When sex goes wrong

Having sex without protection is risky.

Information written and reviewed by Certified Doctors.

Contents

When sex goes wrong

Having sex without protection is risky. You're risking pregnancy, getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI), including HIV, and possibly stress. Find out where to go for help if you have unprotected sex.

Unprotected sex is any sex without contraception or a condom . You may have forgotten to use contraception, or it may not have worked. Sometimes a condom might split or slip off during sex.

This still counts as unprotected sex, and you're at risk of STIs and pregnancy. Always hold on to the base of the condom when the penis is pulled out. This will stop the condom slipping off and leaking sperm. Get tips on using condoms .

Women who have sex with women also need to know about safer sex because they can also pass infections on to each other. Read more sexual health tips for lesbian and bisexual women.

Unsafe sex and infections

There are lots of STIs , and you only have to have sex with someone once, or have oral sex once, to catch one or more STIs. You can't tell by looking at someone whether they have an STI.

The best way to avoid getting an STI is to use a condom every time you have sex. Always buy condoms that have the CE mark or BSI kite mark on the packet, because this means they've been tested to high safety standards.

Getting a check-up

Go for a check-up if you've had unprotected sex and you have any unusual symptoms around your genitals (vagina or penis), such as:

  • pain when you pee
  • itching
  • an unusual or smelly discharge
  • sores
  • unexplained bleeding

Some people don't notice any symptoms when they have an STI. If you think you might be at risk, it's important that you get tested, even if you don't have any symptoms.

Go to your nearest sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic, or see your doctor.

Pregnancy after unprotected sex

If a man and woman have unprotected sex, the woman can get pregnant. It doesn't matter what position she has sex in, what time of the month it is or whether it's her first time.

There's always a risk of unwanted pregnancy, but using contraception and a condom can help to protect against it.

If you think you're pregnant after having unprotected sex

Usually, the first sign of pregnancy is a missed period. The only way to find out for sure is to do a pregnancy test. You can buy a test at a pharmacy, supermarket, some doctors or a pharmacy.

You can find more information about taking a pregnancy test and what happens if it's positive in Am I pregnant?

If you're pregnant, talk to a doctor or nurse as soon as possible, so you can discuss your choices and any difficult questions you may have. They can help you make the decision that's right for you.

Emergency contraception

Emergency contraception can help to prevent pregnancy after you've had unprotected sex.

Emergency contraception is more effective the sooner it is taken. There are two types of emergency contraception:

  • the emergency contraceptive pill (sometimes called the "morning-after" pill)
  • the intrauterine device (IUD) , sometimes called a coil)

There are two kinds of emergency contraceptive pill. Levonelle has to be taken within 72 hours (three days) of sex, and ellaOne has to be taken within 120 hours (five days) of sex.

The IUD can be inserted into your uterus up to five days after unprotected sex.

You can get the emergency contraceptive pill and the IUD rom:

  • a doctor's clinic that provides contraception
  • a contraceptive clinic
  • a sexual health clinic

You can also get the emergency contraceptive pill from:

  • some pharmacies
  • some accident and emergency (A&E) departments

If you're not using a regular method of contraception, find one that suits you (and where to get it) so that you can start using it as soon as possible. Read more about getting contraception .

You can get help and advice on contraception from:

  • a contraceptive clinic
  • a doctor's clinic that offers contraception
  • a sexual health clinic
  • young people's services
  • some GUM clinics

Learn what to do if you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted.

Further information

What if I'm on the pill and I'm sick or have diarrhoea?

Can I get pregnant just after my period has finished?

How soon do STI symptoms appear?

It's OK to say no to sex

Content supplied by NHS Choices