Sexual Activity that is Safe for Women

 Healthy sex is just one aspect of sexual health. Sexual health encompasses the entire spectrum of health and

well-being of an individual. It includes all the following aspects in relation to sexuality:

  • physical
  • emotional
  • mental
  • social

According to the World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source, the scope of sexual health is wide. It includes not only individuals, couples, and families, but also communities and whole cultures.

It involves topics such as:

  • sexual orientation and gender identity
  • knowledge of anatomy, reproductive health, and fertility
  • understanding the risks involved in sexual activity
  • respectful relationships free of coercion or violence
  • pleasurable and safe sexual experiences
  • access to good healthcare
  • access to educational resources about the practicalities of self-care as it relates to sexual activities

Read on to learn about these areas of sexual health:

  • safer sex practices
  • getting screened regularly for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • choosing vaccines and medications
  • using contraception properly
  • getting medical treatment for reproductive health issues
  • what to do about low libido

If you’re sexually active, it places you at an increased risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which are now more commonly known as STIs.

Vaginal, anal, and oral sex all put you at risk for sexually transmitted infections.

Risk increases as the number of sexual partners increases, though it’s possible to contract an STI the first time you have sex with a partner.

However, knowing how to protect yourself and your partner(s) can help reduce your risk for contracting an STI. Proper protection during sexual activity can also help prevent the transmission of STIs.

STI prevention is an important part of sexual health, but there’s much more to sexual health than just being free of disease.

WHOTrusted Source emphasizes that sexual health is a state of well-being encompassing many elements, including:

  • having a good understanding of sex
  • engaging in a consensual and positive relationship with your sexual partner
  • enjoying the sex you’re having

While keeping this bigger picture of sexual health in mind, read on to learn about best practices to help keep you and your sexual partner protected from contracting or transmitting STIs.

Practice safer sex

Safer sex practices often involve using barriers in your body to help prevent you and your partner from sharing bodily fluids. Some of these barrier methods include:

  • external condoms
  • internal condoms
  • dental dams
  • gloves

These methods have been shown to be effective at preventing STIs, which are transmitted through bodily fluids such as:

  • semen
  • blood
  • vaginal secretions
  • saliva

Barrier methods can help protect you and your partner from STIs such as:

  • HIV
  • gonorrhea
  • chlamydia
  • trichomoniasis
  • hepatitis A, B, and C

Barrier methods are less effective at preventing STIs that are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, but they can still help reduce your risk.

Examples of STIs transmitted via skin-to-skin contact include:

  • syphilis
  • HPV (human papilloma virus)
  • HSV (herpes simplex virus)

Pubic lice can also be passed from one person to another through this method.

When selecting barrier methods, opt for latex or polyurethane condoms and dental dams. And always use them during any kind of sexual contact or penetration to protect you and your partner.

Using condoms, dental dams, and gloves can help reduce the transmission of STIs during:

  • oral sex
  • vaginal sex
  • anal sex

It’s important to note that some STIs can be transmitted during oral sex, including:

  • syphilis
  • HPV
  • herpes
  • gonorrhea
  • chlamydia

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV causes about 70 percentTrusted Source of cancers of the oropharynx (back of the throat near the base of the tongue and tonsils) in the United States.

This year, according to the American Cancer Society, slightly more than 54,000 peopleTrusted Source will be diagnosed with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer in the United States.

Research also shows that there’s been a steady increase in the number of oropharyngeal cancer diagnoses caused by an HPV infection.

HPV is not known to cause other mouth and throat cancers in areas such as the mouth, salivary glands, larynx (voice box), lip, or nose.

Prevent HIV with PrEP

PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a prescription medication that’s designed to help prevent contracting HIV during sex without a barrier method or when sharing needles. It’s taken before possible HIV exposure.

The most common PrEP pills are available under the brand names Truvada and Descovy.

PrEP has side effects, but they usually go away over time. They can include:

  • headache
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • stomach pain

Talk with your doctor about whether PrEP may be a good option for you, especially if:

  • you plan to have sex without a condom with a partner who has HIV or another STI
  • you or your sexual partner share needles
  • your sexual partner generally doesn’t use barrier methods during sex with you or other partners
  • your sexual partner is a penis owner and has sex with other penis owners

Preventive vaccines

Currently, there are three STI vaccines available:

The three current HPV vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are:

  • Cervarix protects against the two strains of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer.
  • Gardasil protects against those two strains, as well as the two strains that cause the majority of genital warts.
  • Gardasil 9 covers the same four HPV strains as Gardasil but includes an additional five “high risk” strains, which is nine strains in total.

