Safer sex at a glance:
- Safer sex is anything you do to lower the chance of giving or getting STDs.
- Waiting to have sex, using condoms, and getting tested regularly for STDs makes sex safer.
- There’s no such thing as sex that’s 100% safe. That’s why we call it safer, not safe.
Worried? Had unprotected sex? We're here to help.
What’s safer sex?
"Safer sex" is anything we do to lower the risk of getting STDs or giving others STDs .
No kind of sex with another person is guaranteed to be 100 percent safe: Since STDs don't always have symptoms, people don't always know they have them. And pregnancy can happen even if you use birth control.
But not all kinds of sex have the same risks. Vaginal and anal sex are the most likely to spread STDs, oral sex is less likely, and things like kissing, mutual masturbation, and outercourse (AKA dry humping) are even safer. Here are ways to have safer sex:
- For vaginal sex, use birth control and condoms
- For anal sex, use condoms and lubricant
- For oral sex, use a condom to cover the penis or a Sheer Glyde dam, cut-open condom, or plastic wrap to cover the vulva or anus
- Get tested for STDs
Do I need to use a condom if I’m on birth control?
Even if you're using birth control, use condoms every time you have sex to protect yourself from STDs. Many women who take birth control (like the pill) also use condoms, because only condoms protect against STDs — the pill and other kinds of birth control do not.
The other reason to use condoms even if you're on birth control is for extra pregnancy protection, because condoms also prevent pregnancy! No birth control method is 100% effective, so adding condoms to the mix increases your protection.
Bottom line: if you decide to have vaginal sex, condoms + birth control = the best way to prevent pregnancy and STDs.
Can I get an STD from someone who’s never had sex?
It's very unlikely — but still possible — to get STDs from someone who's never had any kind of sex. Some people, for example, are born with HIV, which they can pass to other people later in life when they have sex. People can also pick up herpes through casual kissing — even from friends and family. Their herpes infections can then be passed on sexually, but this is also pretty unlikely.
The chance of this happening is small, so don't worry about it too much. On the other hand, it's another one of the many good reasons to always use condoms when you have sex.
Keep in mind that some STDs can be passed through oral sex, and some can be passed by genital skin-to-skin contact. So you need to ask people you have sex with questions like "What kinds of sex have you had? When was the last time you were tested? Do you always use protection?" But no matter what they say, using protection is always the safest bet.