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Safe Sex Practices

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 1, 2023.

Safe sex practices are ways to prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). An STI happens when a virus or bacteria are spread through sexual activity. Safe sex practices help decrease or prevent body fluid exchange during sex. Body fluids include saliva, urine, blood, vaginal fluids, and semen. Oral, vaginal, and anal sex can all spread STIs.


Return to the emergency department if:

  • A condom breaks, leaks, or slips off while you are having sex.
  • You notice sores on your penis, vagina, anal area, or skin around them.
  • You have had unsafe sex and want to discuss emergency contraception or treatment for STI exposure.

Call your doctor if:

  • You or your female sex partner might be pregnant.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Safe sex practices to follow before you have sex:

  • Talk to a new partner before you have sex. Tell your partner if you have an STI. Ask about his or her sex history and if he or she has a current or past STI. Your partner may need to be tested and treated. Do not have sex while you are being treated for an STI, or with a partner who is being treated.
  • Limit your number of sex partners. More than one sex partner can increase your risk for an STI. Do not have sex with anyone whose sex history you do not know.
  • Get tested for STIs if needed. Get tested if you had sex with someone who has an STI. Get tested if you have unprotected sex with any new partner.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about birth control. Birth control can help prevent an unwanted pregnancy. There are many different types of birth control. Talk to your healthcare provider about which birth control method is right for you.
  • Ask about medicines to lower your risk for some STIs:
    • Vaccines can help protect you from hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and the human papillomavirus (HPV). The HPV vaccine is usually given at 11 years, but it may be given through 26 years to both females and males. Your provider can give you more information on vaccines to prevent STIs.
    • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) may be given if you are at high risk for HIV. PrEP is taken every day to prevent the virus from fully infecting the body.
  • Do not use alcohol or drugs before sex. These can prevent you from thinking clearly and increase your risk for unsafe sex.

Safe sex practices to follow while you are having sex:

  • Use condoms and barrier methods for all types of sexual contact. This includes oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Male and female condoms are available. Make sure that the condom fits and is put on correctly. Rubber latex sheets or dental dams can be used for oral sex. Use a new condom or latex barrier each time you have sex. Use latex condoms, if possible. Lambskin or natural condoms do not prevent STIs. If you or your partner is allergic to latex, use a nonlatex product, such as polyurethane. Use a second form of birth control with the condom to prevent pregnancy and STIs. Do not use male and female condoms together.
  • Only use water-based lubricants during sex. Water-based lubricants help prevent sores or cuts in the vagina or on the penis. Prevent sores or cuts to decrease your risk for an STI. Do not use oil-based lubricants, such as baby oil or hand lotion, with latex condoms or barriers. These will weaken the latex and may cause the condom to break.
  • Do not use chemicals that irritate your skin. Products that contain chemical irritants, such as spermicides, can irritate the lining of your vagina or rectum. Irritation may cause sores that can increase your risk for an STI.
  • Be careful when you have sex if you have open sores or cuts. Open sores or cuts may increase your risk for an STI. Keep all open sores or cuts covered during sex. Do not have oral sex if you have cuts or sores in your mouth.
  • Do not do activities that can pass germs. Do not use saliva as a lubricant or share sex toys.

Follow up with your doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

© Copyright Merative 2023 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.