high risk sex

What Is High-Risk Sexual Behavior?

Sex is a beautiful part of most people’s lives and relationships. Unfortunately, it also comes with its own difficulties and details to navigate. Certain sexual behaviors and habits are inherently risky, that’s a part of life.

Understanding these potential risks, why people engage in them, and how to avoid them is an important step in normalizing conversations about sexual wellness. It’s also a vital step in caring for your sexual health and overall wellbeing. 

Defining High-Risk Sexual Behavior

The International Society for The Study of Sexual Medicine defines high risk sexual behavior as any sexual behavior that puts a person at an increased risk of spreading or getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). High risk sexual behavior also includes anything that can cause excessive (unwanted) bodily or emotional harm.

We need to point out that this definition in no way is meant to shame people who engage in consensual kink or BDSM. This is a normal expression of their sexual behavior, and is not considered high-risk when done consensually.

These are the different types of high-risk sexual behavior:

Substance Abuse

It’s not uncommon to engage in sexual behavior while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. That being said, it can impair someone’s decision making abilities and lower their inhibitions, leading them to do things they may not otherwise do.

Substances can also impact someone’s ability to give informed consent or do something like have sex without a condom. Drugs and alcohol also have their own risks outside of sexual behavior.

We’re not saying not to ever engage in sexual behavior while under the influence, but to make sure you and any partners involved know and accept the risk before ingesting any substances.

Kink Risks

BDSM and kink are a beautiful way for people to explore pleasure, pain, and deeper intimate experiences. When done in an educated and consensual manner, of course. Potential risks from kink include emotional damage in a dom/sub situation or nerve and bone damage from ropes or ties.

If you do engage in kink, you need to be aware of the potential risks and how to avoid them. That’s where the acronym RACK comes into play.

  • R – Risk
  • A – Aware
  • C – Consensual
  • K – Kink

Rack acknowledges the potential risks of engaging in kink, and creates the space from them to be openly discussed, to put physical and emotional safety precautions and boundaries in place. It’s vital to prepare and research before taking part in any kink activity.

Number of Partners

How many sexual partners you have is an individual choice. We are not putting any moral value on having more or less partners, however, the more partners you have, the more potential risk there is, especially when it comes to STIs.

Taking preventative measures like using condoms can certainly help reduce your risk, but they don’t completely eliminate it.

Anonymity with Partners

When you have sexual contact with someone, you’re also exposing yourself to other people that they’ve previously had sex with. While again there is nothing wrong with this from a moral standpoint, it puts you at greater risk for contracting STIs.

Anonymity refers to not knowing your partner’s sexual past or habits. As hard as these conversations can be to have, they are necessary to create an open dialogue around possible STI exposure. 

Why People Engage in High-Risk Sexual Behavior

Most people are at least somewhat aware of the potential risks of engaging in these types of behaviors – the transmission of STIs, unwanted pregnancies, and emotional or physical harm. 

Yet people still do it. Why is that?

That is an incredibly complicated and nuanced question, but there are some common reasons:

  • Lack of sexual education: People who did not have adequate sexual education may not know the potential risks, or how to mitigate them.
  • Mental health: People with mental health issues like depression may disregard the potential risks and not prioritize their overall health.
  • Substance abuse: Abusing substances can make people more likely to engage in risky behavior.
  • Age: Younger people may not have the education or awareness to understand the potential impact or long-term consequences of these risky behaviors.

Education Is the Way Forward

If you have been engaging in high-risk sexual behavior, please note that as long as you’ve been respectful of other people’s boundaries, you’re not to blame. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and many people go through it at some point in their lives, especially when they’re younger or dealing with mental health issues.

You do however need to take responsibility for your sexual wellness, as well as the health of any sexual partners that you have. Again, this information is not meant to shame you, but to empower you to educate yourself and take actions that prioritize your sexual health. 

As long as you’re engaging in consensual sexual behavior, it’s not inherently abnormal or unhealthy, but you should be aware of the potential risks, and take steps to mitigate them. 

How To Take Responsibility for Your Sexual Health

At the end of the day, people get STIs. It’s a part of biology and being on this planet. In many cases, they’re easily treatable, and the stigma is worse than the actual infection. But you should still take steps to lower your risk of transmitting them. 

Here are some ways to avoid high-risk sexual behavior:

  • Use barrier methods like condoms and dental dams.
  • Consider getting vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B, and certain strains of HPV.
  • Consider taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) if you are at a higher risk of contracting HIV.
  • Get mental health support if needed.
  • Discuss sexual history and habits with partners.
  • If engaging in kink, educate yourself on RACK when trying something new.
  • Practice regular STI testing, especially before or after new partners. 

Sex should not be scary. When you educate yourself on potential risks, you are being a responsible sexual partner and are caring for your own body and wellness. Understanding the complexities of these behaviors is the first step. If you’re consistently engaging in high-risk sexual behavior, we encourage you to seek out mental health support or guidance from a reproductive health clinic.