Sexual Wellness

Whether it’s your first time, or your hundred and first, sex should be something that you can enjoy and have safely.

If you are thinking about having sex, then it’s important that you are ready, can enjoy it, and take responsibility for it. It’s also important to make sure that you get contraceptive advice to protect yourself or your partner from an unplanned pregnancy or STI (or both!).

Sex can be a fun and exciting part of having an intimate relationship with someone, and should be an enjoyable activity in its own right. Whenever you are engaging in sexual activity with someone, it is important to make sure that boundaries, consent, and safety (both physical and emotional) are at the forefront of the situation.


Sexual consent is an agreement to any sexual experience; be it touching someone, kissing them, or having sex. It also includes consent to sharing intimate photos/videos. It is illegal to share intimate photos/videos without the person’s consent.

The age of consent is 16 in the UK, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

If you engage in any sexual activity without a person’s consent, it is sexual assault or rape. So, to protect yourself, and the person you’re intimate with, it’s extremely important to know you have consent. It is important to remember that someone cannot give valid consent if they are incapacitated from alcohol or other drugs.

How do I get consent?

It’s simple: just ASK! 

And when asked, answer honestly and clearly. It is ok to say “no” or change your mind at any point.

You don’t have to wait to be asked. Tell them how you are feeling and if you want to continue or not. Then ask them how are they feeling? Do they want to continue? Does it feel good? It’s all about communication. If you are engaging in sexual activity, then it’s important you can talk about it too.

Safer Sex

It’s important to remember that “safe sex” isn’t just about protection, but is also about having sex when you and your sexual partner are ready, and having sex that’s enjoyable and respectful.

Ways that you can practise safer sex include: 

  • Only engaging in any sexual activity when both parties have given enthusiastic consent.
  • Being aware that drugs and alcohol may affect your ability to make good decisions. Protect yourself from having sex that you might regret or were pressured into because you weren’t thinking properly.
  • Only sleeping with one person at a time and knowing that you have both been tested and are free from any STI’s.
  • Being STI free by getting tested for common infections and, if positive, having treatment. Avoid sexual contact until the doctor or nurse tells you that you are no longer infectious and until both you and you partner have been treated.
  • Communicating with your sexual partner about what you want and enjoy sexually.
  • Using other types of contraception in addition to a condom to avoid unplanned pregnancy. 

Some of the factors that can make unsafe sex more likely include:

  • Being drunk (which may lead to you being less careful)
  • Using recreational drugs
  • Feeling pressured to have sex
  • Thinking that it’s okay “just this once”
  • Believing that you can tell if someone has an STI because they will have symptoms

Contraception protects against unplanned pregnancy. There are currently 15 methods of contraception available in the UK. Condoms are the only contraception that help to protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Overcoming Barriers to Safe Sex

Safe sex doesn’t have to be difficult. Tips include:

  • Be prepared. It doesn’t have to be a passion-killer. Carry condoms in your wallet or purse and keep them handy at home, so that you don’t have to interrupt having sex to look for one.
  • If you find condoms reduce the pleasure that you or your partner experience, drop a bit of water-based lubricant in the tip of the condom for extra feeling and sensitivity.
  • Learn how to use condoms. They may take a little getting used to, but it’s better than catching an STI.
  • Involve condoms in foreplay.
  • If you feel too embarrassed to buy condoms in a pharmacy or supermarket, buy them from vending machines in (some) public toilets, buy them online or grab a handful from a community health centre or sexual health centre. 
  • Educate yourself about STIs. Anyone who has sex is at risk.
  • Be mature about STIs and reassure yourself and your partner that an STI is not a moral judgement of character, but an infection like any other.
  • Have STI tests if you are in a relationship and you want to have sex without a condom. Both partners should be tested. Think of STI testing as a sign of respect for each other.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI)

It is important to be aware that people can carry and pass on sexually transmitted infections without knowing they have an STI. Some people also deliberately do not disclose they have an STI. Protect yourself by avoiding casual sex or by using a condom.

Examples of unsafe sexual activities include:

  • Having sex without a male or female condom
  • Withdrawing the penis before ejaculation instead of using condoms (pre-ejaculatory fluid may be infectious and can also contain sperm, resulting in pregnancy)
  • Trying to re-use a condom or using a condom that is past its use-by date
  • Using a condom incorrectly or continuing to have sex once the condom is broken
  • Exchanging bodily fluids like menstrual blood, semen or vaginal fluids inside another person’s body (for example, mouth, vagina or anus).

For more advice on this subject please book an appointment to speak to the USW Health Service.

Get support and advice on sexual health

If you have any concerns about sexual health or are having relationship problems, plenty of help and support is available: