Condom inside opened wrapper to represent unprotected sex

What to Do After Unprotected Sex

Medically reviewed on July 19, 2023 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Sexual health is a crucial aspect of overall well-being, and being informed about the next steps to take after having unprotected sex is essential for maintaining a healthy and fulfilling sex life. [1]

Whether it was an accidental slip-up or a conscious decision, this article aims to serve as a comprehensive guide, offering valuable insights and actionable advice to protect and prioritize your sexual health in the aftermath of unprotected sex. By understanding the available options and taking prompt and informed action, you can navigate this situation with confidence, promote good women’s and men’s sexual health, and ensure the continued well-being of both yourself and your partner.

Understanding the Risks

Unprotected sex—that is, sex without a contraceptive or sexual activity in which a condom breaks—can pose a range of potential risks, unintended pregnancy being one of them.

Unfortunately, women who experience unintended pregnancies are also more likely to: [1]

  • Delay prenatal care
  • Experience violence
  • Have poor mental health

That said, pregnancy isn’t the only risk of unprotected sex. People who engage in risky sexual activity are also more likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD) if proper precautions are not taken. This occurs as a result of direct skin-to-skin contact and the exchange of bodily fluids. [3]

STDs can often have a long-term impact on one’s health, especially if untreated, and can include the following infections or conditions. [4]

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common vaginal infection caused by an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina, namely, an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, which can disrupt the natural balance of the vaginal microbiome. [5] Symptoms of BV may include a thin, grayish-white vaginal discharge with a fishy odor, itching, and irritation. Treatment typically involves antibiotics prescribed by a healthcare provider to restore the vaginal flora and alleviate symptoms. To help prevent recurrent episodes of BV, it’s advised to: [5]

  • Have regular check-ups
  • Practice good sexual hygiene
  • Use contraceptives when engaging in sexual activity


Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. It’s one of the most common STIs worldwide that is primarily transmitted through unprotected sexual activity, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. [6]

Unfortunately, chlamydia can be easily spread because it often presents with no symptoms, especially in the early stages, leading to unknowing transmission between sexual partners. If left untreated, chlamydia can result in serious health complications such as: [6]

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Infertility
  • Increased risk of contracting other STIs

Regular testing, practicing safe sex, and using barrier methods like condoms are essential in preventing the transmission of chlamydia and maintaining sexual health.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection that affects the female reproductive organs, including the: [7]

  • Uterus
  • Fallopian tubes
  • Ovaries

Unprotected sex, particularly with multiple partners or without barrier methods, increases the risk of developing PID. It occurs when bacteria, such as those associated with chlamydia and gonorrhea, enter the reproductive tract during unprotected sexual activity.

As a result, infection and inflammation can occur, which can result in: [7]

  • Fever
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Pain or bleeding during sex
  • Burning sensation during urination

If left untreated, PID can cause serious complications and long-term damage to the reproductive organs, which can include: [7]

  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Infertility
  • Ectopic pregnancy, and even long-term damage to the reproductive organs

Regular STI testing, practicing safe sex, and seeking prompt medical attention for any symptoms are crucial in preventing and treating PID.


Gonorrhea is an STI caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and engaging in unprotected sex with an infected partner increases the risk of acquiring gonorrhea. [8]

The infection can manifest in a range of symptoms. People assigned female at birth (AFAB) may experience: [8]

  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between periods

That said, many people AFAB do not present with symptoms. Conversely, people assigned male at birth (AMAB) can have the following symptoms: [8]

  • Discharge
  • Anal itching
  • Soreness
  • Bleeding
  • Painful bowel movements

If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to serious health complications, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy, long-term abdominal pain, and infertility. [8]

Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is an STD that can arise from two separate virus strains: HSV-1 and HSV-2, which are primarily responsible for genital warts and sores. You can contract herpes after having unprotected sex with an infected individual, as a result of coming in contact with: [9]

  • Their saliva
  • Herpes sores
  • Genital fluids
  • Infected skin

Genital herpes is very common in the United States, mainly because it's an STD that is often dormant or asymptomatic. When infected, herpes sores will appear at the site of infection and may be painful. Herpes is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms including: [9]

  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Swollen glands

While there is no cure for herpes, there are treatment options that can help prevent future outbreaks.


Having an STD, such as syphilis, gonorrhea, or herpes are more likely to also contract HIV since they’re often associated with risky sexual behaviors that put them at a higher risk, such as unprotected sex, having unprotected sex with multiple partners, or drug use. [10]

HIV is an STI that’s spread through bodily fluids, including blood, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. As such, HIV can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex without the use of barrier methods, such as condoms or dental dams. Anal sex carries a higher risk due to the fragility of the rectal lining. [10]

Depending on the stage of the infection, symptoms may include: [10]

  • Fever and headaches
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Rash
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is an STI that is highly prevalent, and most sexually active individuals will contract at least one type of HPV in their lifetime if unvaccinated. [11]

Certain high-risk strains of HPV can lead to cervical, anal, penile, and other types of cancer. Additionally, HPV can cause genital warts or HPV mouth sores. Vaccination against HPV and practicing safe sex by using condoms can help reduce the risk of HPV transmission. [12]

