Safe sex

The main points

  • Safe sex is sometimes called 'safer sex'.
  • Condoms dramatically reduce your risk of getting an STI by acting as a physical barrier between partners.
  • Condoms can break or not work effectively if used incorrectly.
  • Safe sex is about having sex when you're ready and having sex that's enjoyable, respectful and protected.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to your partner about sex.

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, respectful and protected. This means:

  • having sex when you both feel ready
  • having the kind of sex you both want and enjoy
  • having sex at a time and place that you're both happy with
  • having sex that you both feel good about afterwards.

It also means doing the things you need to do to keep you and your partner healthy. This includes:

  • protecting yourself from sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and blood borne viruses (BBVs) by using barriers such as condoms, having sexual health check-ups and being vaccinated against STIs and BBVs
  • using contraception to avoid getting pregnant
  • being aware of the effects of drugs and alcohol on your decision making and protecting yourself from having sex that you might regret or were pressured into because you weren't thinking properly.

Condoms and safe sex

Condoms can reduce your risk of getting an STI but they only protect the area of the skin in contact with the condom. However, we know that people who use condoms correctly and every time they have sex have a much lower risk of unintended pregnancy and also STIs.

How to stay safe

  • Always use condoms if you have vaginal, oral or anal sex. Using condoms is the only method of contraception that protects against both STIs and pregnancy. Even if you’re using other contraception methods (like the pill or a diaphragm), always use condoms as well.
  • If you are having unprotected sex, talk to your partner about the risks involved. Your decision about safe sex is important—some STIs can be cured but some can’t (e.g. herpes), and you may not experience any initial symptoms.
  • Before having sex, talk about using condoms with your partner and come to an agreement about using condoms. Remember, you have the right to say NO if your partner does not agree to use condoms.
  • Never have sex (even with a condom) if your partner has a visible sore, ulcer or lump on their genitals, anal area or mouth. Suggest they see their doctor, family planning clinic or sexual health clinic.
  • STIs can be passed from one person to another by oral sex. If you put your mouth in contact with your partner’s penis, you need to use a condom to avoid STIs. If you put your mouth in contact with your partner’s anus or vulva (outside of vagina) while having sex, you need to use a dental dam (a thin latex square held over the vaginal or anal area during oral sex) to avoid STIs. This is especially important if you’ve got a cut or sore around your mouth or lips or bleeding gums.
  • STIs can also be transmitted if you use sex toys, so you need to be safe. Use condoms and change the condom for each person using the toys. Wash the toys carefully after use and wash your hands after removing the condom.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to your partner about sex.
  • Never re-use condoms or dental dams.

Where to get more information, support or advice

Easy English version

This information is available in Easy English format.


This website provides general information only. The suitability of such general information varies from person to person, depending on individual circumstances. You should seek specific medical or legal advice for your individual circumstances.

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Last updated: 5 June 2016

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