How exactly am I supposed to have safe sex as a gay guy? Is it as important to use condoms since obviously no one can get pregnant?
Great question! Getting accurate, comprehensive sex education can be really hard—especially for people who identify as LGBTQ. It’s wonderful that you’re thinking ahead about how to have safer sex, and reaching out to get the information you need.
The short answer is YES: barrier methods like condoms are super important for safer sex, even if there’s no chance of pregnancy. That’s because barrier methods help prevent the spread of many sexually transmitted infections (STIs), like HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, HPV and more.
The only way to be 100% safe is to not have sex with someone else. If you choose to have sex, it’s important to understand the risks and how to minimize them. We break down the risks associated with different sex acts—and how to make them safer—below. Keep in mind that it’s important to use condoms correctly every time you have sex to effectively reduce your risk. If you’re not sure how to put on a condom, we go into more detail here.
Even though we use this post to talk about sex between people with penises (since that seems to be what you’re asking about), keep in mind that not all men have penises.
Anal sex (penetration of an anus by a penis) is an especially high-risk activity for STIs because the anal tissue is very sensitive. Friction during sex can create micro tears, which are easy entry points for infections. Use condoms and lube to help protect yourself and your partner. Lube reduces your STI risk (and can make sex more pleasurable!) by reducing the friction during sex. This is especially important since anal tissue doesn’t produce natural lubrication like vaginas do. We talk more about how to use lube (and what kind might be right for you!) here.
Oral sex (aka blow job, going down on, giving head)
Oral sex puts you at risk for herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and (to a much lesser extent) HIV. Because of this, it’s a good idea to use condoms for oral sex performed on a penis. Many people prefer flavored condoms for oral sex, since they taste better than non-flavored ones. Stay away from flavored condoms for other kinds of sex though—they can lead to infections in some people because of the sugars. We talk more about using condoms for oral sex here.
Toys can spread STIs if you share them with others, and one of you has an STI. You can prevent this by not sharing toys, cleaning them before sharing, or using condoms on the toys (just change the condom before your partner uses it). Keep in mind that not all sex toys are designed to be used in the anus. If you’re interested in using toys, do some research and make sure that your toy has a flared base. Your intestines are a large place, and it’s surprisingly easy to get something lost up there! A flared base will keep your toy in place, so you don’t have to make an awkward, expensive trip to the emergency room.
Analingus (aka rimming, or contact between the mouth and anus)
Analingus puts you at risk for herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and (to a much lesser extent) HIV. To protect yourself and your partner, use a dental dam. This is a sheet of latex that you can put over the anus to create a barrier. You can get them at many drug stores, or make one from a condom by cutting off the tip and cutting it lengthwise.
Manual sex (aka a hand job, or fingering)
While manual sex is a generally low risk activity, you can still get or spread herpes, HPV or pubic lice this way. Washing your hands thoroughly before and after manual sex goes a long way in preventing the spread of infections. To be extra safe, you can use latex gloves or finger condoms (these are mini condoms you put on your finger, also called finger cots!). Just be sure to change them before touching yourself or another part of your partner’s body.
In addition to using barrier methods and lube, you can make sex safer by getting regularly tested for STIs (not just HIV). Talk to your healthcare provider about how often you should get tested.
It’s also important to get comfortable talking about safer sex with your partners. Communicating openly and honestly about using condoms and when you were last tested will make having safer sex easier. We talk more about how to have this conversation here.
In addition, make sure that you and your partner understand each other’s boundaries. It’s not ok to pressure someone else to do something they don’t feel comfortable with. If you’re initiating sex, it’s up to you to check in with your partner to make sure they’re comfortable (and excited!) about it. Your partner has the same responsibility to you. Remember that it’s ALWAYS ok to say no. We talk more about enthusiastic consent here, here and here.
If you’re 10-22 years old and live near NYC, you can get free, confidential STI testing and treatment (and other comprehensive health services, plus answers to any other questions you have about sex) at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. Call 212-423-3000 for an appointment—no judgment, no charge.
Photo via Guillaume Paumier