Sexual Health

Safer Sex

Your sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a healthy and positive aspect of who you are! Sex and the urge to have it are a natural part of being human. And some people have no urge at all to have sex and this is normal too (check out the section on Gender and Sexuality to learn more about this).

People often define sex in different ways. There is no one definition of sex but there are different kinds of sex, which can include:

  • Vaginal sex (penis or sex toys in vagina)
  • Anal sex (penis or sex toys in butt)
  • Oral sex (mouth to genitals)
  • Hand jobs, mutual masturbation, or fingering (hand to genital/anus contact)

But first, let’s talk about consent!

Consent is defined as “a voluntary agreement between 2 or more people to engage in sexual activity. Consent must be clear, informed, voluntary, sober, act and person-specific, ongoing, mutual, active, and come directly from the individuals engaging in the sexual contact. It is impossible to get consent from children, though close-in-age and peer-experimentation exceptions exist for youth ages 12-15” (from the SACE website).

Practicing consent means talking to your partner(s) and checking in on a regular basis. This means being tuned-in to yourself, your physical body, as well as your partner(s), and asking questions and being respectful is encouraged.

Check out more good information on communicating consent here and/or read the section on Consent.

Readiness to Have Sex

When the time comes and you decide to start becoming sexually active, it is important to first consider your comfort level with various activities and your expectations.

  • Your comfort level with various activities
    • The decision to engage in different types of sex is your decision and yours alone. No one should coerce, pressure or shame you into engaging in anything that you are not comfortable with. If your friends are already doing something that you’re not doing, don’t sweat it and do not be embarrassed. This is your body and you get to decide what you do with it!
  • Your expectations
    • Sex can be a beautiful thing, but let’s be honest: it also has the potential to be unpleasant. What you might have seen on TV or online is not necessarily what you might experience, especially if the experience is new. Remember that most of what you have seen is entertainment and could be far from reality! Sex might hurt, and it might also be very awkward. If this is the case, remember that there is nothing wrong or shameful about you… a lot of people have similar experiences. You will just need to adjust your expectations, and consider whether or not this is something you want to do/try again. If so, great. If not, also great!

Are You Truly Ready to Have Sex?

The decision to have sex should not be made lightly. Below is a checklist you can use to gauge whether or not you are ready to take the step:

  1. What are your personal values?
    • You should ask yourself whether this is something you truly want to do or if it’s something you are being pressured to do. Consider your upbringing, religious heritage, and culture, and factor this into your decision. Keep in mind that sex has an emotional impact and that possibly going against what you have been taught might affect your mental health. Prepare for this and talk to your partner(s) about your values and ask about theirs.
  2. How comfortable are you with the other person(s)?
    • You should feel comfortable enough with yourself and the other person to be able to have those important conversations about consent. Trust between you and a partner(s) can take time to build and communication is a key part of building this trust. Talk to your partner(s) about any risks that might be involved with sexual activity. Also, you shouldn’t be having sex to hold onto a relationship. Instead, it should be because you want to, you’ve thought about it, and you feel good about it.
  3. How knowledgeable are you with “sex ed”?
    • You should first consider whether you know about the various risks that accompany sexual activity. How familiar are you with STIs? Do you know how pregnancy happens? Do you know which types of lubricants are best for different types of sex? Talk to your partner(s) about what you both know.
  4. Do you have protection and do you know where to go for help?
    • Unprotected sex carries risks such as Sexually Transmitted Infections or unwanted pregnancy. Before you have sex, make sure you and your partner have access to condoms or other forms of protection. You should also consider whether or not you know where you can go for help if you do get an STI or a pregnancy occurs.
  5. Are you at the age of consent?
    • In Alberta, the age of consent for sexual activity is 16. If you are below 16 and thinking of having sex, check out our page on consent to better understand what you can and cannot do.


Some people might choose to use sexting as a means of exploring personal boundaries, consent, trust and sexuality. If you choose to use sexting, it is important to know about safe sexting, the law and consent and sexting.

Sexting is sending and receiving sexual messages through technology like your phone, email, webcam or through an app. Not everyone chooses to sext, and this is totally OK. Those who do choose to use sexting, it can be a way to explore sexuality, intimacy and trust. However, sexting can also be used to bully, harm, and exploit.

It is important to remember that whether you share a photo or a video, it is impossible to know where it might end up or if the other person(s) might share it without your permission. And if you decide to sext, it is very important that you never share or forward a photo or video sent to you by someone else. The Kid’s Help Phone has some very helpful articles about sexting basics and sexting and consent, we encourage you to get informed before making a decision to sext. Stay safe and trust your gut!

Sexually Transmitted Infections

If you feel that you are ready to have sex, it is important that you are aware of some of the risks and challenges that come with being sexually active. One risk of having sex is something called STIs or Sexually Transmitted Infections. STIs are infections that can be passed from one person to another through unprotected sex.

