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Sexual health

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What is sex?

The word ‘sex’ can be used in two different ways: 

  • To talk about sexual activity  

  • To describe different kinds of bodies and body parts  

Sex as sexual activity (also called ‘having sex’, sexual intercourse). 

‘Having sex’ means a lot of different things to different people. It can include: 

  • Putting a penis in a vagina or anus  

  • Touching or rubbing genitals with hands, fingers or mouth  

  • Putting fingers or an object (such as a sex toy) in the vagina or anus  

  • Rubbing, grinding, or humping on a sexual partner or on an object  

Sex where a penis goes into a vagina can lead to pregnancy. 

Sex describes bodies and body parts 

‘Sex’ is sometimes used to describes bodies and body parts (eg some body parts are commonly referred to as ‘male’ or ‘female’). While some people identify as a man or a woman based on their body parts, this is not true for everyone.  

'Sex' is also used to describe things about bodies that you can’t see, such as hormones and genes.  

Some people have an intersex variation. This means that they have sexual anatomy, hormonal variations or chromosomal variations that are not typically ‘male’ or ‘female’. People with intersex variations may identify as men, women or as another gender. To learn more about intersex variations, go to Intersex Human Rights Australia.  

To learn more about sex, go to the Family Planning website.  


We all have a gender. Gender is not about how your body looks or what parts you have.  Your gender is the sense you have of yourself as a woman, a man or as a non-binary person.  

Because our ideas about what it is to be a woman or a man are created socially and culturally there are many different ways to express gender. This is also why our ideas about gender change over time. To learn more the differences between sex and gender go to the Transhub Website.  

Some people know that their physical sex fits with the gender identity they were given at birth. These people are cisgender (‘cis’ is Latin for ‘same’).  

Some people find that their physical sex, and the gender they’ve been given because of their physical sex, isn’t a good fit. They may go on to identify as a gender that is different to the one they were given at birth. These people are transgender or gender diverse.  


Sexuality is a way of describing who you are attracted to.  

There are lots of different words that people use to describe their sexuality. Some common terms are:  

  • Straight, heterosexual – attracted to people of the opposite gender.  

  • Gay, homosexual – attracted to people of the same gender. Can be used by women, men or non-binary people. 

  • Lesbian – women who are attracted to other women.  

  • Bisexual – attracted to people of the same gender and people of other genders.   

  • Pansexual – attracted to people regardless of their gender identity or sex.  

  • Asexual/ace – not attracted to anyone, or rarely experiences sexual attraction.  

Human sexuality is diverse. Some people know early in life who they are attracted to, for others it takes time to understand their sexuality and what it means to them.  

To find out more about sexuality and gender, go to the Family Planning website.  

To see a video about LGBTIQ+ perspectives on gender and sexuality go to the Link’s resource. 

Vaginas and vulvas

Many people mistake vulvas for vaginas.  

The vagina is inside the body. The entrance to the vagina is in between the anus and the urethra. Inside the body, the vagina is like a tube that leads up to the cervix. The vulva is on the outside the body. The vulva is made up of: 

  • the labia majora - the big folds you can see easily from the outside 

  • the labia minora - smaller flaps inside the big folds (they may sit inside or be visible outside of labia majora)  

  • the urethra - the hole where urine comes out  

  •  the clitoris - where the folds of the labia minora meet, under a hood of skin, called the clitoral hood 

To see a diagram of a vulva, go here.  

To see pictures and learn more about the diversity of vulvas and labias go to Women's Health Victoria's Labia Library.   

Everyone’s vulva is unique. There is no one way for the vulva to look. It’s important to get to know what your unique vulva looks and feels like, so you know if anything looks amiss and seek help from a health professional. 

Family Planning's website  has great information about vaginal and vulval health.

Planned Parenthood's website has helpful information on how to find where the clitoris is.

The cervix

The cervix is inside the body. It is at the top of the vagina, between the vagina and the uterus.  

People who have a cervix and who have had sex are recommended to have a Cervical Screening Test (CST) every five years once they turn 25 years old.  

A cervical screen looks for the human papilloma virus (HPV) which if untreated can lead to cervical cancer.  

It doesn’t matter what the gender of your sexual partners has been or what kind of sex you have had. If you are sexually active, it’s important to have a cervical screen.  

You can ask your doctor to ‘self-collect’. This means that you swab your vagina yourself, rather than having the doctor do it for you.  

A cervical screen looks for the human papilloma virus (HPV) which if untreated can lead to cervical cancer.  

To learn more about cervical health go to Tasmanian Department of Health Website.   


Breasts come in all shapes and sizes, and everyone’s breasts look different! However, it’s important to get familiar with the look and feel of your breasts in case something changes or feels unusual. Talk to your GP about any changes.  

If you are trans or gender diverse, you still need to check your breasts or chest for changes. Depending on surgeries and affirming hormone treatments, you may need regular breast and chest screening once you are over 50 years old. 

To learn more about breast health including how to check your own breasts and chest, visit the McGrath Nurses website.  

What is consent?

Consent means agreeing to something.  

Everyone has the right to feel safe, supported and comfortable enough to consent freely to or say no to sexual activity.  

Everyone has the right to make their own choices about their body, whether they want to have sex, and who they have sex with.  

To consent to sex, a person needs to verbally consent free of pressure or coercion from other people, as well as be above the legal age of consent.  

It’s not a one-time thing – be clear about what you want and check in with your partner/s to make sure they are comfortable too. Know for sure the answer is ‘Yes’, never assume.  

To learn more about consent, go to the Family Planning website, OR the Legal Aid Tasmania website.  


Self-pleasure, or masturbation is when someone pleasures themselves through touching or rubbing their genitals. It’s completely healthy and normal thing to do. Masturbation is done in private and can be done alone or with a consenting partner.  

To find out more about masturbation, go to the Family Planning website. 

Sexual pleasure

Everyone is different and we all find different things pleasurable.  

Being able to explain what feels good to you, and be listened to by a sexual partner, can really help you to have pleasurable sex. Finding out what feels good to you can take time and exploration.  

Some things can help sex be pleasurable: 

  • Being able to say yes to sex freely, without anyone putting pressure on you  

  • Being able to stop having sex when you want to  

  • Being able to communicate openly about what kinds of sex you want and what you don’t want 

  • Boundaries about what kind of sex or sexual acts you do or don’t want are respected 

To learn more about sexual pleasure, go to the Family Planning website. 

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) – what can I do to be safe sexually?

Infections caught through sexual activity are called STIs. They can be passed on through any kind of sex or close sexual skin to skin contact  

Using contraception when choosing to have sex, as well as getting regularly tests for STIs at your local GP, Family Planning Tasmania or the Sexual Health Service is a great way you can reduce the risk of catching or passing something on.  

To learn more about STIs, go to the Family Planning website or the Sexual Health Service (call Hobart 6166 2672, or Launceston or Devonport 6777 1371).