What is safer sex?

Safer sex is a way of  of engaging in sexual activity that is informed, consensual, and decreases risk of getting sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.  Safer sex can play an important role in keeping you and your partners healthy.

Here are some general tips for practicing safer sex. General tips for reducing your risk of getting STIs (all of these are based on what you decide for your own body):

  • Knowing the chances of getting STIs with different sexual activities can keep you informed. Please have a look at Smart Sex Resource My Chances
  • Using safer sex barriers (such as internal or external condoms, dams, and gloves)
  • Using lubricant to help prevent genital cuts/tears and increasing sexual pleasure
  • Look at your own and your partner’s genital area for any changes, including sores, discharge, or unusual odours.
  • Getting tested and treated for STIs when you have new partners will help you to reduce the risk of transmitting STIs to others and to get treatment needed.
  • If you use substances or alcohol during sexual activity, consider ways to stay safe. Please click here for more information on harm reduction practices.
  • Reduce the risk of STIs when using sex toys by sterilizing the toys, using condoms with them, or not sharing them.
  • Try to avoid sharing drug paraphernalia (needles and pipes). Click here to find safer drug supplies.
  • Consider available vaccinations – for more information on immunizations visit Immunize BC.
  • If you are unsure of your partners STI status, can’t use safer sex barriers, and partners have not been recently tested, consider low risk sexual activities that do not involve fluid exchange, such as hugging, massage, or masturbating alone or in front of a partner(s).
  • Other safer sex tips include communicating with partners (more information below) and looking at emotional risks (more information below).

What strategies do you use to help reduce your chances of STIs?

For more information:

Smart Sex Resource

Safer sex can be really sexy. Barrier use can reduce the possibility of STI transmission, although it can’t take that possibility away entirely. Having safer sex that works for you and your sexual partner(s) will make it easier to enjoy all the pleasures that sex has to offer, and help with  anxieties you may be experiencing.

Plan ahead:

Are you worried your safer sex plans will fly out of the window when things get hot and heavy? In that case, have your safer sex tools:

  • condoms, dams, lube, and gloves ready to use. This can be where you often have sex, in your purse, or backpack. Be sure not to store these items where they may become damaged from exposure to friction or increased temperatures as it will compromise the effectiveness of your safe sex tools. 


  • Condoms, lubes, dams, and gloves come in all different sizes, textures, flavours, and types. Try a few different ones to see what you like!
  • Shopping (at a store or online) with your sexual partner(s) for safer sex tools can make trying new products a fun part of experimenting together.
  • Talk about all the fun things you’d like to try while using your new tools.
  • Sex shops (age dependent) sell a wider variety of safer sex tools than pharmacies or sexual health clinics; find what you like best (in terms of product) and happy pleasuring! 


  • Get to know your safer sex tools. You will enjoy using them more and they’ll be easier to use when you need them.
  • It helps to explore these products on your own, so when you are in the heat of the moment or during a conversation you feel more comfortable with how they work. Depending on the sex you are having, practice putting an external condom on yourself if you have a body part that would use an external condom, if not a dildo or banana will work as well. You can practice with internal condoms, dams, gloves, etc.
  • Exploring barriers will make them more familiar to you, and less awkward when it comes time to put them to use. (link to barrier methods section)
  • Finding the right glove size and practicing putting them on can help make this process pleasurable when it comes time to use them. There are many types of gloves, in various sizes, and colours. There’s a perfect one out there for you.

Have fun

  • Make gloves, dams, and condoms part of your sex play.
  • Talk sexy while you’re putting on a condom, dam, or glove.
  • Go slowly and tease the other person by making them wait a bit.
  • Play by applying barriers on/in/over your sexual partner(s) with your hands or mouth. (Be careful not to tear the external condom with your teeth if using your mouth).

Relationships can be complicated and sometimes safer sex can be difficult, here are a few general tips for safer sex when barriers cannot be used:

  • Choosing low risk  sexual activities (uch as hugging, massage or masturbating alone or in front of a partner(s)
  • Oral sex: not brushing, flossing before as gums may bleed, avoiding oral if major dental work has just been done
  • Genital sex: avoiding areas where there may be cuts/abrasions, damage to skin, bleeding, avoiding a person ejaculating inside the genitals if possible
  • Getting tested for STIs after the window periods
  • HIV Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP): link to info
  • Use lubrication  to help prevent skin tearing which may make it easier for STIs
  • Having a plan and knowing where to obtain clean needles and other drug equipment
  • Communication about sexual history: whether safer sex barriers are used or not, it may be helpful to check in with the sexual partner(s) about their sexual history. For more information please visit: http://teenhealthsource.com/sex/talking-partners-stis/
  • If possible while things are getting sexual, have a look to see if your sexual partner(s) has any signs of a rash, sore, redness or discharge.
Safer Oral Sex
(Includes oral/genital, and oral/anal (rimming) sex)
Safer vaginal/frontal sex Safer Anal sex
Using a condom on a penis*, or placing an oral dam over the vulva/vaginal*or anal area, before oral sex can help to protect against STIs

communicate with your sexual partners before sex to indicate your desires, sexual needs and boundaries

Use condoms on sex toys or wash sex toys thoroughly between uses and between anal and frontal sex

Try to urinate before and after frontal sex to help prevent urinary tract infections.

communicate with your sexual partners before sex to indicate your desires, sexual needs and boundaries.

Use condoms on sex toys or wash sex toys thoroughly between uses and between anal and frontal sex.

Keep updated on Vaccines (such as  Hepatitis A, which can be transmitted through oral/anal sex) If it hurts, stop! If it hurts, stop!
Consider using plenty of lubricant Consider using plenty of lubricant – try a thicker or gel-based lubricant.
If using lubricant, avoid the use of of oil-based lubricants with barriers as they will decrease their effectiveness If using lubricant, avoid the use of of oil-based lubricants with barriers as they will decrease their effectiveness
Consider using gloves when inserting fingers or hands into the genitals, if fingernails are sharp. Consider using gloves when inserting fingers or hands into the anal area, if fingernails are sharp or especially to help keep bacteria from the anal area out of the frontal genital area.

*We know that the word “vagina” is not representative of the words that people may use to describe this part of their body. We use it here only for medical purposes to be as clear as possible. But please feel free to insert the word that you use for your own body. Adapted from LGBTQ UNC Healthy Bodies Safer Sex


Safer Sex Guide: 2016, CATIE (Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange). 

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