All types of sex whether its anal, vaginal, oral, with fingers or toys carry a risk of STI transmission however there are lots of ways in which sex can be made safer.
- Vaginal and Anal Sex
The most effective way of making vaginal and anal sex safer is by using good quality condoms, putting them on correctly and using a water based lubricant. Lube is something that is recommended for both vaginal and anal sex as it reduces friction which can cause condoms to split or tear. The best quality condoms carry both the CE Mark (European Standard) and the British Kite Mark. All condoms have an expiry date so this should still be valid and you should check that the packet doesn’t have any rips or tears.
You should always use a water based lubricant with latex condoms as anything with oil in it could damage or create a hole in the condom
The anus doesn’t produce natural lubricant so it’s really important to use lots of lubricant if you’re having anal sex.
There is a vast array of condoms male and female, from large to trim, ribs & dots, latex free, flavoured and fragrance free so one size certainly doesn’t fit all.
- Oral Sex
The most effective way to make oral sex with a penis safer is to use a male condom. The condom should carry the CE mark and the British Kite Mark and the package should be in good condition without any rips or wear. Remember to check the expiry date on the packet.
The most effective way to make oral sex with a vagina or anus (rimming) safer is to use an oral sex dam (often just referred to as dams) which is a very thin, soft plastic (typically latex or polyurethane) square of about 15cm by 15cms that comes in different colours and flavours. You can use it to cover anus or female genitals during oral sex. It acts as a barrier to help prevent sexually transmitted infections (such as HIV, herpes and genital warts) passing from one person to another. Use a dam for oral-anal contact is wise because you’re not only at risk of catching an STI, but also other infections such as E-coli and parasite infections. It is especially important to use a dam if you have any cuts or sores in the mouth or on the lips.
Dams are available at all Leeds Sexual Health Clinics as well as at C-Card sites for under 25’s. Use the Service Finder to locate your nearest service.
- Digital Penetration (fingering)
Sexually transmitted infections can also be passed on through inserting fingers and hands into your partner as well as by touching yourself and then your partner. Any cuts on your hands can also be a passage for the transmission of infections including HIV during manual stimulation of your partner. Using latex gloves as a barrier can prevent this.
Remember to change the gloves for new ones between touching your partner and touching yourself so that you don’t spread any infections that might be present.
Never re-use the gloves - use a new pair of gloves each time you have sex!
You should use new gloves whenever you change between vaginal and anal contact to prevent the transfer of germs from one body part to another.
Use plenty of water based lubricant, especially for vaginal and anal fisting.
Do not use oil based lubricants, as they can damage the latex (allowing the transfer of any bodily fluid and infections).
If you are not using latex gloves, it is really important that you wash your hands before and after sex to prevent the spread of infection. This is especially important between touching yourself and touching your partner and vice versa.
- Sex toys
Sex toys can pass on STIs such as chlamydia, syphilis and herpes. There is also an increased risk of bacterial vaginosis in women who have sex with women. If you are using sex toys, you can prevent the transmission of STIs by covering it with a new condom each time you have sex (especially between different partners) and using a water based lubricant. You should also change the condom between vaginal and anal penetration to avoid the transfer of germs between body parts.
Do not share any sex toys that may draw blood from the skin, as this type of sex toy can pass on blood-borne infections. If there are any cuts or sores around the vagina, anus or penis, and blood is present, there is an increased risk of passing on infections such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
It is important to clean your sex toys between sessions. How you clean a sex toy depends on what it is made of and if the sex toy uses batteries and has parts that can’t be washed. Sex toys should come with advice on how to clean and store them so it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
If your sex toys can be washed, you need to wash them thoroughly with warm water and soap after each use. You should also wash them in between using them on different parts of the body, such as the mouth, vagina and anus to prevent the spread of germs between body parts. It is really important to wash them between use on one person to another to prevent the transmission of STIs.
You also need to check sex toys regularly for scratches or breaks in the surface material where germs can be present and spread, as this will increase the risk of infection.
- Where can I get advice?
If you have any questions or need advice, you should visit a sexual health clinic. Use the Service Finder to find the closest and best service for you.