What is safer sex?
Safer sex is a way to help you avoid an infection spread through sex (sexually transmitted infection, or STI). It can also help prevent pregnancy.
You can get an STI from any kind of sexual contact, not just intercourse. STIs are spread through skin-to-skin contact between the genitals. You can also get an STI from contact with body fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids, and blood (including menstrual blood). This means you can get an STI from vaginal sex, anal sex, or oral sex.
STIs and pregnancy can be prevented by not having sexual contact (abstinence). Or there are actions you can take before sex to help reduce your risk of STIs and pregnancy.
How can you protect yourself from STIs?
- Use a condom every time you have sex. Use an external condom, which goes on the penis. Or use an internal condom, which goes into the vagina or anus.
- Make sure you use the right size external condom. A condom that's too small can break easily. A condom that's too big can slip off during sex.
- Use a new condom each time you have sex. Be careful not to poke a hole in the condom when you open the wrapper.
- Don't use an internal condom and an external condom at the same time.
- Never use petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline), grease, hand lotion, baby oil, or anything with oil in it. These products can make holes in the condom.
- After intercourse, hold the edge of the condom as you remove it. This will help keep semen from spilling out of the condom.
- For protection during oral sex, you can use a special rubber sheet called a dental dam.
- Don't have sex with anyone who has symptoms of an STI, such as sores on the genitals or mouth.
- Don't share sex toys. But if you do share them, use a condom and clean the sex toys between each use.
- Limit your sex partners. Sex with one partner who has sex only with you can reduce your risk of getting an STI.
- Think about getting vaccinated to help prevent hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and human papillomavirus (HPV). You can get these through sex.
How can you prevent pregnancy?
These are some safer sex things you can do to help avoid pregnancy:
- Use some type of birth control every time you have sex. Remember that birth control methods such as IUDs, implants, shots, and birth control pills do not stop you from getting STIs.
- Don't drink a lot of alcohol or use drugs before sex.
How else can you take care of yourself?
- Talk to your partner before you have sex. Talk about what you feel comfortable with and whether you have any boundaries with sex. And find out if your partner is at risk for any STI. Keep in mind that a person may be able to spread an STI even if they do not have symptoms. You and your partner may want to get tested for STIs.
- You should never feel pressured to have sex. It's okay to say "no" anytime you want to stop.
- It's important to feel safe with your sex partner and with the activities you are doing together. If you don't feel safe, talk with an adult you trust.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Where can you learn more?
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