These vaccines are most effective when given before having sex. It’s typically recommended beginning vaccinations for young women and men at age 11 years old. You can still get vaccinated through your late 20s.

Health insurance generally covers the cost of the vaccines for people up to age 26 years. Though the FDATrusted Source has approved use of the vaccine for people up to age 45 years, insurance coverage varies for the older ages.

The hepatitis B vaccine is normally given during infancy. Hepatitis B causes liver disease. It can be transmitted through sexual activity without a barrier method as well as through blood or blood products.

Hepatitis A is not usually passed from person to person during sex, but it can be transmitted during oral-anal contact. The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all children ages 1 year and older.

Get screened for STIs

Screening can help reduce the risk of contracting an STI. Regular STI testing can help reduce the long-term effects of an infection.

Left untreated, bacterial STIs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia can have serious negative effects on your health, including infertility. Screening can help prevent these complications.

Make a date with a new partner to get tested before starting a sexual relationship. That way, you’ll each know if you’re putting each other at risk, and treatment can be given if appropriate.

STI screening is recommended for anyone who’s sexually active. STIs can affect individuals of any age or relationship status.

Get regular Pap smears

Pap smears are a routine part of women’s healthcare to check for cervical cancer and are recommended starting at age 21 years.

This test detects early signs of cervical changes that could lead to cervical cancer if left untreated. Precancerous changes can be followed up and treated before they become serious.

HPV causes nearly all cases of cervical cancerTrusted Source. Therefore, practicing safer sex can help reduce your risk for cervical cancer.

HPV vaccination can help reduce the risk as well. There are many strains of cancer-causing HPV, which is why vaccination, practicing safer sex, and regular Pap smears are all necessary.

Invasive cervical cancer and its treatment can have negative effects on your overall health, especially your sexual health.

Also, in many cases it can result in infertility. It’s important to identify cervical changes early and talk with your doctor about them. Taking this step can help prevent the potential for further complications.

Women often assume that pelvic pain, like cramping, is normal. They’ve been told that menstruation is supposed to hurt. Therefore, they may not discuss their discomfort with their doctor.

You should not have to live with serious pelvic pain or abdominal cramps. Severe pain during your period may be a sign of an underlying gynecological or gastrointestinal health issue.


Endometriosis is a painful condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus.

The uterus lining is called the endometrium. It’s the source of blood and tissue during menstruation. It’s also needed to nourish a growing fetus.

When you have endometriosis, endometrium-like tissue deposits onto organs and tissues throughout the abdomen and pelvis. This can be extremely painful.

Symptoms of endometriosis can include:

  • severe menstrual pain
  • pain during sex
  • pain during bowel movements
  • heavy bleeding
  • bleeding between periods

Pain from endometriosis can often be treated. Treatment varies according to other health conditions you may have. Sometimes, the treatment depends on your family planning goals.

Treatment options for endometriosis include:

  • anti-inflammatory medications
  • hormone therapy
  • surgery to remove the excess tissue
  • hysterectomy (removal of the uterus)


Fibroids are noncancerous tumors in the uterus. Research shows that up to 77 percentTrusted Source of women have fibroids, according to a review published in 2016. However, most women will never need treatment.

Fibroids aren’t necessarily painful or problematic, and they don’t increase your risk for cancer. Fibroids may contribute to infertility, but many women are able to become pregnant after treatment for fibroids.

If you have fibroids and you become pregnant, your healthcare team will monitor your fibroids. Sometimes they grow during pregnancy and can affect your baby’s movement into the fetal position.

Fibroid-related symptoms may include:

  • pelvic pain
  • pain during sex
  • heavy or painful menstrual bleeding
  • fertility issues

If treatment for your fibroids becomes necessary, several options are available. Your doctor can help you decide which method is best for you.

Birth control

If you’re someone with a uterus having sex with someone who has sperm, it’s important to know your options for birth control.

This can help empower you and your partner to be able to better manage your family planning decisions related to timing and the size of your family.

There are a wide variety of available birth control options. Some methods require a prescription or a minor procedure in the doctor’s office, and some do not.

Birth control options are usually affordable, regardless of your insurance status. The federal Title X Family Planning Program covers all forms of birth control. You can find a Title X family planning clinic near you here.

