What is safe sex?

Safe sex is the use of condoms and water based lubricant during anal or vaginal intercourse.

Safe sex can:

  • prevent HIV transmission
  • prevent pregnancy
  • help prevent most STIs.
The most common way to transmit HIV is through vaginal or anal intercourse without a condom. Safe sex prevents HIV being passed on through sexual intercourse. Safe sex also protects you against unintended pregnancy and against some common STIs that can be transmitted during intercourse, for example chlamydia and gonorrhoea. Not all STIs are transmitted in the same way and so using condoms doesn't provide one hundred per cent protection against all sexually transmitted infections.

What other things can I do to stay safe?

Using condoms and water-based lubricant during sex can help to protect you from getting HIV and STIs.

There are some other ways to protect yourself as well:

If you are sexually active and having safe sex, you can reduce your risk of getting STIs further by having fewer sexual partners. Some STIs are quite common and, while condoms will help to reduce your risk, they can't fully protect you.

Each time you change sexual partner, you increase the chance that you might be having sex with someone who has an STI. This means that the more sexual partners you have, the greater your risk is. The fewer partners you have, the less likely you are to catch an STI.

Having fewer partners can be a good way to reduce your chances of catching an STI, but only if you combine it with safe sex or if you and your partner get tested for STIs and HIV prior to having sex.


  • many STIs have no symptoms, and people often don't know that they are infected
  • you can't tell if someone has an STI based on who they have slept with or how they look
  • being sexually active means there is always a chance of getting an STI
  • don't have sex with someone if they have obvious STI symptoms on their genitals, for example warts or rashes or itch.

Everyone who is sexually active needs to be thinking about regular sexual health check-ups with the local doctor or sexual health clinic. Many STIs can be quickly and effectively treated.

If you do show any symptoms get them quickly checked out. If you think you have an STI it is important not to have sex until you have seen a doctor.

Getting a sexual health check-up between sexual partners - and then practicing only safe sex - will help protect you from HIV and STIs. Discuss with your doctor vaccination against hepatitis A and B.

Deciding not to use condoms and lubricant in a relationship is a big decision - visit Condoms and relationships, for some tips.

Why have safe sex?

Safe sex is the best way of protecting yourself and partner/s from STIs, including HIV.

There are very good reasons why sexually active people need to practise safe sex including:

  • condoms stop HIV transmission
  • you can't judge whether someone has an STI based on how they look, dress, behave, who they have slept with, etc. Anyone can get HIV or another STI
  • practising safe sex provides you with peace of mind
  • thinking 'HIV won't happen to me' provides no protection
  • some STIs are quite common and using condoms will reduce the risk of infection
  • people with HIV or STIs don't always know that they are infected
  • safe sex protects you from unintended pregnancies
  • HIV can affect anyone. While in Australia most people with HIV are gay men and men who have sex with men, heterosexuals still get HIV.

Worldwide HIV overwhelmingly affects heterosexuals, including amongst our closest neighbours in Asia.

Oral sex

Oral sex is where the mouth of one person is placed on the genitals (vagina/penis) of another.

There have been some cases of HIV been transmitted from oral sex. In most of these cases the person had sores, wounds, gum disease, ulcers, cuts, herpes or infections in the mouth. Without those factors it isn't considered easy for HIV to enter the bloodstream via the mouth or throat.

Confusion still exists around oral sex and HIV because initially there was some uncertainty about the risk posed and early safe sex messages may have made it seem riskier than it actually was.

While research has indicated HIV transmission can occur through oral sex, it is viewed as a rare occurrence. However, to reduce this small risk make sure your mouth and gums are in good condition before engaging in oral sex. Not allowing your partner to ejaculate into your mouth will also reduce the risk.

While oral sex is not a risky activity in regards to passing HIV, other STIs can be easily passed through oral sex, for example gonorrhoea.

If you are still concerned about catching HIV or other STIs use condoms during oral sex or avoid oral sex.

Current as at: Thursday 7 March 2013
Contact page owner: Centre for Population Health