Study Finds Men Who Use Condoms Can Still Enjoy Sex

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Studies in the past have falsely argued that male sexual health and condom use are incompatible.

Researchers from the Section of Adolescent Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Center for Sexual Health Promotion noticed that these studies simply compared “pleasure” reported by test subjects with and without condoms with no consideration for the other circumstances of their sexual encounters.  They proposed a different kind of study. The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health takes a look at their results.

Here are the important findings from the Indiana University study:

  • Earlier studies ignored other behaviors involved when using condoms— what sex acts men engage in, how they feel about the sex they have, their demographic characteristics, etc.
  • A number of factors in the span of a sexual event shape whether or not the experience itself is pleasurable.
  • Lower levels of sexual pleasure were associated with erection difficulty, perception of partner discomfort during sex and perception of penis width and hardness.
  • One limitation of the study is that it does not allow for any comparison between the beliefs, behaviors or reported pleasure levels between men who do and do not use condoms.

This original article is published on The CSPH website.

BY The CSPH | theCSPH.org

Researchers from the Section of Adolescent Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University noticed that there was a void in the current sexual health literature on condom usage with regards to sexual pleasure. In general, studies tend to just compare the pleasure reported by men who either do or do not use condoms, and often wind up with results claiming that condom usage is not compatible with male sexual enjoyment. However, these studies ignore the other components of sexual pleasure or the various other characteristics and behaviors of men who use condoms, such as what sex acts they engage in, how they feel about the sex that they have, or their demographic characteristics. To combat this deficiency in data, the investigators of this study proposed this research to examine the association between condom use and sexual pleasure when all participants use condoms consistently, correctly, and completely, allowing for an understanding of the range of factors that affect sexual pleasure and enjoyment.

Participants were enrolled as a subsample of heterosexual-identified men from a larger US-based study of event-level condom behavior (a phrase used to indicate condom usage for one act of intercourse), with representatives from all fifty states. Of the 1,599 participants, 83% were white; about half had received some college or technical education; about a quarter were married, with 30% partnered and 41% single; and the average age was 26 years old. Diary reports of sexual behaviors and condom use were requested of participants, and then “complete condom events,” where the condom was applied prior to intercourse, used for the duration of intercourse, and removed only after intercourse had ended, were analyzed according to measures of subjective rating of sexual pleasure and a number of predictor variables. Some of the important considered variables included: partner type (casual/main); sexual-situational factors like intercourse duration, intensity, and lubricant use; physiological factors including perceived penis width, length, and hardness; ejaculation; and perception of condom comfort.

A number of factors were found to be correlated with higher reports of sexual pleasure during complete condom use. Ejaculation had the strongest association, with a four-fold increase in reported sexual pleasure. Other strong correlations with sexual pleasure included higher intercourse intensity (41%), longer intercourse duration (40%), performing oral sex on a partner (34%), receiving oral sex from a partner (21%), and receiving genital stimulation (13%), as well as a modest increased association with older age (4%). Additionally, lower levels of sexual pleasure were strongly associated with erection difficulty (75% reduction) and perception of partner discomfort during sex (72% reduction), while perception of lower penis width and hardness were also linked to lower sexual pleasure.

The results of this study indicate that sexual pleasure is not simply something that cannot coexist with condom usage; instead, it is a fact that can still be very much a part of these men’s sexual encounters. As the authors of the study address in their discussion, what this data shows is that there are a number of factors in the span of a sexual event—how a man feels about his genitals, how his partner reacts, what acts other than vaginal penetration occur—that shape whether or not the experience itself is pleasurable. It is important not to permit or perpetuate the stereotype that just removing the condoms would make intercourse better. Rather, the authors of this study believe there are better solutions to decrease the negative factors linked with lower sexual pleasure, such as visiting a doctor to take care of erectile difficulties or ensuring that one’s partner is equally comfortable and pleased with the sex.

Unfortunately, this study was somewhat limited, in that by only focusing on condom use, it does not allow for any comparison between the beliefs, behaviors, or reported pleasure levels between men who do and do not use condoms. Additionally, heterosexual men are not the only individuals who could benefit from research into the pleasurable associations of safer sex. However, work like this is so important because it not only advances the importance of pleasure and safer sex, but it also shows how the two can work together. Safer sex devices like condoms are so clearly important in limiting potentially negative consequences like pregnancy and STIs, and knowing how to make such things sexy and fun—really, one of the majors draws of any sex play—is key in making sure people are willing to do what they need to do in order to keep themselves safe and healthy.

csphThe CENTER for SEXUAL PLEASURE and HEALTH (The CSPH) is designed to provide adults with a safe, physical space to learn about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues. Led by highly respected founder and director, Megan Andelloux, The CSPH is a sexuality training and education organization that works to reduce sexual shame, fight misinformation, & advance the sexuality field.

Scarleteen’s: Condom User Manual

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Condoms have a lot of advantages. They are the most effective form of protection against many STIs. They are the only method the protects against both STIs and pregnancy. They are affordable and accessible. Also, condoms are one of the only birth control methods in which both partners can share responsibility.

