Preventing HIV and Other STDs With Safe Sex

Do you think that practicing safe sex takes the joy out of sex? It doesn't have to. Safe sex practices simply combine the greatest pleasure with the least risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as herpes or syphilis. Safe sex can actually enhance your sex life by increasing communication and trust between you and your sexual partners.


What Is the Safest Sex?

The safest way to prevent HIV or STIs, of course, is abstinence, which is no sex at all. Next, the safest sex is sex that is shared between two people who are not infected with any STIs (including HIV), who only have sex with each other, and who don't use injectable drugs. If your partner is infected with HIV or another STI, or you don't know your partner's sexual history, the safest sexual activities include:

  • Fantasizing or having phone sex
  • Touching your own body erotically (masturbation) or having each partner touch his or her own body (mutual masturbation)
  • Caressing your partner using nonsexual massage
  • Rubbing against your partner's body with clothes on
  • Kissing

What Is Safe Sex?

Safer sexual intercourse carries some risk, but it is much, much safer than taking no precautions at all. In short, safe sex means not allowing your partner's semen or vaginal secretions to get inside of your vagina, anus, penis, or mouth. It also means avoiding genital skin-to-skin contact. That's because some STIs are spread just by skin-to-skin contact. Safe sex also means taking precautions if you have cuts, sores, or bleeding gums; these can increase the risk of spreading HIV.

Safe sex is protected sex during each and every sexual encounter. It includes:

  • Oral sex with a condom, dental dam, or plastic wrap
  • Vaginal sex with a male or female condom
  • Anal sex with a male or female condom

What If You and Your Partner Are Both HIV Positive?

You might think you don't need to practice safe sex if both you and your partner have HIV. But practicing safe sex will help protect you from other STIs. It will also protect you against other strains of HIV, which might not respond well to medication.

The guidelines below will help partners with HIV, as well as uninfected partners who want to avoid getting HIV or an STI.


Using Condoms and Other Barriers for Safe Sex

Barriers work by blocking many viruses, bacteria, and other infectious particles. Male latex condoms are the most common barrier used for safe sex. If your partner refuses to use a male condom, you can use a female condom, which fits inside the vagina. These are more expensive than male condoms and take a little more practice to learn how to use.

Here are some basic things you should know about buying and using condoms and other protective barriers.

  • Always use a new barrier each and every time you have sex.
  • Only buy latex condoms that are designed to prevent disease. These are available in drug stores without a prescription.
  • Only use water-based lubricants, such as K-Y jelly, with latex condoms. Don't use oil- or petroleum-based lubricants such as Vaseline or hand lotion; they can cause the rubber in latex condoms to break.
  • If you are allergic to latex, you can use a polyurethane condom with an oil-based lubricant.
  • Store condoms in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Don't keep a condom in your wallet for more than a few hours at a time.
  • Never use a condom that is brittle, sticky, or discolored, or in a damaged package.
  • During oral sex, cover the entire genital or anal area with a barrier. You can use a "dental dam" (latex squares, which are available in medical supply stores or adult shops) or a large piece of plastic wrap. You can also use an unused condom cut lengthwise.
  • If you and your partner are HIV positive, use latex surgical gloves when exploring each other sexually. Small cuts on the hand could get infected with HIV, or spread HIV.

You can also ask your doctor about the HIV drug Truvada. It has been approved for use in those at high risk as a way to prevent HIV infection. Truvada should be used in conjunction with safe sex practices.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on July 17, 2019


SOURCES: Planned Parenthood web site: "Safer Sex." AIDS InfoNet web site: "Safer Sex Guidelines." American Academy of Family Physicians web site: "HIV and AIDS: How to Reduce Your Risk." Gay Men's Health Crisis web site: "HIV/AIDS Basics." FDA web site: "Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Diseases ... especially AIDS." MedlinePlus web site: "Medical Encyclopedia: Condoms." FDA web site. CDC: "Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)."

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