Additionally, if unvaccinated, regular screening and early detection are vital in managing the potential health consequences of HPV. [12]


Syphilis is a highly contagious STI, and individuals infected with syphilis can pass the infection to their sexual partners when having unprotected sex. Sexually active gay or bisexual men often have a higher chance of contracting the infection. [13]

Syphilis progresses through stages, with symptoms varying from painless sores (chancres) to rashes, fever, and organ damage if left untreated. Syphilis can also be transmitted from an infected pregnant person to their fetus, leading to congenital syphilis. Practicing safe sex, including consistent condom use and regular STI testing, is crucial in preventing syphilis transmission. [13]


This STD is caused by a parasite, called Trichomonas vaginalis. Unprotected sexual activity, including vaginal intercourse, is a significant risk factor for trichomoniasis transmission since the infection is primarily spread through direct genital contact with an infected individual. [14]

Trichomoniasis often presents with symptoms such as: [14]

  • Genital itching
  • Abnormal discharge
  • Discomfort during urination or sexual intercourse

However, 70% of individuals may remain asymptomatic. [14]

Mycoplasma Genitalium (Mgen)

Mgen is an STD that can infect the cervix, urethra, or rectum. It’s primarily spread by having sex with an infected partner without a condom; however, researchers believe that it may also be spread through oral sex. [15]

Those with Mgen will experience unusual genital discharge and burning sensations when urinating. Fortunately, the STD can be cured with antibiotics and further prevented by practicing safe sex. Left untreated, Mgen can cause: [15]

  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Infertility
  • Chronic pelvic pain

Next Steps Following Unprotected Sex

Wondering what to do after unprotected sex?

After engaging in unprotected sex, prompt action is crucial. If it’s safe, communicate with your partner about the situation and potential risks. Then, take action. Urinate after sex to reduce the risk of developing an infection. To avoid unwanted pregnancy, people AFAB can take an emergency contraceptive pill 72 hours after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. [16]

Additionally, it’s advised to seek medical advice. Even after taking emergency contraception pills, make an appointment with a healthcare provider, even in the absence of STI/STD symptoms. They’ll be able to conduct testing and provide appropriate guidance based on your specific situation, assess your risk factors, and discuss treatment options.

Healthcare providers can also help walk you through any difficult emotions or situations you may be going through.

Future Prevention

In the future, you can practice safe sex and reduce the risks by: [16]

  • Using barrier methods, such as condoms or dental dams
  • Using birth control methods, such as pills and IUDs
  • Keeping emergency contraceptive on hand
  • Screening for signs of STDs in men and women regularly
  • Speaking to your partner about testing prior to sexual activity

Protect Your Sexual Health With Everlywell

Following unprotected sex, it’s critical to communicate with your partner, seek out STI/STD testing or book an STD treatment online, and use an emergency contraceptive pill to prevent pregnancy if desired. To avoid future risks, using condoms is essential.

If you believe you’ve contracted an STD following unprotected sex, Everlywell provides a variety of at-home lab tests to assess various STDs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and more. If you’d like to speak to a healthcare provider, our Everlywell clinicians provide telehealth visits where you can discreetly discuss your situation and get advice on how to move forward.

Prioritize your sexual health with Everlywell.

  1. Sexual health. CDC. URL. Published June 25, 2019. Accessed July 17, 2023.
  2. Reduce the proportion of unintended pregnancies — FP‑01. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. URL. Accessed July 17, 2023.
  3. Sexually transmitted diseases. Mayo Clinic. URL. . Published April 14, 2023. Accessed July 17, 2023.
  4. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). CDC. URL. Published July 7, 2023. Accessed July 17, 2023.
  5. Bacterial Vaginosis – CDC Basic Fact Sheet. CDC. URL. Published January 5, 2022. Accessed July 17, 2023.
  6. Chlamydia – CDC Basic Fact Sheet. CDC. URL. Published April 12, 2022. Accessed July 17, 2023.
  7. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) – CDC Basic Fact Sheet. CDC. URL. Published April 18, 2022. Accessed July 17, 2023.
  8. Gonorrhea – CDC Basic Fact Sheet. CDC. URL. Published August 22, 2022. Accessed July 17, 2023.
  9. Genital Herpes – CDC Basic Fact Sheet. CDC. URL. Published January 3, 2022. Accessed July 17, 2023.
  10. HIV/AIDS. Mayo Clinic. URL. Published July 29, 2022. Accessed July 17, 2023.
  11. Reasons to Get HPV Vaccine. CDC. URL. Published November 10, 2021. Accessed July 18, 2023.
  12. Genital HPV Infection – Basic Fact Sheet. CDC. URL. Published April 12, 2022. Accessed July 18, 2023.
  13. Syphilis – CDC Basic Fact Sheet. CDC. URL. Published February 10, 2022.Accessed July 18, 2023.
  14. Trichomoniasis – CDC Basic Fact Sheet. CDC. URL. Published April 25, 2022. Accessed July 18, 2023.
  15. Mycoplasma genitalium – CDC Basic Fact Sheet. CDC. URL. Published November 16, 2022 Accessed July 18, 2023.
  16. 6 things to do after unprotected sex. University of Colorado Boulder. URL. Accessed July 18, 2023.
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