Safe and consensual sex

Sex can mean different things to different people, and includes a range of different sexual activities. Sex is experienced differently by everybody, and it is important to understand issues relating to sex so that you can make decisions that are right for you. 

What is safe sex?

Safe sex means taking care of both your physical and emotional self. Elements of safe sex include:

  • The active consent of everyone involved
  • Feeling comfortable
  • The prevention of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

It is normal to feel nervous or excited about having sex, even if it's not your first time. You might find it helpful to talk to somebody you trust for advice first, such as a family member, friend, or professional.

Check out Headspace's useful what is sex: risks, health & contraception? page for more info.


Consent to engage in any sexual activity - even kissing or touching - must be given by everyone involved. Consent is a verbal, physical, and emotional agreement to engage in sexual activity, and includes an ongoing process of discussing what each person is comfortable with. It involves paying attention to what someone is saying, their body language, and expressions.

It is important to note that:

  • Consent can be withdrawn at any time - it is an active, ongoing requirement
  • Consent cannot be assumed, even for couples in long-term relationships
  • No response (the absence of a 'no') does not equal consent
  • Consent must be given enthusiastically and free of influence (e.g. pressure, deception, or drugs or alcohol).

See Reach Out's 5 things you need to know about sexual consent page for more info.

What is a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?

An STI is an infection that is spread from one person to another by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex. STIs can cause some discomfort or pain, however, in some cases, they can have no symptoms. It is important to detect and treat STIs early so that they do not cause long-term harm.

STI testing

If you suspect that you have symptoms of an STI, you should get a sexual health test as soon as possible. STIs can be commonly treated through a simple course of medication. Do not engage in further sexual activity until you have a negative test or complete treatment.

Routine sexual health testing is a good way to ensure the health of yourself and your sexual partners, even if you can't detect any symptoms (some STIs can appear without symptoms). If you are sexually active you should get tested every 6 to 12 months, and more frequently if you have multiple or changing sexual partners, even if you routinely use protection. Many STIs can be quickly and effectively treated.

Canberra Sexual Health Centre offers free STI testing, and in many cases has same or next day appointments. Alternatively, you can also get yourself tested at National Health Co-Op at ANU (fees at National Health Co-Op may vary depending your health insurance coverage).

See NSW Health's Play Safe Could I have an STI? page and Healthdirect's online symptom checker for more info.

Preventing STIs

Condoms are one of the most effective forms of protection against STIs (they are also a contraceptive for preventing unwanted pregnancies). ANUSA offers free condoms at the Brian Kenyon Student Space. There are also a range of locations around the ACT where you can obtain free condoms and lubricant:

However, condoms do not offer 100% protection against STIs (or unwanted pregnancy). Routine testing (see above) is important, too. It is a good idea to understand the risks and ways you can protect yourself and others so that you can make the best possible decisions. See NSW Health's Play Safe website for a range of useful resources and good information on STIs and their prevention.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)

HIV is a virus that increases sesceptibility to infection and disease by weakening the immune system. Thanks to medical developments, there are ways you can protect yourself from the virus.

  • PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is an antiretroviral medication that protects against HIV that is now widely available in Australia. When taken as directed, PrEP is highly effective at protecting against HIV. See the ACT Government's PrEP factsheet and NSW Health's HIV prevention page for more information.
  • PEP, or Post Exposure Prophylaxis, is a medication taken after potential exposure that may prevent HIV. PEP must be taken within 72 hours of exposure taking place in order to be effective. See the ACT Government's PEP factsheet for more information. 

It is important to note that PrEP and PEP won't protect you against other STIs. The best way to avoid HIV and other STIs is by having safe, protected sex, and getting tested regularly.

Where do I get help about sexual harassment, assault, or misconduct at ANU?

Please note: contacting a support service at the ANU or in the ACT community will not be shown on your academic record, will not affect your visa status, and will not impact your employment with ANU.

The Respectful Relationships Unit

The Respectful Relationships Unit (RRU) at ANU leads the university's work in preventing sexual assault and harassment. While the RRU isn't an urgent support service, students can make an appointment with them to discuss options around disclosing or reporting, as well as discuss where to get assistance at ANU and in the ACT community.

If you are thinking about speaking to somebody about an incident of sexual assault, harassment, or misconduct, please remember that disclosing is not the same as reporting.

  • By disclosing to the Respectful Relationships Unit, you can get support and accurate information about what your options are going forward and where to go for help. See the How to disclose sexual misconduct page for more.
  • If you would like to report an incident of sexual assault or harassment, please see the How to report sexual misconduct page.

Please see the ANU Community support services page for a number of supports available at ANU. If you would like to speak with somebody immediately, the ANU Wellbeing and Support Line is available on 1300 050 327 for confidential and free personal crisis counselling available after hours and on weekends. 

Where else can I get help about sexual harassment, assault, or misconduct?

There are a range of services available in the community that can help you get the best information, referral, and support for sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct.

  • The Canberra Rape Crisis Centre (CRCC) supports women, children and men who have experienced sexual assault, or people who are supporting others who have experienced sexual assault. They provide free and confidential crisis and ongoing counselling, support, advocacy, and information about medical and legal options. Contact CRCC on 02 6247 2525 from 7am to 11pm, 7 days a week.
  • 1800 RESPECT provides 24 hour phone support and is the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) provides phone or online support for people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, sexual assault, domestic or family violence. 1800 RESPECT also provides support for friends and family of people experiencing violence, as well as workers and professionals supporting someone experiencing violence. 
  • Please see the ACT support services page for more options and information.


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