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Sex can be a really great thing for a lot of people, but it can also have consequences. Sex can lead to pregnancy and spread STDs, so it’s important to know how to protect yourself.

How can sex lead to STDs or pregnancy?

Anybody who has sex may be at risk for pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted infections.

Sexually transmitted infections can be spread during many kinds of sexual activity: like oral sex, anal sex, vaginal sex, and skin-to-skin genital touching (AKA dry humping without clothes). Some infections are spread through body fluids like semen, vaginal fluids, and blood. Others can be passed when the skin of your mouth or genitals rubs against the skin of someone else’s genitals.

So pretty much any type of sexual contact with another person — where there’s body fluids or genital skin touching — can put you at risk for STDs.

Sexually transmitted infections are super common — most people get one at some point in their life. Some STDs can be serious, but the good news is they can usually be cured or treated. If you’re having sex, protect yourself by using condoms and getting tested for STDs. Read more about STDs.

Along with STDs, there’s also a risk for pregnancy if you have vaginal (penis-in-vagina) sex. Anytime semen (from cum or pre-cum) from a penis gets into a vagina, pregnancy can happen. Pregnancy can also happen if semen gets on a vulva or near the vagina (like if you had wet semen on your fingers and touched a vagina).

So if you’re having vaginal sex — or think you might have sex sometime soon — use birth control (like condoms, an IUD, or the pill) if you want to prevent pregnancy. Birth control is the best way to avoid pregnancy if you have sex. Read more about birth control.

What’s the best way to protect myself from pregnancy and STDs?     

The only 100% certain way to avoid pregnancy is to not have penis-in-vagina sex, or do any sexual stuff where sperm can touch a vulva or vagina (this is called abstinence). And the only 100% certain way to avoid STDs is to not do any sexual stuff that involves body fluids or skin-to-skin touching with another person (including oral, anal, and vaginal sex).

But let’s get real: most people do have sex at some point in their life. And there are ways to help protect yourself from pregnancy and/or STDs if you decide to have sex.

Using safer sex barriers (like condoms and dental dams) every time you have oral, anal, or vaginal sex helps protect you from STDs. And using birth control (including condoms) every time you have penis-in-vagina sex helps prevent pregnancy.

Condoms are the only type of birth control that helps prevent pregnancy and STDs at the same time. But if you have penis-in-vagina sex, the best way to protect yourself is to use condoms PLUS another birth control method — like the pill, IUD, implant, or shot. That way you’re protected from STDs, and double-protected from pregnancy.

Getting tested for STDs regularly and talking honestly with people you hook up with about preventing pregnancy and/or STDs is another way to keep yourself healthy.

Read more about STDs and birth control.

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