Let’s talk about sex
What is sexual health?
Sexual health refers to our physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing as it relates to sexuality.
Good sexual health means:
- having a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships
- being able to have pleasurable and safe sexual experiences that are free of coercion, discrimination and violence (WHO 2006)
- when it feels right for you, having safe, consensual sex.
What is sex?
Sex means different things to different people, and everyone has the right to define what sex means for them.
It includes many types of sexual activity:
- penetrative sex: when an object, sex toy or penis is inserted into the vagina or anus
- oral sex: sexual pleasure using the mouth, genitals or anus
- masturbation and mutual masturbation: deriving sexual pleasure from self stimulation, with or without sex toys. Mutual masturbation is when two or more people masturbate together.
What is consent?
Consent is an essential part of having sex with other people.
The main principles of sexual consent can be remembered using the acronym FRIES:
Freely given: consent must be freely given by a person with full capacity to make the decision. Everyone should feel supported to make up their own mind about what they want to do. Consent obtained by pressure, force or manipulation is not freely given. In some circumstances, a person doesn’t have capacity to consent, for example, if they’re asleep, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Reversible: you have the right to change your mind at any point. Even if you’ve done something before, or you’re in the middle of having sex, you can withdraw consent at any time. If someone withdraws their consent, you should stop the sexual activity immediately.
Informed: everyone involved needs to know what they’re consenting to (this also includes informing a partner of any STIs).
Enthusiastic: positive verbal communication and body language is essential to any sexual interaction. If someone isn’t excited, there’s no consent.
Specific: everyone must enthusiastically consent to every single act that is taking place. For example, you might be okay with going to the bedroom to kiss, but that doesn’t mean you consent to having oral sex.
Sexual health checks
If you’re sexually active, you should get a sexual health check at least once a year. Even if you’ve only had sex once, you should still get a sexual health check.
It’s also important to get a health check:
- when you change sexual partners
- if you’ve had unprotected sex or your contraception has failed (e.g. a condom breaks).
Protection and contraception
There are many different kinds of bodies, and many different types of sex, and there’s protection for all of them.
Having safe sex involves protecting yourself (and your sexual partner) against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) (and, if applicable, unplanned pregnancy).
STIs (sometimes called STDs) are infections spread from one person to another, usually during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. They’re common, and many people who have them don’t have any symptoms. But without treatment, STIs can lead to serious health issues.
Contraception is used during sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy.
Condoms and dental dams are the only form of contraception that protect against STIs. They do this by preventing physical contact between genitals, the mouth, and the anus.
There are many contraceptive methods that prevent pregnancy. These methods differ according to cost, whether they contain any hormones, how often they must be used, and how they feel. It’s important to use contraceptive methods that feel right for you.
You have many options:
- external condoms: a thin tube-shaped film worn over the penis
- internal condoms: a soft plastic pouch inserted into the vagina
- birth control implants: a small thin rod that is inserted into the arm and releases hormones
- IUDs: a small device that is inserted into the uterus (some IUDs release hormones)
- the pill and minipill: a pill that is ingested daily and contains hormones
- outercourse: engaging in sexual activities that don’t involve penetration of the vagina or anus
- abstinence: choosing not to engage in sexual activity, or only engaging in certain sexual activities.
This is not an exhaustive list, so to find out more, see Family Planning Victoria’s contraception page. It’s a good idea to discuss these options with your doctor.
Terminating a pregnancy
If you become pregnant, you can terminate your pregnancy if you choose to. Abortion is a safe and legal medical procedure in Victoria and the cost varies depending on the clinic.
You can check out Family Planning Victoria’s information on abortion. You can also reach out to a number of organisations for counselling, support or advice:
- Monash University Health Service at Caulfield, Clayton and Peninsula campuses
- Marie Stope’s telehealth service: advice on facing an unplanned pregnancy
- 1800 My Options: information about contraception, pregnancy options and sexual health in Victoria
- I had one too: an online platform to share stories about abortion.
Get more information
For more information you can check out the following resources and services:
- Monash University Health Services at Caulfield, Clayton and Peninsula campuses
- Monash Pharmacy: located at the Campus Centre, Clayton Campus
- Listen to our podcast Episode 22: Let’s talk about sex
- Family Planning Victoria: provides resources and information on sexual health care. Call 1800 013 952
- Melbourne Sexual Health Centre: provides free and anonymous STI tests. Call (03) 9341 6200
- Thorne Harbour Health Centre Clinic: provides general health care for the LGTBIQ community and specialist care for people living with HIV. Call (03) 9525 5866
- Resources in other languages and in plain English: