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What to do after sex: a checklist

by Dr. Margo Harrison
Julie Medical Advisor
After Sex

The after-sex checklist (for people with a vagina)

There’s a wealth of information on what to do before sex, but what about after? Using a condom or taking regular birth control are great ways to keep both you and your partner safe from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies. But your sex “after care” can be equally important, and help you avoid things like infections or unwanted pregnancies.

What to do after sex

From checking in with your body after sex to making sure the condom didn't break, our handy after-sex checklist makes aftercare a no-brainer. We also take a look at some of the most common symptoms you could experience after sex and if and when you should contact your doctor.

Immediately after

Empty your bladder

Your urethra, the tube that carries urine out of your body, can contain bacteria after sex. Too much can cause a bacterial infection. Peeing after sex flushes out that bacteria and reduces your chance of getting a UTI. Also, be sure to wipe from the front to the back to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Check the condom for tears or holes

People with a penis can usually feel a condom break, but their partners might not know if that happens. If you use a condom, be sure to check it for tears, rips, or holes after sexintercourse. Running water through the condom might be a helpful indicator of any holes, but if you’re not sure, use emergency contraception. To avoid broken condoms in the future, make sure your partner is using the right size of condom, don’t double-up, and, very importantly, use water-based lubricant.

Check-in with your body

If you experience any symptoms that are out of the ordinary, monitor them and see a doctor if necessary. We’ve listed the most common ones below. Also, pay attention to your menstrual cycle. If you took Julie (levonorgestrel) tablets 1.5 mg or any other OTC morning-after pill, you might have a delayed period (more on morning-after pill symptoms here). If your period is a week late or hasn’t arrived within three weeks of taking the morning-after pill, take a pregnancy test. If it comes back negative, that means your cycle is just disrupted and should return to normal the following month.

Check-in with yourself

After sex, there are so many thoughts and feelings that could be running through your mind. It’s important to check in and assess how you’re doing. Are you safe? Did something happen that you weren’t comfortable with? If you experienced sexual assault, get to a safe location and call the National Sexual Assault Telephon Hotline or connect with Leda Health.

Don’t douche

There’s no need to clean the inside of your vagina after sex. Your vagina already has a natural balance of good bacteria to keep it clean. But when you wash the inside of it with water or store-bought cleaning products (aka douching), it can upset that balance and cause infections. It’s ok to wipe up and clean the outside of your vagina and around your labia after sex, but you can leave the inside alone.

Within 72 hours

Take EC if needed

If you had unprotected sex, the condom broke, or if you’re not sure if you had unprotected sex, take an OTC emergency contraceptive like Julie as soon as possible. Emergency contraceptives, like the morning-after pill, can help you prevent pregnancy by 89% if taken within 72 hours after sex (for more on how, click here). The sooner you take the pill, the better it’ll work. Julie and other OTC pills are available and legal in all 50 states and don’t require an ID, credit card, or prescription.

Figure out a plan for next time

Taking a daily birth control pill, (or using other forms of birth control like the IUD, patch, ring, shot, etc.) and using condoms regularly are the best ways to make sure you’re protected against pregnancy and STIs when having sex in the future.

2 weeks later

New partner? Get tested.

If you’re having sex with a new partner, be sure to get tested for a sexually transmitted infection (STIs or, as they used to be called, sexually transmitted diseases STDs). Even if you trust the person, know them personally, or use condoms, get tested anyway. Emergency contraception can help prevent pregnancy, but it can’t protect you from infections or STIs. Many of these infections don’t have any symptoms, or you won’t know you have it until you see physical signs such as bumps, rashes, spots, blisters, or experience pain. The only way to know for sure is to get tested. Get tested for STIs at any local clinic or hospital. Here’s a link to find a testing provider near you.

3 weeks later

Take a pregnancy test.

If you had unprotected sex, it’s best to take a pregnancy test if your period is late or 3 weeks after taking emergency contraception like Julie. Remember, if you take Julie or another morning-after pill, a side effect can be a delayed period.

Are you having symptoms?

After sex, your body might experience symptoms that you’re not used to seeing. Some are completely normal, like soreness of the vagina. But if symptoms persist or become more frequent after sex, you may need to seek medical attention. Here are some symptoms that can happen to people with a vagina after penetrative sex.


Bleeding after sex, or “postcoital bleeding,” is pretty common. It’s very likely that people will experience it at one point or another. The bleeding usually stems from the cervix and is light. If it’s heavier and combined with any of the other symptoms below, such as intense cramping or severe abdominal pain, you should talk to your doctor. Most of the time, bleeding is nothing to worry about, but if it persists, it may be due to an underlying condition.


If you’ve menstruated, you’re probably familiar with cramps. But cramping can happen after sex too. Usually, it’s no cause for alarm. Cramps can be treated with OTC medication, such as ibuprofen, or by applying heat, like a heating pad or hot water bottle. If your cramps are persistent both after sex and in your daily life, check in with your doctor.


Like bleeding after sex, spotting (light blood spots in your underwear), is also normal. Vaginal dryness might be the cause, but that symptom is more common in people who are postmenopausal. If you notice consistent spotting after sex, check in with your doctor.


Seeing white discharge? That’s most likely the cervical mucus that cleans and lubricates the vagina and helps your body have sex. While white discharge is normal, it can also be an indication of infection. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an overgrowth of vaginal bacteria. Most of the time, It happens because the pH of your vagina is disrupted by sexual intercourse. If this happens, you might notice off-white or gray discharge coupled with a fishy smell, itchiness, or burning during urination. BV can go away without treatment, but since it’s an infection, it’s good to see a doctor and treat it with antibiotics.


Vaginal burning after sex usually happens because there was a lack of lubrication or increased friction. Fortunately, this symptom isn’t cause for alarm, but it’s pretty uncomfortable. Burning can also be caused by douching or a pH imbalance, a yeast infection, or BV (see above). It might also be from an STI or UTI, or an allergy to semen. Burning normally goes away on its own, but if it persists or you see discharge or smell a foul odor, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Lower abdominal pain

Lower abdominal pain after sex can be caused by many different factors. Deep penetration and vaginal dryness are two of the most common. However, if the pain persists, it could be a sign of other issues, such as endometriosis, fibroids, an STI, or pelvic infection. If the pain isn’t going away, gets more intense, or is coupled with other symptoms, talk with your doctor to see if there’s an underlying cause.


Nausea is the last thing you want after sex, but it is a common symptom. There are a number of factors that can cause nausea, including dehydration, deep penetration by your partner, or vertigo. A UTI, inflamed pelvis, or endometriosis might also be the cause. Though it’s easy to link nausea to pregnancy, if nausea occurs right after sex, it doesn’t mean you’re pregnant. If you experience nausea after sex frequently, consult a doctor.

Although the information above may be useful, it shouldn’t replace the advice of your healthcare professional. For questions about birth control and other women’s health issues, please talk to your healthcare professional.