in place.
How to insert the female condom (see picture)
- Rub the sides of the female condom together to spread the lubricant.
- Hold the inner ring (closed end) between your thumb and middle finger.
- Put your index finger on the pouch between your thumb and other fingers and squeeze the inner ring.
- Slide it into your vagina as far as it will go. Push up the front of the inner ring so it slips into place. When it's in the right place you can't feel it. Don't worry – it can't go in too far and won't hurt.
- Make sure it is in the correct place and not twisted. The outer ring should be outside the vagina.
- If the female condom bunches up when the penis is inserted into the vagina, stop, apply more lubricant and guide the penis into the female condom.
- If it makes a noise that bothers you during sex, try adding extra lubricant.
- After sex, remove the female condom before you stand up. Squeeze the outer ring and twist it. Pull the female condom out gently. Wrap it in tissue, or place in a plastic or paper bag and throw it in the rubbish bin, not in the toilet. Do not re-use it.
Female condoms are available from Family Planning Western Australia (FPWA) Sexual Health Services (for about $3.00 each) and some chemists.
How to insert a female condom
(picture courtesy of FPA Health) - © Public Health Agency of Canada, 2004
Safe oral sex
Oral sex is less risky when it comes to catching or spreading an infection, but chlamydia and other STIs, including HIV, can be passed on through oral sex. To be as safe as possible, follow these guidelines:
- use condoms (try flavoured ones) for oral sex involving the penis
- use dental dams for oral-vaginal and oral-anal sex
- don’t get semen or blood in your mouth
- avoid oral sex when you have mouth ulcers, bleeding gums or cold sores
- don’t brush your teeth immediately before oral sex.
Using dental dams
A dental dam (or oral dam) is a very thin, rectangular, "satin-like" piece of latex. They reduce the risk of spreading many STIs, including HIV, but are not 100 per cent effective.
While the thought of using a sheet of latex during oral sex may seem a little weird, dental dams are easy to use and don't decrease sensation during oral sex.
How to use a dental dam:
- Before use, rinse the dental dam with warm water and dry with a soft towel.
- Make sure the dental dam is free of holes or breaks by holding it up to the light or run warm water over it.
- The dental dam is placed against the vagina during vaginal-oral sex. It can also be placed against the anus during anal-oral sex. A water-based lubricant may be applied to the vagina (or anal area) prior to the placement of the dental dam. Do not use any other product or oils (e.g. petroleum jelly, like Vaseline) as they may degrade the dam.
- Make sure that only one side of the dental dam comes into contact with the genital area. If you turn it over and lick the other side, you are exposing yourself to STIs.
- The dam must be held in place throughout vaginal-oral or anal-oral sex
- Never use the same dental dam if switching from vaginal-oral sex to anal-oral sex (or vice-versa).
- Do not reuse dental dams.
Dental dams are available from FPWA Sexual Health Services (for about $1.00 each) and some chemists. For more information on dental dams see the FPWA website.
Safe sex behaviour
Reduce the number of sex partners
The more people you have sex with, the more likely it is that one or more of your partners will have an STI. You and your sex partner(s) should have a STI check up to be certain you are free of infection. You cannot tell by looking at someone whether or not they have an infection. Unless you are certain that you and your partner(s) do not have any STIs, use safe sex practices when you have sex.
If you are in a stable relationship
If you are in a stable relationship and neither you nor your partner have any other sexual partners, you can make sure that sex is safe by both having an STI check up. If all the results are negative (both yours and your partner's) it may be okay to have unprotected sex. You should discuss this with a doctor or health adviser because sometimes extra tests are required.
If you have had unsafe sex
Have an STI check up as soon as possible. If you have picked up an infection it may be possible to treat it before complications develop. The sooner you know you have an STI, the less likely it is that you will unknowingly pass it on to someone else.
If you use sex toys
Sex toys can be lots of fun, but they can pass on HIV and other STIs. Do not share sex toys and wash them thoroughly after use.
If you have chlamydia or any other STI, you need to be up front about it. Talking about STIs can be really difficult, but any person you have sex with has a right to know if you have an STI. Plan to discuss it when you’re feeling relaxed and confident – not just before you have sex. Your partner will appreciate your honesty.
Click here for more information about other STIs and blood-borne viruses.