Sex is a natural, healthy part of life that should be fun and pleasurable. However, some sexual acts and behaviors can carry certain risks, such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancy.

This article defines what risky sex is, provides examples of high risk sexual behaviors, and offers some tips on reducing the risks.

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Sex is a natural part of life, and there is no right or wrong way to engage in consensual sex. However, some sexual acts and behaviors carry certain risks. Risky sex refers to sexual acts or behaviors that can lead to unintended results.

One example includes sex without a condom or other barrier method. Not using barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms and dental dams, can increase a person’s chance of contracting STIs or unintended pregnancies.

There are ways to reduce these risks to ensure people have a happy and healthy sex life.

Sex without the use of barrier methods of contraception can lead to:

Unintended pregnancy

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define unintended pregnancy as a pregnancy that a person mistimes or does not desire.

This refers to a pregnancy that occurs when an individual does not want to have children. It can also refer to when pregnancy occurred either earlier or later than intended.

Ways to reduce the risk

The best way to prevent unintended pregnancy is to use contraception, or birth control. There are many different types of contraception available.

Some options include:

The right choice of contraception will depend on the person’s circumstances. A person can speak with a healthcare professional about the best method for them.

Learn more

Learn more about birth control and how to get it.


STIs are infections that can spread via sexual contact, such as vaginal, oral, and anal sex.

Examples of STIs include the following:

  • Syphilis: A bacterial infection that can lead to sores on the genitals, lips, mouth, or anus.
  • Gonorrhea: Another bacterial infection that may not cause symptoms. If symptoms occur, they differ between males and females.
  • Chlamydia: Most people who have contracted chlamydia do not realize it. This is because it does not often cause any symptoms.
  • HIV: A virus that attacks a person’s immune system. There is no cure for HIV, but people can manage it using medication. Without treatment, it can develop into AIDS, which can be fatal.

Ways to reduce the risk

To help reduce the risk of contracting an STI, a person can use a condom or other barrier method of contraception when engaging in vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

It is also important to get regular screenings for STIs.

Learn more

Learn more about STIs and STI testing.

According to a 2020 study, sexual relationships can positively influence a person’s happiness and satisfaction. It can also reduce stress levels, heart rate, and blood pressure.

The research authors note that between 2000 and 2018, sexual activity increased among males aged 18–24 and females aged 25–34.

However, having multiple sexual partners can increase the chance of contracting STIs.

Ways to reduce the risk

If people engage in sexual activities with multiple partners, it is important to practice safe sexual behaviors.

Individuals should therefore:

  • use barrier methods of contraception
  • get regular STI screenings
  • have honest and open communication with those they are engaging in sex with

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) states that anal sex refers to any sexual activity that involves a person’s anus.

This can include penetration using:

  • the mouth
  • fingers
  • sex toys

It can also include using the mouth or tongue to stimulate the anus.

Anal sex presents a higher risk of contracting STIs. The lining of the rectum is thin and easily damaged, making it easier for viruses and bacteria to enter the body.

STIs that a person can acquire via anal sex include:

Performing oral sex on the anus can also lead to individuals contracting Escherichia coli or hepatitis A.

Learn more about the risks of anal sex.

Ways to reduce the risk

A person can use water-based lubricants to reduce the chance of damaging the rectum. They can also use barrier methods of protection.

People should ensure that they use a new condom before transitioning from anal sex to vaginal sex. This can help reduce the chance of developing a urinary tract infection.

For those not using a condom, the person with a penis should wash it before transitioning from anal to vaginal sex.

Using drugs or alcohol can affect a person’s decision-making. This may make them more likely to engage in high risk sexual behavior.

According to a 2019 cross-sectional study, using legal and illegal drugs can lead to people taking part in high risk sexual practices. This includes not having sex using a condom, increasing the risk of contracting STIs.

Ways to reduce the risk

If possible, individuals should reduce their alcohol intake and avoid using drugs before engaging in sexual activity.

If people find that using drugs and alcohol affects their decision-making and well-being, they should contact a healthcare professional.

It is also important to use barrier methods of protection to reduce the risk of contracting STIs.

To help avoid unintended pregnancies, people may wish to use forms of birth control, such as an IUD or birth control pill.

Learn more

Learn more about sex, drugs, and alcohol

The CDC states that those who exchange sex for money or nonmonetary items have an increased risk of STIs, such as HIV. This is because they are more likely to engage in high risk sexual behaviors, such as having multiple sexual partners and not using a condom.

According to the results of a 2015 national survey in Britain, men who pay for sexual services are more likely to contract and transmit STIs. The authors note that this may be because the use of condoms is less likely.

Ways to reduce the risk

It is important to note that paying for sex remains illegal in most of the United States. And although legal in some counties in Nevada, state law prohibits engaging in sex work unless it occurs in a licensed establishment.

The CDC recommends that for those who do pay for sexual services, using barrier methods of protection can help reduce the chance of contracting STIs.

Those who exchange sex should consider taking preexposure prophylaxis if they are HIV negative.

For those who are HIV positive, it may also be beneficial to consider taking antiretroviral therapy to reduce the chances of transmitting HIV.

Sex is a healthy and natural part of life. However, some behaviors carry higher levels of risk, which can lead to unintended results, such as pregnancy or STIs.

Examples of high risk sexual behavior include:

  • sex without the use of barrier protection
  • having multiple sex partners
  • anal sex
  • drug and alcohol use before sex
  • paying for sexual services

To help prevent unintended results, individuals should ensure that they use birth control, including barrier methods of contraception. This can help reduce the risk of contracting STIs and getting pregnant unintentionally.

Getting regular STI screening will also help protect a person’s health.