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.

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Accessing our service during the COVID pandemic

How to access our service:

We have now implemented a telephone triage system for all of our clinics. This system will be in place for the duration of the pandemic. Please contact our services to access this triage system. Our central telephone number is 0300 303 3989.

If you are experiencing symptoms of Coronavirus please do not attend the clinic. Clear advice for people with symptoms of coronavirus is available at nhs.uk/coronavirus .

Advice from our service:

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

More details on the fitting of LARCs (coils and implants) at our service can be found here

If you need the combined contraceptive pill please try (if you can) to get updated measurements of your height, weight and blood pressure before calling us.

There is also specific advice on coronavirus available for People Living with HIV here, and for pregnant women here

Self-requested Sexual Health screening by post is available for for under 25s only - more info here

For others with testing requirements please contact the service on 0300 303 3989.

Alternative provision:

Please be aware that we may have to cancel, rearrange or shut clinical services in response to changing clinical and staffing pressures created by the Coronavirus pandemic. 

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

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