Hesperian Health Guides

Safer sex

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HealthWiki > A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities > Chapter 8: Sexual health: Preventing sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS > Safer sex

a drunk man entering a house and speaking to a worried disabled woman.
Come to bed with me.
I wonder where he's been.

Most of the time, HIV and other STIs are passed from one person to another during sex. With information about safer sex, respect, access to condoms, and good communication with your partner, you can protect yourself from STIs.

But it can be hard for any woman to protect herself from sexual infections when she is not expected or allowed to make decisions about sex. You may be afraid or ashamed to ask a man to use a condom, or you may have to have sex when your partner demands it. And you may not know if your partner has sex with other people.

Every woman needs to know how she can make sex safer.

Ways to have safer sex

Having safer sex means using barriers (like condoms) to keep germs from being passed between you and your partner during sex, or having sex in ways that make infection less likely.

Sex with the penis in the vagina (sexual intercourse) is the most common way that men and women have sex. But couples can give and receive sexual pleasure by using many different kinds of talk and touch. If your partner does not want to use condoms, you can try to have other, safer kinds of sex. These practices may feel just as good for him—and be safer for you.

Very safe:

a condom.
  • Avoid having sex at all. If you do not have sex, you will not be exposed to STIs. Some women may find this the best option, especially when they are young. However, for most women, this choice is not possible or desirable.
  • Have sex with only one partner, who you know for sure has sex with only you, and when you know for sure (through testing) that neither of you was infected by a previous partner.
  • Have sex by touching each other’s and your own genitals with your hands (mutual masturbation).
  • Use condoms during oral sex. A barrier of latex or plastic helps prevent infection with herpes and gonorrhea in the throat. It also protects against the very small risk of infection with HIV through tiny cuts in the mouth.


  • Always use latex male condoms or plastic female condoms when having vaginal or anal sex.
  • Have sex in ways that avoid getting your partner’s body fluids in your vagina or anus.
  • Sex using your mouth is much less likely to spread HIV. If you get semen in your mouth, spit it out.

Some kinds of
sex between
a man and a
woman are safer
than others
WWD Ch8 Page 182-1.png

Kissing is safe

WWD Ch8 Page 182-2.png

Touching is safe

WWD Ch8 Page 182-3.png
Oral sex is less safe—

but safer with a condom

WWD Ch8 Page 182-4.png
Vaginal sex is risky—

but safer with a condom

WWD Ch8 Page 182-5.png
Anal sex is very risky—

but safer with a condom

Other ways to have safer sex with a man:

  • Have the man withdraw his penis before he ejaculates (comes). When less semen gets inside your body, you are less likely to get HIV from him.
  • Avoid dry sex. When the vagina (or anus) is dry, the skin can tear more easily, and this increases the chance of infection. Use saliva (spit), spermicide, or lubricant to make the vagina slippery. Do not use oil, lotion or petroleum jelly if you are using condoms—these can make the condom break.

Sex and monthly bleeding

During your monthly bleeding, it is best not to have vaginal sex, unless you are absolutely certain neither you nor your partner has HIV/AIDS or any other STI. If you have HIV, the virus will be in both your vaginal secretions and blood. This increases your partner’s risk of getting infected. If your partner is infected and you are not, your risk of getting infected also increases during your monthly bleeding. Using condoms will reduce the risk.