Contraceptive options include:

  • male or female condom
  • IUD
  • birth control pills
  • hormonal patches or rings
  • birth control shot
  • under-the-skin implant
  • sterilization
  • contraceptive sponge
  • cervical cap
  • diaphragm

Talk with your doctor about which of these options is right for you. Their effectiveness varies greatly and so does the ease of use. Sterilization is considered the most effective method, but it’s permanent.

Some sexual health issues affect sexual activity and libido.

Lack of interest in sex

There are many reasons why someone may have a reduced interest in sex. Possible causes for decreased libido in women include:

  • new medication
  • chronic medical conditions
  • fatigue
  • menopause
  • pregnancy, after delivery period, and breastfeeding
  • anxiety or depression
  • stress
  • relationship concerns

If you’ve experienced a sudden lack of interest in sex, talk with your doctor. There may be an identifiable cause.

Your doctor can help you create a treatment plan for many of these conditions. They can also make a referral to a sex therapist or other therapist for counseling.

Couples therapy may be beneficial, too. If you’re bothered by a decreased sex drive, there are a variety of methods and treatments that can help.

Painful sex

Sexual intercourse shouldn’t be painful. If you’re having pain during sex, talk with your doctor. There are several potential causes of sexual pain. These include:

Painful sex can be treated in a variety of ways, depending on the cause. When you talk with your doctor about your problem, be prepared to discuss if you have vaginal discharge or other vaginal issues, or pain that occurs:

  • during penetration
  • when touched on the outside of your vulva
  • after sex
  • during deep penetration

The details are important. They can help your doctor diagnose underlying problems that may be causing your pain.

Problems with orgasm

There’s a common misconception that all women should be able to orgasm from vaginal intercourse. However, many women need direct clitoral stimulation to climax.

If you have difficulty reaching orgasm, practice on your own to see what feels good for you. During a shower or bath is a good time for self-exploration.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, you might also try the following techniques alone or with a partner:

  • Read books about sex and pleasure.
  • Learn about your body and how it works.
  • Explore varieties of sexual activity, such as oral sex, touching, and masturbation with and without a partner.
  • Try sensual nonsexual activities such as massage.
  • Talk with your partner about what you and they like.
  • Reduce sources of stress in your life.
  • Increase sexual stimulation.
  • Try sexual toys.
  • Use mental imagery and fantasy.

It’s also important to keep communication open between you and your sexual partner. For a better understanding of your sexual health, a sex therapist can be a helpful resource.

The Health Benefits of Sex

Sex can have physical and emotional benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and improved mental health.

Sex and sexuality are a part of life. Aside from reproduction, sex can be about intimacy and pleasure. Sexual activity, penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI), or masturbation, can offer many surprising benefits to all facets of your life:

  • physical
  • intellectual
  • emotional
  • psychological
  • social

Sexual health is more than avoiding diseases and unplanned pregnancies. It’s also about recognizing that sex can be an important part of your life, according to the American Sexual Health Association.

This study suggests that sex can be good cardiovascular exerciseTrusted Source in younger men and women. Though sex isn’t enough exercise on its own, it can be considered light exercise.

Some of the benefits you can get from sex include:

  • lowering blood pressure
  • burning calories
  • increasing heart health
  • strengthening muscles
  • reducing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and hypertension
  • increasing libido

People with active sex lives tend to exercise more frequently and have better dietary habits than those who are less sexually active. Physical fitness may also improve sexual performance overall.

Nine ways to improve your sexual performance »

Stronger immune system

In a study of immunity in people in romantic relationships, people who had frequent sex (one to two times a week) had more immunoglobulin A (IgA) in their saliva. People who had infrequent sex (less than once a week) had significantly less IgA.

IgA is the antibody that plays a role in preventing illnesses and is the first line of defense against human papillomavirus, or HPV.

But those who had sex more than three times a week had the same amount of IgA as those who had infrequent sex. The study suggests that anxiety and stress can possibly cancel out the positive effects of sex.

Better sleep

Your body releases oxytocin, also called the “love” or “intimacy” hormone, and endorphins during an orgasm. The combination of these hormones can act as sedation.

Better sleep can contribute to:

  • a stronger immune system
  • a longer lifespan
  • feeling more well-rested
  • having more energy during the day

Headache relief

Another study shows that sexual activity can provide full or partial relief from migraines and cluster headaches.

Of people who were sexually active during their attacks:

  • 60 percent reported an improvement during a migraine
  • 70 percent reported moderate to complete relief during a migraine
  • 37 percent reported improvement of symptoms in cluster headaches
  • 91 percent reported moderate to complete relief in cluster headaches

In men

A recent review found that men who had more frequent penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI) had less riskTrusted Source of developing prostate cancer.

