I want to learn about sexual health
Sex and sexual exploration
Knowing about your sexual health helps you feel safe and comfortable in your body when you’re thinking about or planning to have sex or are already having sex.
Sexual health includes things like using contraception to prevent pregnancy, knowing about the risks of sexual activity and how to protect yourself from those risks, seeing a doctor or nurse for check-ups, testing for sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and knowing about consent and your personal boundaries and rights.
What is sex and what is a sexual act?
Sex or sexual intercourse is defined as ‘any penetration of a person’s genitalia or anus by any part of the body of another person or any object, or any kind of oral sex’.
But a sexual act is broader and can include things like:
- Penetrative sex – when a person puts their penis, fingers or another object inside another person’s vagina or anus.
- Oral sex – a person using their mouth to touch another person’s genitalia, breasts, or anus.
- Sexual acts that involve touching – like touching someone’s genitals, anus, or breasts over the clothes or under the clothes. For example, stroking, grabbing, hand jobs or fingering, and kissing
- Sexual acts that don’t involve touching – like masturbating in front of another person, sending or receiving sexual pictures or videos (nudes or sexting), or encouraging a person to do a sexual act.
- All of these things are considered sexual acts.
Consent is non-negotiable in sexual situations. This means you MUST have a CLEAR yes from the other person BEFORE you do anything sexual – every time.
What is consent?
Consent means that you say yes to doing a sexual act, or someone doing a sexual act to you.
Body language can be a useful tool to reinforce consent, but cannot legally be relied upon as a form of consent.
For more information on consent and tips on how to ask for consent see our Consent page.
Pleasure and talking (for sex with another person)
Sex should feel good and be something that you enjoy. Sex is a natural part of being alive and there is no shame in sexual desire or sexual needs.
Talking to your sexual partner about what you both like and are comfortable doing is a big part of making it enjoyable for both of you.
Check in with each other about what you’re doing before and while you’re doing it.
You can ask ‘do you like this’, ‘could we try this?’, or ‘what do you like?/ what feels good for you?’.
Mutual pleasure, meaning that you are both giving and receiving pleasure, is something that you can explore together.
Talk about how you will protect your sexual health. Like what type of contraception you will be using and what you will do if something goes wrong (like if a condom breaks) and when you both had your last sexual health check-up.
Remember, it’s okay to say ‘no’ at any time. If you ever feel uncomfortable or decide that you don’t want to keep going, say ‘no’ at any point. This is your right, and it is a crime for someone to keep going after you have said no.
Reach Out have a safe sex guide that talks about what you need to know about making safe decisions about sex.
Play Safe have more information on exploring sex.
Sexual Health Check-ups
Getting a sexual health check-up is a normal part of having a healthy sex life.
If you are having sex, health professionals recommend that you get a sexual health check up:
- at least once a year when you are sexually active
- if you have had unprotected sex (e.g. not using a condom)
- if you, or the person you had sex with, has multiple sexual partners
- if you are having sex with a new sexual partner
- or if you think you might have a sexually transmissible infection (STI)– you might have symptoms like genital discharge and/or itching, pain when you pass urine or during sex, or pain in the lower abdomen.
Sexually transmissible Infections (STIs) are infections that are passed between two or more people through close physical contact during sexual activities (vaginal, anal or oral sex).
Some of these infections can be passed on by skin-to-skin contact (e.g. Herpes or HPV), while others are only transmitted if there has been penetration and sharing of body fluids such as semen and vaginal fluid, (eg. Chlamydia).
Most doctors can give you a sexual health check-up or you can visit a sexual health clinic that work specifically with sexual health.
Remember, it is your responsibility to keep your body healthy and to make sure you are not passing on an STI to another sexual partner.
You can ask to see a male, female or other gendered doctor – if you have particular needs or want to speak about specific topics you can look for a doctor who works specifically with your needs (some doctors have experience with LGBTIQA+, disability or young people) – whoever you feel most comfortable with.
What happens when you get a sexual health check-up?
Sexual health check-ups are an important part of being sexually active. You should get regular check-ups to keep yourself and your sexual partners safe and well.
