What is safer sex?
Safer sex means taking steps to lower your chances of:
- Getting or passing on a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
- Unintended pregnancy
There are lots of things you can do to help look after yourself and your sexual partners. Ways of having safer sex include:
What is consent?
Consent means agreeing to something.
If you consent to sex or to any type of sexual activity, it means that you willingly agree to it.
For any type of sex or sexual activity, it’s really important that everyone involved consents.
You’re not consenting if you feel pressured to agree or if there’s another reason that you can’t agree. This could include because you’re asleep, unconscious, or too drunk or high.
Consent isn’t something that you give once. It’s about ongoing communication with a partner to make sure you’re both enthusiastic about what’s happening.
Just because you’ve done a particular sexual activity before doesn’t mean that you have to agree to do it again.
You can withdraw your consent at any time. It’s always OK to stop if you’re doing something you don’t want to do.
It’s never OK to pressure someone into sexual activity.
It can sometimes feel hard to know how to give and get consent. Brook has some useful tips here.
The age of consent
This is the age that you can legally agree to have sex. The age of consent is 16. The law is there to protect young people from having sex before they’re ready. It doesn’t mean you have to agree to sex just because you’re 16 or over. How do I know if I’m ready for sex?
Even if you’re under 16, you can get condoms, contraception and any other confidential help that you need.
You can get free and confidential help and advice from your local sexual health clinic.
If you’re aged between 13 and 16, you can order free condoms from this service, but you’ll need to register at one of our registration and collection points first. Click here
What does a healthy relationship look like?
Relationships are different for everyone. But there are some things that are important for a healthy relationship.
- You treat each other with kindness and respect
- You listen to each other
- You enjoy spending time together
- You each have time for your own friends and interests
- You trust each other
What can I do if I'm worried about my relationship?
If you’re worried about your relationship for any reason, it can help to talk about it. You could talk to:
Sometimes you may be worried because a partner is treating you badly. If someone is trying to hurt or control you, this is abuse. There are lots of different types of abuse.
Abuse might include things like:
- Saying or doing hurtful or critical things. This may be in front of other people
- Trying to stop you from seeing friends or doing anything without them
- Trying to control you in other ways
- Making you feel scared
- Hurting you
If any of these things are happening or you’re being abused in any other way, you can get help. It is never your fault.
If you’re in immediate danger then call the police on 999.
More information and places to get help.
What are STIs?
STIs are really common. They are infections that are passed from person to person duringsex.
Some common STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV, genital warts and genital herpes.
You can’t tell if someone has an STI by looking at them. A lot of people with STIs don’t notice anything wrong. So someone can easily have one without knowing they have it.
If STIs aren’t treated, they can sometimes end up causing you serious and painful health problems.
Using condoms or dams helps to lower the chance of getting or passing on an STI.
Do I need an STI test?
If you’re sexually active, it’s a good idea to get tested for STIs once a year or whenever you have a new sexual partner. Some people may be advised to test more often.
Regular testing means that if you do get an STI, it can be treated early. Treating it early means it’s less likely to cause you any serious problems.
Find out more about testing.
If you’re 16 or over, you can order a free STI test from SH.UK.
Always get checked out at a clinic if you notice anything that might be caused by an STI. This could be things like:
- Pain when you’re peeing
- Unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or anus
- Pain, lumps, bumps or sores around your genitals or anus
- Pain or bleeding when you have sex
Why do I need to worry about STIs when they can be treated?
Most STIs can be treated and cured. And even STIs that can’t be cured, like HIV and genital herpes, can be managed with the right treatment.
So why bother using condoms or dams?
Many people just don’t know when they have an STI. There is often no obvious sign that someone has one. So STIs are usually passed on during sex without a condom from someone who has an STI without knowing.
If you have an STI for a while, it can start to cause problems. You might end up in a lot of pain. For some people, having an untreated STI like chlamydia or gonorrhoea might cause damage that means they find it hard to get pregnant or get a partner pregnant in the future.
You might also pass untreated STIs on to other people and cause them health problems.
