Your how-to guide for safe sex

Planning on having sex? Make it safe by getting your STI prevention methods and contraception sorted, knowing about consent and sexual health checks, and having ‘the talk’ with your sexual partner.

This can help if:

  • you're planning to have sex

  • you want to know what safe sex is

  • you want to practise safe sex.

safe sex

1. Know what safe sex is

Safe sex is any sexual contact you have while protecting yourself and your partner from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy. While there’s no way to guarantee that sex will be 100 per cent safe, there are things you can do to make it safer. Start by talking with your partner and checking that you both want to have sex at that time.

2. Have 'the talk'

It’s extremely important to make sure that you and your sexual partner are on the same page before you have sex. Talking about sex can feel totally awkward, but it will help to ensure that the sex you have is safe and respectful. It’s a good idea to have a chat before things get hot and heavy, when it will be easier to stay level-headed. Things to talk about include whether you’re ready to have sex, what you want to do in the bedroom, and STI prevention methods and contraception. Ask about the person’s sexual health (i.e. if they have any STIs), and whether they’ve had a sexual health check recently. Remember that their answers don’t mean that you don’t need to use protection. Also talk beforehand about using condoms and/or dams, and discuss who will buy them or get them for free from a family planning service or Condom Credit Card (CCCard) registered provider.

Consent is when both you and your partner have a mutual agreement about sex. It means communicating with each other before and during sex to check that you are both happy and comfortable with what’s taking place. Remember that you or your partner can change your mind at any point – including during sex. Read more about sexual consent here. Or check out, which compares consenting or declining to have sex to accepting or declining a cup of tea: you can say ‘no’ to a cup of tea even if someone has already made if for you.

4. Get your contraception sorted

You should use STI prevention methods and/or contraception during any sexual contact to prevent STIs and/or unplanned pregnancy. There are lots of different types of STI prevention methods and contraception, such as hormonal contraception (these don’t protect you from STIs), condoms, female condoms and diaphragms. Condoms for men are available over the counter from most supermarkets, service stations, chemists or convenience stores, and condoms for women can be bought at chemist shops. You can get free condoms by going into a family planning centre or a service that displays a Condom Credit Card (CCCard) and asking for your own CCCard. When you have your own card, you can get free condoms at registered providers whenever you present your card. Read more about contraception here and STIs here.

5. Practise safe oral sex

You can easily get an STI from having unsafe oral sex. You can reduce the risk by using condoms and dams during oral sex, or by avoiding oral sex if either of you has cuts or sores in, on or around your mouth or genitals, or a sore throat (infections can be more easily passed on during this time). You should also have an STI test every year, or more frequently if you start a new relationship.

6. Help prevent HIV

Condoms, used with a water-based lubricant, are still the most effective way to reduce the risk of HIV, but they are no longer the only option. Some HIV negative people who are at ongoing risk of acquiring HIV are taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to help prevent HIV.

7. Get a sexual health check

The only way to know for sure if you have an STI is to have a sexual health check every year, or more frequently if you start a new relationship. It’s also good to get checked after having unsafe sex, or if you can’t remember if you used safe sex precautions, or if a previous or current partner informs you that they have an STI. STI tests are available from your doctor and sexual health clinics, and are simple and confidential. Usually, they involve a urine sample and/or genital swab. If your results show that you have an infection, your previous and/or current sexual partner/s will also need to be tested and treated, otherwise they may pass it back to you or to someone else. It can seem embarrassing to have a sexual health check, but remember that doctors have seen it all before. Read more about how to get a sexual health check here.

8. Be safe with strangers

If you’re planning on having sex with someone you don’t know very well, or someone you met online (say, on Tinder), it’s a good idea to let a friend know where you are, and when they can expect to hear from you. As with any new partner, it’s also important to talk about sexual health and consent – and remember to have condoms and/or dams on hand in case you do decide to have sex. Remember that having them available doesn’t mean you have to have sex, and it’s a good idea to communicate this early on to the other person if you don’t want to have sex with them.

9. What to do if you've had unsafe sex

If you’ve had sex without using a condom, or if the condom breaks or comes off, don’t panic; there are steps you can take to minimise your risks. STI tests can easily be performed by nurses and at sexual health clinics. The emergency contraceptive pill is around 85 per cent successful in preventing unplanned pregnancy when used within 24 hours of having sex, but it can still be used for up to 96 hours (four days) afterwards. However, its effectiveness drops over time, and by day five it’s only about 50 per cent effective.

10. Become familiar with LGBTQIA+-friendly sexual health services

If you’re looking for LGBTQIA+-friendly sexual health clinics, you can find support services here, and they will be able to direct you to suitable clinics near you. DocLIST has a directory of doctors recommended by lesbian and bisexual women.

What can I do now?

  • Read more about safe sex practices

  • Learn more about consent.