Sexual health check-ups are a regular part of a doctor and nurses’ jobs. They aren’t embarrassed – they do it every day!
It’s a great opportunity to talk to the doctor or nurse about anything else you want to know about, like contraceptives, enjoying sex, or any tricky questions you might have.
While it may be awkward to get tested (especially the first time) it gets easier and is a lot better than leaving it. It is important to know about and treat STIs, to avoid any long-term impacts on your health and the health of your sexual partners.
To decide what type of tests you might need, the doctor will ask you about your general health, your sex life and sexual partners, any symptoms you might have, and any medication you might be taking.
These questions can feel very personal, but everybody is asked these questions and they are a normal part of the process so the doctor or nurse can figure out what tests you need.
Your information is not shared with anyone else, including your sexual partner, family or guardian/s, unless the doctor feels like you might be in danger or have been sexually assaulted. If you’re worried about your privacy visit Your rights at the doctor or Youth Law Australia.
With your permission, the doctor or nurse might:
- Ask you to provide a urine sample
- Ask you to have a blood test
- Ask to take a swab of a personal area such as the vagina, penis or anus.
For more information:
- PlaySafe has more information about getting a sexual health check-up.
- Sexual Health Info Link has more information on HIV and STI check-ups.
- ReachOut has more information about talking to someone about sexual health or sexual health check ups.
- Nurse Nettie is a qualified sexual health nurse. You can ask Nurse Nettie anything about sex, relationships or sexual health.
Where to get tested?
Contraception is an important part of having a healthy sex life.
You can protect yourself from STI’s and unplanned pregnancy by using the right contraception for your needs.
Condoms are an important way to prevent STI’s, but they do not provide 100% protection against pregnancy. It’s always best to wear a condom as well as using another contraceptive method to protect yourself from both STI’s and unplanned pregnancy.
It’s important to note that some contraception protect against STI’s and pregnancy, and some only protect against pregnancy. You should choose a contraception or combination of different contraception types that suit your needs.
If you’re unsure about what type of contraception is best for you, you can visit a sexual health clinic, speak to your doctor or contact sexual health services online or over the phone. You can contact Family Planning NSW Talkline to chat with someone or go to Contraception.org where you can do a contraception quiz to find the best contraception for you.
There are many types of contraception available for both males and females and for any kind of sex. You might need to try a few different kinds to find what works best for you.
Common types of contraception include:
- Male condoms– effective against STI’s and pregnancy
- Female condoms – effective against STI’s
- Contraceptive pill ‘The pill’ (female) – effective against pregnancy only
- Contraceptive implant (female) – effective against pregnancy only
- Hormonal Intra Uterine Device (female) – effective against pregnancy only
- Copper Intra Uterine Device (female) – effective against pregnancy only
Take the ‘Find your prefect Contraception’ Quiz here.
You may have recently had unprotected sex or you used a condom that broke or slipped off. There are two types of emergency contraception available:
The ‘morning after pill’ (LNG-ECP) is an emergency contraceptive pill that is taken as soon as you can after you’ve had unprotected sex. The pill must be taken within 72 hours (three days) of having sex and is available from pharmacies without a prescription. The pharmacist will ask you a few questions like why you need emergency contraception, the number of hours since you last had unprotected sex, and information about your period. The sooner you take the pill the more effective they are. The emergency contraception pill usually costs around $40.
The ‘EllaOne’ (UPA) is an emergency contraceptive pill that can be taken up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex. It is available at pharmacies or from a doctor without a prescription.
It is important to remember that emergency contraceptive pills become less effective the longer you wait. You should take them as soon as you can after unprotected sex. They do not protect from STI’s and should not be used as a replacement for other contraceptives like condoms.
If you need to find out more about different types of emergency contraception you can contact Family Planning NSW.
For more information about contraception:
- BodyTalk have an online guide about the different types of contraception
- PlaySafe have information about visiting a doctor for contraception methods
- Reach Out have information about the costs and effectiveness of different types of contraception
- EndingHIV have information on how to access FREE condoms in NSW.
- Contraception.org have more information on all types of contraception.