Condoms and Barriers

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Dear Dr. Myrtle,

I want to protect myself, but it seems weird or geeky to whip out some latex. How can I make using condoms more fun?


Condoms and other barriers (such as gloves and dams) allow people to explore their sexuality more safely. If you’ve decided to be sexual with someone else, then choosing the right barriers for your sexual play makes sense. Barriers don’t make you have sex—your choices do that. Barriers simply help you to protect your health if you pursue sexual activities with other people.

Barriers help prevent infections. Common infections include curable ones like Chlamydia (clah-MID-de-yah) and Gonorrhea (gahn-oh-REE-yah), as well as incurable ones like Herpes and HPV (Human Papillomavirus). Using barriers consistently and correctly reduces transmission of these infections. Barriers allow you to feel everything, but prevent direct skin-to-skin contact with secretions that harbor infectious agents.

Worrying about whether you should have used a barrier can ruin an otherwise excellent sexual experience. Increase your sexual pleasure by protecting yourself from the start.

Be the God(dess) Within.

Be proud of yourself for caring for your body. No one can do it as well as you can. As much as other people seem interested in your body, sexuality, and life, no one cares as much about your body as you do. It’s yours—choices that you make for yourself will matter the most to you.

Practice makes perfect. Studies show that both women and men who know how to use barriers correctly and provide their own supply are more likely to have successful use. Know how to use them yourself, and you won’t have to rely on someone else to keep you safe. Finally, being a good Girl/Boy Scout pays off!

Types of Barriers

Male Condoms

These can be worn on a penis, or used to cover dildos or other toys. Male condoms come in all different sizes, textures, flavors, and colors. With so many options, it can be fun to experiment and figure out which you like best. See our condom comparison chart for details about the different condoms available. Many condoms are made of latex, which is quite stretchy and strong.

For those with latex allergies, there are several types of non-latex condoms available.  These are made of polyurethane (Trojan Supra) or polyisoprene (Skyn). Polyurethane condoms can break more frequently (2.6%-5%) than latex condoms (3%), although it’s a very small difference. It is true that polyurethane condoms do slip off of a penis more easily, and should be held in place with a stretchy cock ring for more security.

There are lambskin condoms on the market, but we don’t sell them. Why not? Because they are porous, and while the holes in the condoms are small enough to block sperm, they are large enough to allow bacteria, viruses, and other microbes through. This makes them an effective condom only when contraception is your only goal. Latex and polyurethane condoms, on the other hand, are effective at preventing both pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

Many condoms are lightly lubricated with a silicone-based lubricant, while some are lubricated with a water-based lubricant or not at all (if you are using silicone, rubber, or Cyberskin toys, you’ll want to use unlubricated condoms). We recommend adding your own lubricant even to pre-lubricated condoms—most don’t have enough lube on them to keep them from breaking.

AVOID condoms with spermicide. Most spermicides contains nonoxynol-9, a detergent that has proven very irritating to sensitive genital tissue. Spermicides have not been shown to have much, if any, contraceptive effect, and can actually increase the chance of contracting an STI if the user is exposed to one.

Female Condoms

The female condom is a fantastic nitrile sac that fits inside of a vagina or rectum and is very comfy to wear. Despite the name, they can be worn by people of any gender. When worn vaginally, they stay in place with a flexible ring on the inside, meant to fit snugly against the cervix, and another on the outside, meant to rest against the vulva. For anal use, simply remove the inner ring before inserting, and keep the outer ring outside of the wearer’s body.

Female condoms don’t move during sex, so the rubbing happens on the surface of the condom instead of on the skin. This means there is a lot less friction on the skin of the wearer. In rating comfort, they are the preferred type for women who test both types and use them consistently. Female condoms are also less likely to break than male condoms (0.1% vs 3.1%). If you have more questions about female condoms, the package insert has some great info and pictures. Note: The first version of the Female Condom was made of polyurethane; nitrile is quieter and softer than polyurethane, so if you tried the first version you may be pleasantly surprised!

Tips for using the female condom:

  • Add your own water-based lubricant to the condom before insertion, and then to the other partner’s penis before penetration.
  • Play “Bulls Eye” to make sure a partner focuses on getting the penis on the inside of the outer ring. Everyone loves a good aim.

Gloves

Gloves are made of latex or nitrile (safe for people with latex allergies), and come in different sizes and colors. Gloves protect you while you explore manual stimulation (“hand jobs”) or fisting. Plus, with a bit of lube, gloves become slippery, sexy tools of pleasure that glide oh-so-smoothly over the skin.

Some stores sell finger cots, but we don’t recommend them. First of all, they only protect your finger. So what happens if you have a cut on your palm? Second of all, they can slip off easily. It’s far easier to wear a glove, plus it gives you more surface area to touch with!

Oral Sex Dams

Dams are thin, silky-smooth sheets of latex or polyurethane designed to make oral-vaginal or oral-anal contact safe and pleasurable for both partners. Put some lubricant on the area to be licked, lay the sex dam gently on top of the skin (don’t stretch), then lick away. One trick to hold it in place without hands is to get a garter belt, and use the garter ends to hold it in place. Tasty and fashionable.

Oral Sex Dams, like those made by Glyde, are twice as large and half as thick as dental dams, making them better suited for oral play. In a pinch, plastic wrap—the non-microwaveable kind only—works just as well (really!).

Don’t forget the lube!

We consider lube to be one of the greatest sex toys ever invented. Not only is it a lot of fun to use, it also helps prevent barriers from breaking. What more could you ask for? For more information about the types of lubricants available, see our Lubricants brochure.

But You Think You Can’t Use Barriers Because...

