At its best, sex is usually more about pleasure than pain. But sometimes when you’re in pursuit of that pleasure, you put your health at risk, potentially without even realizing it. There are plenty of popular sex tips you might either be curious about or already consider part of your sexual repertoire, but that also aren’t as safe as you may think. The good news: even though the following 10 sex tips can be a little dangerous, there are expert-approved ways to enjoy them (almost) risk-free.
1. Putting food in or around your vagina.
It can be tempting to use whipped cream, honey, or chocolate fudge to turn your nethers into an X-rated ice cream sundae, but getting an infection isn’t so sweet. “The vagina is its own microenvironment, and it has bacteria that provides a function,” Jamil Abdur-Rahman, says M.D., board-certified ob/gyn and Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Vista East Medical Center in Waukegan, Illinois.
“Vaginal pH is normally pretty low to protect the vagina against certain bacteria and yeast that don’t thrive in an acidic environment,” he explains. But certain foods can throw that balance off, especially sugary ones. Sweet treats can increase your vagina’s pH, which gives bacteria and yeast more of a chance to overgrow and cause infection. Plus, the bacteria feed on the sugar, which can make them grow even more.
Also, the juice of some fruits and vegetables can irritate your vaginal mucosa, or sensitive tissue that’s part of the labia minora (inner lips). That condition’s called chemical vaginitis, and it can also be brought about by spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, says Abdur-Rahman.
No matter what kind of food you’re using, Abdur-Rahman recommends keeping it strictly to the labia majora, or outer lips, and mons pubis, or pubic mound (the area where most of your pubic hair grows). That way, it’s less likely to irritate your vaginal mucosa or cause an infection in your vagina. And if you’re looking for something that won’t harm you even if it gets into your most sensitive nooks and crannies, consider coconut oil! “Oil is so viscous, so it’s not as easy for bacteria to get to the sugar,” says Abdur-Rahman.
2. Having sex in the shower.
Shower sex can be wonderful, but there’s a lube conundrum involved. Bathtubs are slippery in the first place, and when you add lube—the water will wash away some of your natural lubrication, so it makes sense to have some on hand—the shower can become even more unsafe. Lay down a shower mat for better traction, Timaree Schmit, Ph.D., a sexuality educator and professor at Widener University, says. She also suggests opting for silicone lube when you’re having fun in the shower. “It stays put better than [water- or oil-based lubes], so you don’t have to reapply it as frequently,” she says.
3. Asking your partner to stimulate your G-spot with a come-hither motion.
The potential problem here is two-fold. First, if your partner’s fingernails are too long, the activity can cause what Abdur-Rahman refers to as vaginal “trauma,” which is about as unpleasant as it sounds. But even when your partner’s fingernails are in tip-top shape, washing their hands before they touch your vagina is key. Abdur-Rahman recalls an uncomfortable patient who came in with an extremely inflamed vagina, which they eventually realized was irritated because her husband touched her with cologne on his hands.
4. Tying each other up or down.
Bondage can be super fun, but losing circulation to a limb isn’t ideal. To prevent that, regularly check in with each other for signs that you need to stop, like numbness or tingling, says Schmit. When it comes to supplies, the various choices have their pros and cons. Ties and scarves are great because they’re soft and easy to maneuver, but unlike some handcuffs made for bondage, they don’t have quick-release buttons to remove them in an instant. But you can cut each other out of them, so keeping heavy-duty scissors on hand is a good idea, as is tying a quick-release knot. And unless you’re super-experienced, opting for binds that require keys might be biting off more than you can chew.
5. Using a sex toy on yourself then your partner, or vice versa.
The potential danger occurs when one person has a sexually transmitted infection. Abdur-Rahman once had a patient who shared a sex toy with her girlfriend and wound up getting chlamydia. If you’ve both been tested, forge ahead. If not, use a condom on on the toy and swap it out for a fresh one in between switching from person to person (or if you’re using a female condom, you’re free to keep the same one inside of you throughout). Also be sure to clean your sex toys based on their specific care instructions.
6. Contorting into Cirque de Soleil-worthy positions.
If you’re not bendy enough for an especially flexible sex position, you can pull a muscle, sprain something, or just generally hurt yourself. Schmit recommends working on your flexibility first until you notice clear gains, then going for the gold. “Train for the sport you’re competing in,” she says.
7. Slipping a sex toy up your butt.
Anal stimulation is definitely worth trying, but only when you’re properly prepared. If the sex toy doesn’t have a flared base or strong strings for easy retrieval, it could actually slip inside the anus, says Schmit. “Many people have been like, ‘I can hold onto it,’ but you never know,”she explains. “Things get slippery.” That’s especially true for anal play, since lube is a non-negotiable.
8. Experimenting with choking.
“There’s a difference between applying pressure that’s slightly constricting for a certain sensation and actually choking someone,” says Schmit. To be safe and not pass out or have a scary experience, aim for the former. “People can get a much greater sensation from a smaller amount of stimulation than they expect,” she says. To that end, always have your partner start out with barely any pressure, because you can always request more.
Most importantly, a safe word isn’t going to cut it in a situation where you could be out of breath. Schmit recommends agreeing upon a safe action instead. It could be a hand gesture, specific eye movement, a series of tapping your partner’s body or the headboard—whatever is extremely clear and simple to do. And seriously, even more than with regular sex, only do this one with someone you trust enough to put your comfort and safety above their curiosity.
9. Substituting a vibrating toothbrush or iPhone for a buzzing sex toy.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, but your vagina still needs some protection. “Don’t use these at all inside the vagina,” says Abdur-Rahman. They’re dirty, and not in the good way. But if you’re just applying the vibration to your clitoris, all you need to do is create a barrier like your underwear between your MacGyvered sex toy and your lady garden.
10. Giving road head.
Really not a great idea, as sexy as it may seem. “The upside of arousal is that it lessens pain and lowers your disgust and anxiety—the same things alcohol does—but it also limits your ability to make smart choices,” says Schmit. There’s really no safe way to do anything sexual in a moving vehicle when either of you is driving. If you’re still in search of a vehicle-based thrill, consider trying it out in a parked car in your driveway or on a street you know is always deserted. Just don’t fully disrobe, and be conscious of your surroundings. Legal fees can really put a damper on that post-orgasm glow.