Sexually transmitted infections can be transferred from one person to another through various sexual acts.

In order to reduce your chances of becoming infected with an STI you should practice safe sex during every sexual encounter.

Below we will discuss the most effective methods of preventing the spread of STIs.

Non-penetrative sex

Abstinence is the most comprehensive method of completely avoiding STIs.

Masturbation, mutual masturbation, body rubbing and kissing also carry a much lower risk of spreading STIs than intercourse. Vaginal and penile secretions should not come into contact with the mouth, anus, penis or vagina.

However, it is important to bear in mind that herpes can be spread through kissing if the HSV virus is present on the mouth.

It may be noticeable if a cold sore is visible but not everyone shows obvious signs. Most cold sores are caused by the HSV-1 virus whereas genital herpes is most often caused by the HSV-2 strain, however this is not true for all cases.

HSV can be passed from the mouth to the genitals and vice versa through oral sex. Below you can read how to practise safe oral sex.


Vaginal sex can be enjoyed safely by using a range of protection.

Women can use female condoms which are up to 95 per cent effective against STIs and pregnancy when used correctly. Before sex the soft inner ring of the female condom is inserted into the vagina using the fingers so that the lose latex bag encompasses the area.

Male latex condoms are another form of barrier protection to limit unwanted pregnancies and the transmission of STIs including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HSV-2. The condom is passed over the tip of the penis and pushed down towards the base making sure there is no air inside.

Non-latex condoms are also available but they do not provide the same level of protection as their latex counterparts.

Care should be taken when removing either a male or female condom to ensure that no semen is spilled.

Condoms should be disposed of immediately and not reused as this could reduce their integrity and increase the risk of spreading STIs.

It may be beneficial to practise using your preferred condom before you take part in sexual activity. It should be noted that STIs can be transmitted during any part of sexual intercourse and not just at the point of ejaculation.

Oral sex involves any act where the mouth or tongue comes into contact with the genitals or anus.

Protection should be used to prevent the transmission of STIs when performing oral sex acts regardless of the body part. A male condom can be used to cover the man’s penis and a dental dam can be used to cover the female genitalia or male and female anus.

Anal sex includes penetration of the anus using the penis, fingers or sex toys and comes with the highest risk of spreading STIs. This is due to the lining of the anus being thin and therefore more prone to infection. Condoms should be used to stop STIs being transmitted during anal sex.

Sex toys can be used to enhance sexual pleasure, however, it should be remembered that they too can transfer STIs amongst users.

For example, hepatitis can live outside of the body for several weeks, therefore all sex toys should be thoroughly cleaned after use, especially if they are being shared between people. If a toy is being shared during sex a new condom should be placed over it before switching user.

Regular STI testing

To make sure that you don’t contribute to the spreading of STIs it is important to know whether you have been infected so that you can receive treatment as soon as possible.

It is therefore best practice to regularly get tested. This is especially important if you are partaking in unprotected sex or have a new partner. Tests for STIs can be carried out using an at-home kit, at your local genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic, at a sexual health clinic or by your GP.


Unfortunately there aren’t vaccinations available against all possible STIs. Although those who are at high risk of contracting hepatitis A and B can speak to their healthcare professional to see whether they are suitable for vaccination.

Think Ahead

If you are planning on having sex you should think about which method of protection you will use. You may also wish to have a discussion with your potential sexual partner to check whether they have recently been tested for STIs.

Sexual partners

Those who frequently change or have an increased number of sexual partners are at a higher risk of contracting an STI. If you choose to stay with one monogamous partner who has tested negative for STIs, then obviously you will significantly reduce your chances of contracting an infection.

Adapting safe sex practices can help prevent the transmission of STIs. There are a variety of options available so that all types of sexual activity can be enjoyed as safely as possible.

Page last reviewed:  20/07/2016