An Overview of Safe Sex Practices

If you're dating, particularly casually, it's important to have sex safely. That's true whether you're having sexual intercourse, oral sex, or just using your hands. Practicing safe sex every time you have sex can help to protect you against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Making this commitment can also help you feel more confident in your sexual decision making. Safe sex may not be foolproof. However, choosing to practice it consistently also forces you to make a conscious decision to have sex instead of just letting it happen. That, along with the conversations that safe sex requires, is a great way to reduce the chance that you'll do something you regret.

Safe Sex Tips for Sexual Intercourse

Vaginal sex and anal sex are both types of sexual intercourse that can be made safer by using a condom. Here are some tips for making sexual intercourse safer:

  • If you're using a male condom to have safe sex, you should put the condom on as soon as your partner's penis becomes erect (or before using a toy for insertion). Putting the condom on early will reduce the risk of passing on any diseases that are spread from skin-to-skin contact as well as the risk of forgetting to put one on later during your sexual encounter.
    Detailed Instructions on Using a Male Condom
  • Female condoms  can be inserted even earlier, although you may need to use a little lube both on the outside and the inside.
    Detailed Instructions on Using a Female Condom
  • It is important to leave enough room at the tip of the condom for the person wearing it to ejaculate. Failure to leave room can increase the risk of condom breakage. For similar reasons, it's important to make certain that there is no air trapped in the tip of the condom when you first put the condom on.
  • After the penetrative sexual partner has orgasmed (i.e. the person wearing the condom), they should make certain to hold the base of the condom as they are withdrawing their penis from their partner's body. This makes slippage less likely and decreases the odds of a condom failure.
  • Always check the expiration date of the condom before you open the packet. You should also make certain that the condom package is intact by checking for the air bubble.
  • It's a good idea to use a water- or silicone-based lubricant for intercourse. Proper lubrication reduces the risk of tearing and other damage during sex, which can reduce the risk of transmitting an STD. However, you may want to avoid lubricants that contain nonoxynol-9. Lubrication is important even if you're using lubricated condoms. Keeping a bottle of your favorite brand next to the bed is never a bad idea.
  • If you start to put a condom on inside out, you should throw it out and start over again with a new condom. You shouldn't roll it off and try again.  

Note: The techniques above can be used to make sexual intercourse safer no matter who you decide to have sex with—whether they have a biological penis or an artificial one.

Safe Sex Tips for Oral Sex

Most people who decide to have sex don't only have sexual intercourse. And, of course, sexual intercourse isn't the only kind of sex that people should consider having safely. There are several types of oral sex including oral-penile contact (fellatio, or a blow job), oral-vaginal contact (cunnilingus), and oral-anal contact (rimming). All of these types of oral sex carry some amount of STD risk. This can be reduced by having safe sex. Some tips for having safe oral sex include:

  • Use unlubricated condoms or flavored condoms when giving your partner a blow job. Doing so can reduce the risk of diseases such as syphilis and herpes. These STDs are spread by skin-to-skin contact during oral sex. Protected oral sex can also reduce the risk of STDs that are spread by bodily fluids, such as gonorrhea. You should put the condom on as soon as your partner becomes erect.
  • When going down on a woman or engaging in oral-anal contact, it is also a good idea to use a barrier such as a dental dam. Dental dams can either be purchased from a sex supply store or made by cutting up a condom.
  • Try putting lube on the back side of the dental dam (the side facing your partner). This can make having safe oral sex much more enjoyable for both of you.
  • Some sex toy companies make dental dam harnesses to make it easier to have hands-free safe oral sex.

Safe Sex for Fingering/Fisting

Mutual masturbation and other ways that people have sex with their fingers and hands are less risky than ways of having sex when bodily fluids are exchanged. However, they can still be made even safer. Using latex or nitrile gloves, or finger cots can reduce the transmission of bacteria and other pathogens that can be found on the skin or under the nails. They can also reduce the risk of people transferring infections to themselves with their hands.

Some things you should consider when you are using your hands to have sex include:

  • If you are using your hands to penetrate your partner's anus and then their mouth or vagina, or their vagina and then their anus or mouth, it's a good idea to switch gloves.
  • It is now possible to get latex and nitrile gloves in a wide range of colors. Some people find black or purple gloves to be much sexier than the standard white.
  • If you have long nails, padding them with cotton before putting on a glove can reduce your risk of both scratching your partner and making a hole in the glove. Using gloves can also make it less necessary to cut your nails before using your hands to have sex.
  • You can make your own finger cots by cutting the fingers off of latex or nitrile gloves.
  • It's a good idea to use lubricant while having sex with your hands. This is true whether you're penetrating your partner or giving them a hand job. Lubrication reduces the risk of chafing and skin damage, and it also makes sensations feel more slippery and more exciting.

A Word From Verywell

The basic principles of safer sex are independent of your sexual orientation or gender identity. Safe sex is a useful tool in everyone's arsenal. 

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