You can get many types of STI more than once. And the more times you have an STI, the higher your chance of getting health problems.
So using condoms Click Here and getting tested regularly Click Here are two good ways to look after your health.
I’m really worried about getting herpes
People often worry about getting the herpes virus because they’ve heard that it can’t be cured.
It’s important to know that herpes is a really common skin infection and not anything to be ashamed of.
Lots of people have the herpes virus in their skin without ever knowing it. It’s true that once you have it, the virus stays in your body. But this is also true for some other common viruses such as chickenpox.
An outbreak of herpes can be painful, but it’s not usually serious.
Using condoms or dams will help to lower your chances of getting or passing on genital herpes.
And if you do get herpes, there are other steps you can take to lower the chance of passing it on to anyone else.
I’m really worried about getting genital warts
Having genital warts is common and not anything to be embarrassed or ashamed of.
It just means you have an infection in your skin caused by a type of virus called HPV. Genital warts can be treated to help them clear up and your body will usually get rid of the HPV virus over time.
There are different types of HPV and it’s really common. Most people will have an HPV infection at some point in their life because HPV can be easily passed on through skin-to-skin contact.
Some types of HPV can cause genital warts. But not everyone who gets HPV will get warts.
Other types of HPV can cause cancer, but this is rare. Having genital warts does not mean that you have cancer.
You can help to lower your chances of getting or passing on the HPV virus by:
- Having the HPV vaccination
- Using condoms or dams when you have sex
Different types of sex
There are lots of different ways to have sex. There’s not one right way that feels good for everyone.
And sex is not just about what you do with your body. It’s also about how you feel and the connection you have to a sexual partner.
What you like to do might change from day to day, over time or depending on who you’re having sex with.
It’s OK to take things slowly or to choose not to have sex at all.
Whatever type of sex you’re having, you or a sexual partner can stop or change your mind at any time.
Here are some common ways to have sex.
Masturbation is a way of having sex by yourself.
It means touching yourself so that you feel sexually aroused. You might touch your genitals, anus, other parts of the body, or use a sex toy.
Lots of people enjoy masturbating. It’s often the first sex people have. It can be a very good way to explore your body and find out what feels good.
Some people masturbate until they have an orgasm, others don’t.
If you’re masturbating on your own, there’s no chance of pregnancy or getting an STI.
You can use your hands to touch, stroke or rub someone’s penis, clitoris, vulva or anus.
If you’re touching someone’s genitals and they’re touching yours at the same time, it’s sometimes called mutual masturbation.
Touching and rubbing someone’s penis is often called a hand job.
Touching someone’s vulva or clitoris or putting fingers in someone’s vagina or anus is often called fingering.
Some people enjoy fisting, where a whole hand goes into the anus or vagina.
Using hands and STIs
It’s possible to get or pass on some types of STI from hands and fingers, but the chances are fairly low. The chance of getting an STI from fisting may be higher because it’s more likely to damage the lining of the anus or vagina.
Try to make sure you or a partner wash your hands before and after touching the penis, vulva, vagina or anus.
It’s a good idea to wear latex or latex-free gloves for fisting.
Oral sex is where someone licks or sucks someone’s penis, vulva, clitoris or anus.
Some people enjoy oral sex, others don’t.
Oral sex on a penis is sometimes called a blow job, giving head, going down or sucking off.
Oral sex on a vulva is sometimes called going down, licking out or eating out.
Oral sex on an anus is sometimes called rimming.
Oral sex and STIs
It’s possible to get or pass on an STI when you have oral sex. The chances are usually lower than for penis in vagina or penis in anus sex.
To have safer sex, it’s advised to use a condom to cover the penis or a dam. to cover the vulva and clitoris or the anus.
Penis in vagina sex (vaginal sex)
Vaginal sex is a type of penetrative sex or entry sex. This means that a penis, fingers or sex toy penetrates (goes inside) the vagina.
Lots of people enjoy vaginal sex, others don’t. Many people with vaginas won’t have an orgasm from vaginal sex on its own and this is very normal.