There are a lot of misconceptions about STIs such as:

  • You can get an STI from sitting on the toilet
    • False! STIs are transmitted through sexual contact. The only exceptions are Pubic Lice and Scabies which can be transferred through sharing towels, sleeping in an infested bed, etc.
  •  You can get an STI by breathing the same air as someone with one
    • False! Most STIs are transmitted via sexual fluids.
  •  You can get an STI by hugging someone with one
    • False! Unless the hugging leads to unprotected sex – you have nothing to worry about! The only exceptions to this are the Herpes virus and HPV, which may be transmitted through skin-to-skin non-penetrative contact.
  • People who get STIs are very promiscuous
    • False! It can only take one encounter to get an STI. Anyone can get an STI. There is also nothing wrong or shameful about you if you have slept with multiple people, and there is nothing shameful about having an STI.

There are different types of STIs. Some can be cured and some cannot be cured, but it is important to reach out to get support and treatment.

Information on some common types of STIs can be found in the table below:


What it is


Treatment or cure

Quick facts


Bacterial STI causes painful urination and discharge from the genitals

*Bacterial means it is caused by a bacteria

Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with a person that has it

Cured with antibiotics

It can also infect the throat. Watch out for a type of gonorrhea that is antibiotic-resistant called “super gonorrhea”!


Bacterial STI that can cause painful discharge from the genitals

Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with a person that has it

Cured with antibiotics

If left untreated Chlamydia can lead to infertility (not being able to have a baby). Many Koala bears also suffer from Chlamydia!


Bacterial STI that can cause a sore on the genitals, a rash, and even brain damage

Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with a person that has it

Cured with antibiotics

If left untreated it can lead to mental illness and even death! Many famous historical figures died from it


Viral STI  that attacks a person’s immune system

*Viral means it is caused by a virus.

Unprotected vaginal or anal sex with a person that has it who is not on their medication. Only blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, and breastmilk can transmit it

No cure, but it can be treated with medication. Most commonly 1 pill a day for the rest of the person’s life

If a person with HIV takes their medication everyday, they CANNOT pass HIV to another person even if they have unprotected sex with them!


Viral STI that most commonly causes genital warts

Vaginal, anal, or oral sex with a person that has it

No cure, but it is most commonly treated by removing the warts. There is a vaccine that can prevent a person from getting it

Untreated HPV can lead to cervical cancer in people with cervixes. It can be transmitted through skin-to-skin non-penetrative contact!


A virus that can cause sores around the mouth and genitals

Skin to skin contact with someone that has it. When your genitals or  mouth touch their genitals or mouth.

No cure, but there are medications that can help treat the sores

Very common! When a person has a cold sore on their mouth, it does not mean that they have sores on their genitals.

Pubic Lice

A parasite that can cause intense itching

Sexual or non-sexual contact with someone that has them

The cure is a lice-killing lotion or shampoo

Commonly known as crabs. They can also be passed through clothing!

Quick Fact: 

STI symptoms can look and feel like many other things such as yeast infections or Urinary Tract Infections. Only a medical test can tell you what you truly have! A lot of people with STIs do not show symptoms, but can still pass it on; this is why it’s important to get tested!

How Can We Prevent STIs?

There are multiple methods you can use to protect yourself and your partners from getting an STI. Below are some of the methods.

Type of Method

What it is

How effective it is

Where to get it

Quick facts/tips

External or Outside Condom

A barrier device that goes over the penis or sex toy before having sex to prevent STIs

80% to 99% effective at preventing STIs.

Can be found at most convenience or grocery stores. You can also get them for free at sexual health clinics and organizations (link to clinics)

Never use two condoms at the same time, and never reuse them.

Size should never be an issue; there is one for everyone! Did you know there are glow in the dark external condoms?  

Internal or Inside Condom

A barrier device that can be used inside a vagina or an anus to prevent STIs

79% to 95% effective at preventing STIs and pregnancy*** (need to double check this)

Can be bought at pharmacies without a prescription, or you can get them for free at sexual health clinics and organizations

Never use these at the same time as external condoms. They can be put inside the vagina for up to 8 hours before sex!

Dental Dam

A piece of latex or polyutherine that can go between the mouth and vagina or anus during oral sex


Can be bought at pharmacies or you can get them for free at sexual health clinics and organizations

Some dental dams are flavoured (eg. strawberry).

If you do not have a dental dam handy, you can create one by cutting open an external condom!

PrEP (Pre- Exposure Prophylaxis)

A medication taken once daily that can  prevent a person from getting HIV

99% effective when taken properly

PrEP is currently available via prescription for free in Alberta. Checkout https://www.prepalberta.ca/ for more information!

