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Safer Sex

Safer sex means taking care of yourself and your partner.

It means you can worry less about catching or passing on a sexually transmitted infection.

It also means talking about what you like and what you don't - a great first step to a better, more fulfilling sex life.

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What is safer sex?

'Sex' includes vaginal, oral and anal sex, as well as activities like mutual masturbation, sexting, phone and cyber sex.

The only truly 'risk-free' sex is no sex at all.

For everything else, there's 'safer sex'.

This means using some kind of protection whenever there's contact between you and your partner's genitals.

This includes contact with the penis or vulva (the area around the vaginal opening) or anus (the opening of the bottom).

Talk about it!

Some people think that talking about sex beforehand could be a passion killer. 
Actually, most people find talking about sex with a partner is a sexy thing to do and a great way to get in the mood.
Talk about what turns you on, what you like and what you don't like, and what protection you're going to use.

Are some types of sex safer than others?

Some forms of sex carry lower risk of catching or passing on a sexually transmitted infection than others. 
Sex without a condom or dam is risky. A dam is a piece of latex used to provide protection during oral sex for females.  The dam is placed over the genital area.
Unprotected anal sex carries a high risk of catching a sexually transmitted infection. This is partly because the lining inside the anus is easily damaged.  It is important to use a condom with plenty of lubrication.
Mutual masturbation is lower risk but you can still catch some infections just by touching someone's genitals or by sharing sex toys.  If sharing sex toys make sure a new condom or dam is used.
Remember to wash your hands thoroughly before touching yourself (anywhere) after touching someone else's genitals or anus.

Can sex ever be 'risk free'?

Sex that doesn't involve physical contact with someone else - e.g. masturbating while watching each other, phone sex, sexting or cybersex - carries no risk of catching an STI. 
There could be other risks to think about, though. 
For example, you could be embarrassed if someone else sees your sexy texts or internet chat. 
Some people like to send photos or clips when sexting or cybering, but remember it's illegal to take or possess pornographic videos or photos of anyone under 18.
Read more about sex and the law.

What do we mean by 'protection'?

Only condoms and dams give protection against sexually transmitted infections.
A dam is a square piece of latex used to place over the vulva (female genitals) or anus to make oral sex safer.
Always use a condom or dam for oral sex.  Always use a condom for penetrative sex.
If a condom comes into contact with things that are oily, like lipstick, lip balms, skin moisturisers or sun tan lotions, this can weaken the condom.
For anal sex, extra lubrication is important and should be used with a condom.  Usually lubrication is not required for vaginal sex and can increase the risk of the condom slipping, however there are circumstances where lubrication is required.
Using lube reduces the risk of condoms breaking or splitting and of skin inside the anus getting cut or bleeding (which can let infections spread more easily).
Only use lubricants that are specially designed and sold as safe for use during sex.
Never use oils or anything greasy for lubrication during sex, like baby oil, massage oils, or skin moisturisers. They can cause condoms and dams to leak or break.  
Male and female condoms, dams and lube are available from pharmacies, supermarkets and many smaller shops or you can get them for free.

What about not getting pregnant?

There's a range of different ways to prevent pregnancy but only condoms can protect against STIs as well as pregnancy.
Find out more in our young person's guide to contraception or our section on contraception for adults.

Pre-exposure Prohylaxis - PrEP