Condoms, used correctly every time you have sex, can be effective in reducing your risk of getting an STI, including HIV, and can also stop you or your partner from getting pregnant.

Condoms aren’t foolproof and can’t protect you from coming in contact with some sores (such as those that can occur with herpes) or warts.

Use only water-based lubricants with condoms. Oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly, baby oil or lotions, can damage condoms and cause them to tear.

If you think you may have been at risk of unintended pregnancy, emergency hormonal contraception is effective up to 72 hours following unprotected intercourse. See contraception for more information.

If you think you may have been at high risk of exposure to HIV, you should contact your nearest genitourinary medicine clinic (or A&E department, out of hours) to discuss Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) at the earliest opportunity. It can be prescribed up to 72 hours after an event. See HIV services for more information.

Condoms are available free from sexual health clinics. If you are under-25 and live in Oxfordshire, you can also register for the safety c-card scheme to get free condoms from a variety of outlets, including some youth centres, schools, colleges and pharmacies.

Ways to reduce the risk of STIs

  • Penetrative vaginal sex – putting on a condom before there is any genital contact, and prior to penetration and ejaculation, minimises the chance of spreading bacteria and viruses from one person to another.
  • Penetrative anal sex – using a condom with plenty of water-based lubricant means a condom is less likely to burst. It makes sex more comfortable and helps avoid friction and breaks in the skin. Some people will prefer to use extra-strong condoms.
  • Oral sex – some infections can be passed on through skin-to-skin contact, bodily fluids and through ingestion. Avoid oral sex if you or your partner have an STI, or are experiencing bleeding gums, sores, cuts, ulcers, warts, rashes around the genitals, anus or mouth, until symptoms resolve or are treated.
  • Foreplay – cover cuts, sores or skin lesions on fingers with waterproof plasters, particularly during a menstrual period. It is safe to apply a water-based lubricant to the fingers during foreplay.
  • Sex toys – if you are sharing sex toys with a partner, use the same level of protection as with penetrative sex and remember to wash toys with warm soapy water before and after use.
  • Masturbation – there is no risk of infection if you are alone and using unshared items. It is, however, possible to pass some infections from one part of the body to another through poor hygiene techniques.

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