What is safer sex?

What is safer sex?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are passed from one person to another during sexual activity. This could be oral, anal, vaginal sex, or any kind of genital skin-to-skin contact with another person. Safer sex means thinking about the risks involved and trying other things instead. We’ve put together some ideas about different types of sex and how risky they are to help you decide.


Low-risk sex

Low-risk sex

No form of sexual contact is completely without risk of catching an STI, but non-penetrative contact carries the least risk. This includes;

  • body rubbing
  • dry-humping – when you grind against each other with your clothes on
  • mutual masturbation (wanking)

Gentle fingering or using sex toys is also low-risk providing toys are cleaned or used with a separate condom between partners. Rough fingering, fisting or hard use of sex toys can cause cuts, abrasions or bruising to the delicate lining of the vagina or anus and this increases the risk of infection.

Medium-risk sex

Medium-risk sex

Having sex with a condom is the next best way to protect against catching an STI although it isn’t completely free of risk. Some STIs such as genital warts and herpes can still be passed on, although the likelihood is much lower. Making sure that you are using the condom correctly can reduce the chances of it splitting or coming off during sex, if this happens you may want to seek emergency contraception to avoid pregnancy and you should also have a check-up.

Oral sex is more risky than sex with a condom but less risky than unprotected sex.  Herpes, genital warts, chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B can all be transmitted through oral sex. In most scenarios, the person giving oral sex is most at risk. You can make oral sex safer by;

  • not letting your partner ejaculate (cum) in your mouth
  • not brushing your teeth or flossing before oral sex (this can cause cuts and bleeding in your mouth which increases the likelihood of STI transmission)
  • not having oral sex if you have cuts, sores or ulcers in your mouth or a sore throat
  • using a dental dam or condom
High-risk sex

High-risk sex

Unprotected vaginal sex puts you at risk of catching most STIs.  You can reduce the risk by making sure that you and your partner have had a recent check-up.  Many STIs have no visible symptoms so a check-up is the only way to be sure. You can also reduce the risk by limiting the number of sexual partners that you have.

Unprotected anal sex puts you at risk of catching most STIs as well as blood borne viruses such as Hepatitis B. You can reduce the risk by having regular checkups, reducing the number of partners that you have and by getting vaccinated if you are a man who regularly has sex with other men.

Come and visit us at one of our Devon Sexual Health clinics to chat about how we can help.

How can we help you?

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Accessing our service

In response to the emergence of COVID-19 we have implemented a telephone triage system for all of our clinics. Our central telephone number is 0300 303 3989.

We are currently experiencing high demand for our Sexual Health Services across Devon and Torbay with unprecedented demand in Exeter. Please note always review urgent cases the same day. If your need is urgent and you are struggling to reach us keep trying as our phone system will explain how to access same-day care with us.

We have updated information on the provision of routine contraception here.

Self-requested STI testing by post is available for those aged under 25- more info

We are now running an under 18’s sit and wait clinic at Exeter, Torquay, and Barnstaple for more information click here

If you are struggling to access sexual health services, alternatives may be available:

  • Emergency Contraception - from a local pharmacy - more info
  • Contraceptive pills and LARC procedures - obtained from your GP
  • HIV PEPSE - available via A+E departments - more info
  • Condoms by post (for gay and bisexual men only) - more info