It does not protect against other STIs!! You can now get it delivered straight to your door! Check out https://www.gofreddie.com/

Quick Fact:

It is important to use lube when having sex, especially anal sex because it can prevent tears in the rectum, and tears can make it easier for someone to get an STI. You should use “water-based” lube as that decreases the chance of the condom breaking!

Getting Tested 

People with STIs are not dirty, slutty, or irresponsible. STIs are very common, and anyone can get one, and if you do happen to get one, there is no need to be afraid or to feel ashamed, you are still you, and with help, you can get through it.

Getting tested is important to prevent the further spread of STIs. You can go to any family doctor and request an STI test, but if you are not comfortable with that, you can access testing at a sexual health clinic. Testing at these centres is usually free and confidential; they will not tell your parents or guardians. Below are some sexual health clinics in Alberta where you can go for testing or for sexual health resources (eg. condoms). 

Getting tested for STIs is important for your health and for the safety of your partners. Getting tested early can also prevent long-term complications. For example, untreated Chlamydia can lead to infertility. If you are sexually active, it is recommended that you get tested every 6 months, or every time you feel like you might have been potentially exposed. For example, if a condom breaks if you don’t know the status of your partner, or if your sexual partner gets a new partner.

Do not wait to get symptoms to get tested; the majority of people show no symptoms!

If you have questions or concerns about your sexual health call 811, or check out the Centre for Sexuality for more information and sexual health resources.


Sometimes, having vaginal sex (penis in vagina) can lead to pregnancy. Even trans and non-binary and gender diverse people who are taking gender-affirming hormone therapy can get pregnant (or get their partner pregnant). If you are not ready or do not want to have a baby, there are steps you can take to prevent pregnancy. The tools and methods used to prevent this from happening are called contraceptives or birth control.

There are many different forms of birth control, and each method has its advantages and disadvantages. When choosing a form of birth control to use, you should first:

  • Talk to a doctor/health care provider
  • Talk to your partner(s) – only if it is safe do so!
  • Consider potential side effects
  • Consider cost – if any

There are hormonal birth control methods and non-hormonal methods, and methods that rely on behavior. Below is a list of some birth control methods and how you can access them.

Birth Control method

What it is


Where/how to get it

Birth control pill 

A type of medicine with hormones taken once daily to prevent pregnancy

91% effective at preventing pregnancy. It does not protect against STIs

By prescription only at the pharmacy or clinic


A small device placed in your uterus to prevent pregnancy. It can have hormones in it or not

99% effective at preventing pregnancy. It does not protect against STIs

Inserted by a doctor or a nurse at a clinic. Can last for as long as 5 years, some types can last for 12 years


A small patch that you can put on your belly, upper arm, butt, or back that contains hormones that prevent pregnancy

91% effective at preventing pregnancy. It does not protect against STIs

By prescription only – at a pharmacy or clinic. Patch needs to be changed once a week. One pack has 3 patches which lasts for 1 month

Vaginal Ring

A small, flexible ring that you insert inside your vagina that prevents pregnancy by releasing hormones

91% effective at preventing pregnancy. It does not protect against STIs

By prescription only at the pharmacy or clinic. Needs to be changed every 3 to 5 weeks


A hormone injection that prevents pregnancy

94% effective at preventing pregnancy. It does not protect against STIs

Has to be administered by a healthcare provider at a clinic once  every 3 months


A small rod, the size of  matchstick, that is placed inside your arm which contains hormones that prevent pregnancy 

99% effective at preventing pregnancy. It does not protect against STIs

Has to be inserted by a Doctor or a nurse at a clinic. Replaced every 5 years


A small cup-like device put inside the vagina to cover the cervix and prevent pregnancy

88% effective at preventing pregnancy. It does not protect against STIs

A prescription is required but it can be inserted without the help of a medical professional. Put in right before sex

Condoms (external and internal)

A thin stretchy pouch that is placed on the penis, or inside the vagina during sex

85% effective at preventing pregnancy. Can also help prevent STIs (Link to STIs)

No prescription needed. You can get them at any grocery and convenience store, or pharmacy or get them for free at  sexual health clinics/organizations

Emergency Contraception Pill

Medication that can lower chance of pregnancy if taken within 3 days after unprotected sex

75-89% effective at preventing pregnancy. It does not protect against STIs

Available at pharmacies without prescription


The process of pulling the penis out of the vagina before ejaculation to avoid semen from entering the vagina

78% effective at preventing pregnancy. It does not protect against STIs

Requires practice, skill, and trust. Semen might still be present before ejaculation

Fertility Awareness 

Keeping track of your menstruation/ovulation and avoiding sex during fertile days

76% effective at preventing pregnancy. It does not protect against STIs

Need supplies such as a thermometer and a calendar

For a full list of methods and their side effects check out:


Looking for someone to talk to? Check out Kickstand Connect to sign-up for private, free virtual appointments with our Mental Health Therapists and Peer Support Worker.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact emergency services (9-1-1) now.