Practicing safe sex means taking steps to reduce your risk of getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV infection (the virus that causes AIDS). HIV and other STIs can be spread through unprotected vaginal or anal intercourse, or through oral sex.

Use condoms each time you have sex, even if you are using other forms of birth control. Male condoms and female condoms are the only birth control products that help protect against STIs, including HIV infection.

Using condoms is especially important if you have more than one sexual partner and/or if you frequently have short-term sexual relationships. To be effective, condoms must be put on or inserted correctly. It also is important to make sure that the male condom does not slip off or that the female condom does not slip out. Follow the directions about condom use from your healthcare provider and from the instructions in the manufacturer’s package.

A male and female partner should not each use a condom. Also, never use a condom for more than one act of sex.

Consider having sex in the context of a committed relationship with one person who you know is not infected.

Your risk of getting an STI is a lot higher if you and/or your partner(s) are having sex with others. To be sure that neither of you is infected, both you and your partner should get tested for HIV and other STIs and share the results with each other.

Consider abstinence from any sexual activity.

Abstinence offers complete protection against pregnancy and STIs. The decision not to have sex is a personal one that requires commitment from both partners. Decide ahead of time how you will practice safe sex and prevent pregnancy when you are ready to begin having sex.

Talk to your healthcare provider about getting vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B virus.

Vaccines are available to help protect against HPV and hepatitis B that can be spread through sexual contact. All preteen girls and boys should receive the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12, when the immune response to the vaccine is strong, before they become sexually active.

In the United States, hepatitis B vaccine is given routinely to young children. The vaccine also should be given to any adolescent or adult who never received it or did not receive all of the recommended doses.

Practicing safe sex is extremely important. Be smart about protecting yourself against HIV and other STIs. And, if you have an STI, particularly HIV, please follow your healthcare provider’s instructions so you do not pass the infection to your partner.