One study found that men who averaged having 4.6 to 7 ejaculations a week were 36 percent less likely to receive a prostate cancer diagnosis before the age of 70. This is in comparison to men who reported ejaculating 2.3 or fewer times a week on average.

For men, sex may even affect your mortality. One study that had a 10 year follow-up reported that men who had frequent orgasms (defined as two or more a week) had a 50 percent lower mortality risk than those who had sex less often.

Although results are conflicting, the quality and health of your sperm may increase with increased sexual activity, as some research suggests.

In women

Having an orgasm increases blood flow and releases natural pain-relieving chemicals.

Sexual activity in women can:

  • improve bladder control
  • reduce incontinence
  • relieve menstrual and premenstrual cramps
  • improve fertility
  • build stronger pelvic muscles
  • help produce more vaginal lubrication
  • potentially protect you against endometriosis, or the growing of tissue outside your uterus

The act of sex can help strengthen your pelvic floor. A strengthened pelvic floor can also offer benefits like less pain during sex and reduced chance of a vaginal prolapse. One studyTrusted Source shows that PVI can result in reflexive vaginal contractions caused by penile thrusting.

Women who continue to be sexually active after menopause are less likely to have significant vaginal atrophy, or the thinning of vaginal walls. Vaginal atrophy can cause pain during sex and urinary symptoms.

Sexual activity, with a partner or through masturbation, can provide important psychological and emotional benefits. Like exercise, sex can help reduce stress and anxiety and increase happiness.

StudiesTrusted Source suggest that sexual activity (defined as PVI) may correlate with:

  • increased satisfaction with your mental health
  • increased levels of trust, intimacy, and love in your relationships
  • improved ability to perceive, identify, and express emotions
  • lessened use of your immature psychological defense mechanism, or the mental processes to reduce distress from emotional conflict

At an older age, sexual activity may affect your well-being and ability to think. Research found that sexually active adults between 50 to 90 years old had better memory. They were also less likely to feel depressed and lonely.

Confidence booster

Frequent sexual activity, whether with a partner or alone, can make you look younger. This is partially due to the release of estrogen during sex.

One study found a correlation between frequent sexual activity and looking significantly younger (between seven to 12 years younger). The majority of these individuals were also comfortable expressing their sexuality and sexual identity.

Social benefits

Sex can help you connect to your partner, thanks to oxytocin. Oxytocin can play a role in developing relationships. You may find that consistent, mutual sexual pleasure helps with bonding within a relationship.

Coupled partners often have increased relationship satisfaction when they fulfill one another’s sexual desires. You may find positive growth in your relationship when you’re able to express yourself and your sexual desires.

Masturbation can offer many of the same benefits as sex, but also has its own advantages, including:

  • enhanced sex between partners
  • understanding your own body
  • increased ability for orgasms
  • boosted self-esteem and body image
  • increased sexual satisfaction
  • treatment for sexual dysfunction

Masturbation is considered entirely safe and with fewer health risks attached. When practiced alone, there is no risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). According to Planned Parenthood, it increases mental well-being not mental illness or instability like some myths suggest.

Sex isn’t the only indicator of health or happiness. You can still lead an active and happy life without sex. The benefits of sex come from the feeling of pleasure, which studies show can also come from listening to music, interacting with pets, and having strong religious faith. According to the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, a long-term study of nuns reported that many of them lived well into their 90s and past 100 years old.

Sexual health is a lifelong issue for women. A woman’s sexual health needs span decades and encompass a variety of issues, from preventing unintended pregnancy to boosting a sagging libido.

In the beginning of your sexually active years, the emphasis of sexual health falls primarily into these categories:

  • protecting against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • finding a birth control or family planning method that works for you
  • having regular STI screenings, Pap smears, and pelvic exams

Later in life, your needs may change. Many of these changes coincide with other physical changes you may be experiencing. These issues include:

  • low libido or sex drive
  • inability to reach orgasm
  • reduced response to sexual stimulation
  • not enough natural lubrication for sex
  • uncomfortable or painful sex

A healthy sex life carries many rewards, and it’s not just about the calories burned between the sheets. Women with a healthy sex life may have a lower risk of cardiovascular events — high blood pressure and heart attacks — than men. Women can — and should — reap the reward of a robust sex life throughout their years. Here’s how women can have healthy sex.

Whether you’re pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or just starting to consider it, a healthy life for your baby starts with preparation. Even before you take a pregnancy test, you can take significant steps to protect your future baby’s health.

