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 GP. Find sexual health services near you, including sexual health and GUM clinics.

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 or supermarket, or you can get one for free at a contraceptive or sexual health clinic, a young persons' clinic (call the national sexual health helpline on 0300 123 7123 for details), or some GP surgeries or pharmacies.

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 free from:

  • a GP surgery that provides contraception
  • a contraceptive clinic
  • a sexual health clinic 
  • some young people's clinics (call the national sexual health helpline on 0300 123 7123 for details)

You can also get the emergency contraceptive pill free from:

  • some pharmacies
  • some NHS walk-in centres and minor injuries units
  • some accident and emergency (A&E) departments

You can buy the emergency pill from most pharmacies and from some organisations, such as bpas or Marie Stopes. The cost varies, but it is usually around £26 for Levonelle and £35 for ellaOne.

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 community contraceptive clinic
  • a GP surgery that offers contraception
  • a sexual health clinic 
  • young people's services (call the national sexual health helpline on 0300 123 7123 for details)
  • some GUM clinics
  • FPA: provides information on individual methods of contraception, common STIs, pregnancy choices, abortion and planning a pregnancy
  • Brook: the sexual health charity for under-25s

Find out what to do if you need help now (includes missing a pill and sexual assault).

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

Page last reviewed: 23/11/2015

Next review due: 23/11/2017


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