A. Social embarrassment

Sex doesn’t “just happen”. Pretending that you aren’t preparing for being sexual doesn’t mean that you aren’t actually doing so. Really—don’t you fill up a car with gas before you drive it? Don’t you buy groceries before you cook a fabulous meal? People who are skilled and prepared by having condoms and lube with them have much more successful experiences with barriers.

If a sexual partner asks why you’re getting your barriers and lube out, just tell them that you’re still working on one of your scout badges. They’ll be even more impressed (If they really give you a hard time, see ‘E’ and ‘F’).

B. Using barriers means you’re “too sexual” 

Is it really better to fake ignorance and not have barriers than to appear as the sex god(dess) you are?

C. Unfamiliarity with barrier products

Learning more about barriers (like you are now) helps reduce that weird feeling that you’re doing something odd. How can you feel like a pro when you’ve never seen a barrier? It’s not going to work by itself, just like a cell phone can’t dial itself. Study up, and become an expert at using barriers and an expert on which barriers you like to use.

Practice buying barriers and lube. Practice taking them out of their packages. Practice storing them someplace(s) convenient to your potential sexual play spots. Smell how they smell. Taste how they taste. Put them on yourself and wear them around. Put lube on them and see how well the heat and touch of your fingers comes through. Masturbate with them. Make them a part of your everyday life! Blow them up to decorate your next party. Make water balloons out of them. Give lube samples away as party favors! (Your friends will ask you a lot of questions about sex after that party.) Most importantly, just begin.

D. Can’t afford barriers (prefer Russian Roulette)

It is WAY more expensive to treat sexually transmitted infections than to prevent them. At over $70 just to run ONE test for an infection (and that’s just the test itself, not the collection, treatment, etc.), barriers are quite a deal. For $70, you could buy condoms and lube for 70 sessions of raucous, rowdy sex! If you threw in the exam to get the sample ($40) plus the medication to treat your Chlamydia infection ($50), you just “spent” 160 sessions of sex, or sex every other day for a year!

Our suggestion is to protect yourself, and have sex every other day of the year if you want. If you don’t have sex quite that frequently, you’ll have extra spending money for those flavored condoms you’ve been eyeing.

E. My partner won’t have sex with me if I insist on using barriers

Then why are you having sex with them?  Have sex with yourself, instead, or someone who respects you enough to play safely with you.

F. My (male) partner won’t wear one

Beware the awkward condom user. People who don’t regularly use condoms are most likely to break them, which won’t do either of you any good. Reconsider your plans, or perhaps you could wear a Female Condom, instead.

Hints & Tips for Fun Barrier Play

1. Don’t keep barriers with sharp items. Sounds funny right until your nail clippers give you Chlamydia! Store barriers in a cool place (out of the sun or light) in some puncture-resistant tote. You’ll save on cleaning up all of that lube, too.

2. Have extra lube handy. Saliva will work in a pinch, but it dries out pretty quickly. Sample lube packets can be tucked under the pillows, or scattered around your potential trysting places.

3. Grab a flavored condom when you want both oral sex and penetrative sex. The flavored condoms have some tasty lube on them which helps keep your mouth moist, and work just fine for penetration.

4. When using latex condoms, keep in mind that oils of any type, including oils found in moisturizing soaps, break down condoms. So, for latex, NO oils, please. Water-based and silicone-based lubes were designed for pleasure AND they’ll keep your condoms all in one piece.

5. If you’re intimate with a regular partner, trade back and forth who wears the condom. For example, some people use male condoms sometimes, and female condoms other times. The sensations are different for each type, and the responsibility is fun to pass around.

Tips for Successful Male Condom Use:

1. Unwrap condom packages carefully; preferably not with your teeth. See #1 above.

2. Open your lube and get ready for masterful application. (Watch your partner’s eyes dilate by slapping some on your own genitals--HOT!) Not using lube has been shown to increase the risk of the condom slipping (because it gets “tugged” off) or breaking.

3. When right side out, a male condom looks like a hat with a brim. Before you put it on, check to see that it looks like this so that it will roll on properly. If you put the condom/ hat on inside out, THROW IT AWAY! Don’t flip it over—you can get pregnant or transmit infections just from that little flip. (Oops.)

4. Sex God(dess) Tip: Plop a dime-sized spot of lube inside the condom. This bit of lube helps the condom slip and slide over the head of the penis, and men report loving this silky sensation.

5. Gently squish the (lube-filled) tip as you press the condom against the head of the penis.

6. Gently un-roll the brim of the condom down onto the shaft of the penis.

7. The middle part of the shaft is where male condoms most frequently break. (Drat!) So, save your condom and slap a handful of lube on the shaft, and wriggle your hands around a bit to spread the lube around. He’ll think he died and went to heaven, and you both will have a condom that stays put.

8. If while you’re being sexual, using a condom is uncomfortable, STOP IMMEDIATELY. Discomfort with condom usage is a warning of impending condom breakage! Penetration with a condom should feel comfortable to both of you. Check your lube levels, and consider a different size or type of condom.

9. Try the “nubs inside” condoms for men who want to feel more sensation on the shaft of their penis. (Our customer fave: Beyond 7 Ribs & Dots.) You could also try the Trojan Ecstasy or the One Pleasure Dome, which have an extra latex pouch around the head of his penis. This extra latex slips around, providing much more sensation where he can feel it.

10. Men can practice masturbating with different condoms to figure out which ones they like best. Or, perhaps you would like to collect a selection of condoms and lubes for your male partner, then sit back and watch while he does this. Yes, watch. There is nothing more erotic than watching someone else masturbate. Applause is optional.