Caring for yourself takes care of your future babies. Some behaviors, including drinking alcohol and smoking, could hurt your baby. They can also increase your risk of complications. If you need help stopping, talk with your doctor about proven methods or support groups.

Likewise, you can increase your chances for a healthy baby by eating a balanced diet, taking prenatal vitamins, being active, and watching for early signs of pregnancy. Start here if you’re curious about what you can expect during pregnancy.

Being a parent is tough, hard work. However, it’s also incredibly rewarding.

You’ll have questions, and you’ll need help. A strong support network of friends and family members you can call on is vital. When you need someone to pick up your sick child or show up at a soccer game so your little one has a fan, this group of people will be an essential resource.

However, there will come times when even these people can’t provide the support and help you need. That’s when you can turn to an online community of parents facing the same ups and downs, questions and concerns, and worries and woes as you. While they may not be your neighbor, the community aspect of online parenting forums may become your go-to resource when you’re at your wit’s end. Start with these popular parenting forums.

Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in American women. If you have a family or personal history of breast cancer, your risk for developing this condition is higher.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that women of average risk have a mammogram screening every two years between the ages of 50 and 74. They also recommend women with an average risk of developing the cancer have their first screening in their 40s.

However, many doctors and medical groups disagree with USPSTF and still recommend yearly mammograms starting at age 40. Your doctor may recommend you start earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer. Likewise, these medical professionals also encourage women to conduct self-exams on a monthly basis starting at age 20. Learn more about breast cancer, your risks, and what you can do to prevent a diagnosis.

Career. Kids. Family. Friends. Volunteer work. Many women are swimming in stress and responsibilities, which can manifest more than just gray hairs. Excessive stress can translate to:

  • high blood pressure
  • upset stomach or other gastrointestinal issues
  • back pain
  • relationship conflicts
  • sleeping difficulties
  • abdominal weight gain

You can manage stress with relaxation techniques such as:

  • therapy
  • prayer
  • meditation
  • yoga or tai chi
  • exercise

These 11 signs and symptoms may signal you have too much stress.

Many health issues are common among both men and women. However, some conditions may be more common in women or impact women differently than they do men. These include:

Heart disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women. Additionally, women are more likely than men to die following a heart attack.


Women are more likely to have a stroke than men. Men and women share many of the same risk factors for stroke, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. However, women have several unique risk factors. These include:

  • birth control use
  • pregnancy
  • hormone replacement therapy

Urinary tract issues

Women have a shorter urethra, which means bacteria have a smaller distance to travel before they reach your bladder and start an infection. For that reason, urinary tract problems, including infections and incontinence, are more common in women.

Alcohol intake

Men are more likely to abuse alcohol and become dependent upon it. However, the impacts of chronic alcohol use are greater on women than men. These complications include heart disease and breast cancer. Additionally, babies born to women who drink alcohol during pregnancy may have a condition called fetal alcohol syndrome. This can cause brain damage and learning delays.


Women are more likely to show signs of depression than men. From ages 14 to 25, women are twiceTrusted Source as likely than men to have depression. That ratio narrows with age.


While this common form of arthritis can occur in both men and women, it’s more common in women over age 45.

One way to prevent disease and infection is to avoid smoking. You should also avoid those who do. Secondhand smoke can be as dangerous as smoking.

Other known risks to health include drugs and alcohol. For women, a moderate amount of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or about 1 ounce of spirits each day. One five-ounce glass of wine a day may help cut heart disease risk, but more than that increases your risk of cancer and other conditions.

Good dental and oral health goes beyond a blindingly white set of teeth. Daily brushing and flossing keeps away cavities, gum disease, and even your physician, as having healthy teeth and gums might reduce your risk of heart diseaseTrusted Source.

Other than breast exams and gynecological visits, you should make sure to visit your doctor regularly for checkups and screening exams. You should have blood work, biometric data such as blood pressure and weight, and other preventive testing measures done at your yearly physical. These tests can nip potential issues in the bud.

Sex is an important part of life and overall well-being. In relationships, orgasms play a significant part in bonding. Physical and emotional benefits like reduced risk of heart disease, improved self-esteem, and more can come from having sex.

You can still have similar benefits without sex. Engaging in other pleasurable activities like exercising, interacting with a pet, and having a strong network of friends could potentially offer the same benefits. Sex is just one way of improving your quality of life.

But if sex is part of your life, due to a relationship or desire, it’s important to be able to communicate and experience sexual satisfaction. You may find relief and an increase in happiness when you take the time to have sex.


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