Touching or stoking the clitoris at the same time as having vaginal sex can feel really good for lots of people and make an orgasm more likely. It can help to use lube.
The vagina gets wetter and more slippy when someone is ready for sex, but this may not always happen or may take some time. Not rushing, spending time doing other sexual activities first, and using lube can help make vaginal sex feel good. It’s always OK to say no to vaginal sex if you don’t want it or don’t feel ready.
Vaginal sex and STIs
It’s easy to get and pass on STIs when you have vagina sex. Using condoms can help protect you from most STIs.
Vaginal sex and pregnancy
If you or a partner could get pregnant, using condoms or another type of contraception is the best way to avoid an unintended pregnancy. More about contraception and pregnancy
Anal sex (penis in bum sex)
Like any type of sex, anal sex is a personal choice. Some people enjoy it, others don’t. Some people do it regularly, other people try it and decide it’s not for them. Other people don’t want to try it at all.
Anal sex is a type of penetrative sex or entry sex. This means that a penis, fingers or sex toy penetrates (goes inside) the anus.
If you want to have anal sex, it’s best to talk about it with a partner first and agree if it’s something you both want to do.
It’s always OK to say no to anal sex. If you’ve asked a partner to have anal sex but they don’t want to, respect their choice.
If you and a partner both agree you want to have anal sex with each other it’s important to take things slowly, have clean hands, use a condom on a penis or sex toy, and use plenty of lube. Always stop if there is any pain. Find out more about deciding to have anal sex.
Anal sex and STIs
The skin inside the anus is very thin and can easily get damaged.
This means that there is a higher chance of getting and passing on STIs. Using a condom and plenty of lube will help to protect you and a partner.
Sex toys and STIs
Some people enjoy using sex toys, others don’t.
Sex toys come in many different shapes, sizes and materials. If you’re interested in using them then it may take some time and experimenting to find toys you enjoy.
Some people only use them for masturbating on their own, others enjoy using them with a partner.
It’s possible to get and pass on STIs by sharing sex toys.
It’s really important to clean your sex toys to avoid getting any infections. Covering them with a condom before using them on your own or with a partner helps to keep them clean. Even if you use a condom, it’s still important to wash the sex toy after using it.
If you share sex toys with a partner, always wash them and cover them with a new condom before each person uses them.
How can I be good at sex?
There are no magic sex moves that will please everyone. Everyone is different and likes different things.
So the best way to be good at sex is to check in with your partner regularly. Before trying something, ask if it’s OK. Ask them if something feels good. Listen to what they say and what their body language is telling you. Are they enthusiastic about what’s happening or do they want to have a break or try something else? Don’t keep trying something if they’ve said – or shown – that they’re not into it. It’s really important that everyone willingly agrees to sexual activity.
Focus on being in the moment and enjoying what you’re doing together. Don’t worry too much about trying to give someone an orgasm – focus on helping them feel pleasure and an orgasm may follow.
When is it OK to stop using condoms in a relationship?
Always use condoms or dams:
- For sex with a new partner
- For sex with a casual partner
- If you or someone you have sex with also have sex with other partners
If you’re in a longer-term relationship and you’re only having sex with each other, then you might want to stop using condoms. But you don’t have to if you don’t want to.
It might help you decide by thinking about these questions.
- Are you both only having sex with each other?
- Do you trust each other to stick to that?
- Have you both been tested for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV and syphilis and had a negative (no infections) result?
- If so, has it been more than 3 months since you both had sex with anyone else?
- If one or both of you are living with HIV, are you on effective treatment so that you can’t pass on HIV through sex?
- Do you have any signs or symptoms that could be caused by an STI that need checking out?
- Have you talked about not using condoms and both feel happy with the decision?
If one of you could get pregnant:
- Are you using another type of contraception?
- How effective is your contraception? Do you ever forget it or make a mistake with it?
- Would you prefer the security of using condoms as well?
- Are you both prepared to use condoms if you forget your contraception?
- What would you do if your contraception failed?
- Do you know where to get emergency contraception if you need it?
- How would you feel about a pregnancy at this point in your life?