The phrase "safe sex" is a bit of an oxymoron. No form of in-person sexual contact is entire without risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unintended pregnancy. Protection for both partners, regardless of the combination of penises or vaginas, is of critical importance.
It's vital to have an open and honest conversation about safety with your partner and be ready for the kinds of sex you plan to enjoy. Read on for some tips on how to have safe sex and ensure that prioritizing safety doesn't get in the way of your fun.
What Counts as Safe Sex?
Any kind of sexual activity that includes physical contact isn't entirely risk-free. Suppose you're seeking steamy satisfaction that doesn't carry any risk of STIs or unintended pregnancy. In that case, you can consider phone or video sex with your partner, masturbating together without touching, or having some solo fun. Even non-penetrative activities like kissing aren't risk-free, as some infections (like herpes) can be transmitted orally.
Safer sex refers to how partners can minimize these risks, even though eliminating them is tough. It includes frequent testing for STIs, commitment to the same partner (or partners), and using condoms and dental dams.
Whether you and your partner have a penis or vagina, you can make sex safer by communicating openly about your sexual history and recent STI test results. Having sex with only one partner is another way to minimize your risk and possible exposure to infections.
Tips for Safe(r) Sex for People With a Penis
Condoms are one of the best ways for penis owners to stay safe during sex. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to maximize the efficacy of condom use:
- Condoms should be stored in a cool place — heat can damage them.
- Condoms shouldn't be used past their expiration date.
- Don't open a package with your teeth — it can damage the condom.
- Take a condom off soon after ejaculation to prevent spilling.
- Never use a condom more than once.
- Don't double-layer condoms.
Additionally, penis owners can opt for a more permanent method of pregnancy prevention: a vasectomy. This process, also known as male sterilization, prevents the movement of sperm out of the testes.
Tips for Safe(r) Sex for People With a Vagina
There are a few ways vagina owners can ensure that their sexual encounters are as safe as possible. When it comes to preventing the spread of STIs, the recommendations are the same: Use a physical barrier (like a condom or dental dam), test frequently, and be open and honest with your partners about any infections and relevant history.
A variety of choices are available for vagina and uterus owners to prevent unintended pregnancy:
The Pill, the shot, the ring, a diaphragm, a cervical cap, a sponge, spermicide jelly or foam, female condoms, an intrauterine device, or the rhythm method.
Each method comes with a different effectiveness rate — when used 100% correctly — and may have additional benefits or side effects. It's wise to discuss what your best option is with your doctor.
What Can Result From Unsafe Sex?
Unsafe sex can have a variety of negative results, including:
- Unintended pregnancy
- Genital herpes
- Genital warts
- Zika or other tropical diseases
How To Make Safe Sex Feel Great
There's no reason that safe(r) sex should feel any less pleasurable or satisfying than unsafe sex. Knowing that you don't have to worry about negative consequences from your interaction can be extremely hot — you free yourself and your partner up to focus entirely on the enjoyable interactions at hand. (Yes, please!)
Here are a few suggestions to help ensure that your encounter is as safe as it is smoking hot:
- Have a discussion with your partner about your sexual and testing histories ahead of time. (Don't wait until things are hot and heavy).
- Decide together what method(s) you'll use to prevent the spread of infections and, if relevant, unintended pregnancy.
- If you're using condoms, try different brands to discover what works best for you and your partner. (They come in a truly astonishing variety of sizes, colors, flavors, and textures. Go wild!)
- Have those methods conveniently (bedside table, bathroom cabinet), and know precisely how to use them properly.
Don't forget that lube makes (almost) everything better. Be sure to select a lubricant that's compatible with any condoms or dental dams you're using — oil-based lubes the materials of condoms and can render them ineffective. (Yikes.)
What Should You Do If You've Had Unsafe Sex?
Unsafe sex can happen for a variety of reasons.
Lack of communication. If you aren't open or honest with your partner about your sexual history, commitment to exclusivity, birth control methods, or STI status, it can lead to sex that isn't safe. Be open, honest, and transparent.
Drugs and alcohol. When mind-altering substances like drugs or alcohol influence one or both partners, they can make decisions that don't align with their usual beliefs and desires. This can lead to choices that don't prioritize safety, and severe consequences can be.
Sexual assault. Consent for any sexual contact is critical. If you don't provide support to your partner for sexual activity — or you're unable to — it's considered sexual assault or rape. It is never your fault. If this is the situation and you believe you've been exposed to STIs or unintended pregnancy, seek medical care right away.
If you've had unsafe sex, there are a few things you should do. If you're a vagina or uterus owner, you can visit a pharmacy to get a form of emergency contraception known as the "morning-after pill" or "Plan B." This backup form of birth control should be used as soon as possible, but it's effective for up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. Note that it won't protect you against any STIs.
Regardless of your gender, if you've had unprotected sex, it's best to get in touch with your doctor and discuss the next steps. Your healthcare provider will likely recommend a timeline of testing for various sexually transmitted diseases and let you know what the treatment for any infections might entail.
In the End...
Sex can be immeasurably fun and pleasurable. It can be exciting and inspiring, satisfying and affirming. But above all, it's best if it's as safe as possible. No form of in-person sexual contact is completely free from the risks of STIs or pregnancy, but there are a few ways that you can prioritize your (and your partner's) safety during your steamiest encounters.
And what's hotter than being able to set aside any worries and immerse yourself in the absolute pleasure of what's at hand? If you ask us, not much.
Unintended Pregnancy. (September 2019). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Safer Sex Guidelines. (March 2021). Johns Hopkins Medicine.
9 Tips for Safer Sex. (July 2020). Men's Journal.
Condoms. (December 2020). WebMD.
Vasectomy. (March 2021). WebMD.
Birth Control Options. (April 2019). Cleveland Clinic.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases & Infections (STDs & STIs). (October 2020). Cleveland Clinic.
5 Ways to Make Sex with Condoms Feel SO Much Better. (June 2016). Women's Health.
Morning-after pill. (June 2020). Mayo Clinic.