While using a condom is easy once you get the hang of it, the first few times can be a bit tricky. Heather Corinna from Scarleteen is here with a helpful step-by-step guide to condom application as well as a ton of tips, tricks and valuable information to keep you safer sex savvy.

This Condom User Manual includes:

  • For people with penises, it can be helpful to practice condom application alone in a no-pressure environment.
  • Try out a couple of styles of condoms, multi-packs are great for finding what works for you.
  • Latex allergies should not keep you from condom use, there are several non-latex options available.
  • Lubrication is very important. Always use additional lube for pleasure AND safety.
  • Condoms are necessary for oral sex (both vaginal and anal).
  • Women should keep their own condoms on hand to be sure that they are protected. Don’t rely on partners.

Read the original article at Scarleteen.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

condom2Using a condom is easier than it looks, but the first few times, it can be tricky, especially if you’re nervous about knowing how to use one, or have never even opened one before. It’s important to know how to use condoms like a pro, to assure that they work to help prevent unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections or both, and because you want them to feel as good as possible for both partners. No matter what your gender is, or what your partner’s gender is, if one of you has a penis (or you both use a toy), knowing how to use a condom properly can make you safer and can make a big difference in your relationship.

Do yourself a favor — if you’re the person whose body part or toy a condom is going on, try it at home by yourself first, without the pressure of being watched, without worrying about losing an erection, or without the uncomfortable feeling that you’re being graded on your condom skills. You or a partner can also practice on a banana (silly, we know: but hey, it works!) with the same condom until you get it right. Either or both of you can put the condom on when the time is right, so it’s good for everyone to know how.

Condom use is just like tying your shoes: tying them all the time may be a bother sometimes, but if you don’t do it, you’ll trip and fall on your face. The consequences here can be far worse. A few STIs are incurable, and once you have them can create some health issues you may need to deal with for your whole life. A couple of them can shorten that life, and all of this also goes for your partners (and their partners, and their partners…). All of them can impact your health and the public health and cost you time, energy and money to deal with. If you’re in a relationship with an opposite sex partner, and condoms are your only method of reliable birth control, I don’t need to tell you why they’re important, even when you’re not the one who can wind up pregnant. One fantastic thing about condoms is that they are one of the only methods where both partners can share responsibility when it comes to birth control. They also make an excellent backup when using other methods. So, here’s how to do it right.

The Basics:

Copyright of Scarleteen. Re-published with permission.

Copyright of Scarleteen. Re-published with permission.

1) Use a good quality condom that is new, and well before the expiry date. Every condom has an expiration date on the package, so just take a look at it before you open one. be sure you’re also using a condom that hasn’t been kept anywhere where it can get worn or too warm or cold (it isn’t a good idea to keep them in your car, wallet or pocket for that reason).

When you first buy condoms, see if you can get a few different brands and styles for yourself. It can take some trial and error to find the kind that best fit you and feel best, so getting assortment packs, or a few small boxes of a couple different kinds is a good idea.

2) Open the condom wrapper carefully with your fingers, and roll it out a little so that the edge is rolled on the outside of the condom. That rolled-up edge needs to be on the outside, facing up, or the condom won’t roll down right. Put a few drops of water-based lube (such as Astroglide, KY Liquid or Liquid Silk) inside the tip of the condom: that not only helps with getting it on, it makes condoms feel a lot better during use. Only put a condom on AFTER there is a partial or full erection (after the penis has “gotten hard”).

3) Squeeze the tip of the condom with your fingertips to leave some extra space in the tip, and roll the rest down the length of the penis, while still pinching the top. The rim of the condom should be as close to the base of the penis as possible. When you’re down to the base, run your fingers from the tip all the way down to press out any air bubbles: this helps keep condoms from breaking.

4) Put some more latex-safe lube–lube that doesn’t contain any kind of oil–on the outside of the condom, and you’re good to go. While you are using the condom, neither you nor your partner need to hold onto its base: condoms are designed for hands-free use.

5) After ejaculation (or not, but you’re finished having genital sex — before you withdraw — hold the base of the condom (the rolled-up part) with your hand. If you withdraw without holding the base, the condom could slip off.

Keep your hand there while you withdraw, and until the penis is all the way out of the vagina, anus or mouth. Pull it off with that same hand on the rim of the condom and your other hand by the tip. Pulling it off by the tip alone not only makes a big mess, you could drip all over yourself what you just worked so hard to keep out. Tie a knot near the base of the condom.

6) Throw the condom away in the rubbish bin – NEVER reuse condoms. And please don’t just toss them outside a car or in a park: not only is that just plain gross and uncouth, it’s unhealthy for the rest of us. (Plus, that also means that now and then, as happened to me when I used to teach Kindergarten, some poor teacher winds up with some little kid finding one, waving it all over everyone and everything, and then said teacher having to quickly come up with a very good story about what exactly the “slobbery balloon” is, knowing her wee ones have just been exposed to gawd knows what.)

Never put two condoms on at once to try and be “extra safe”. Both of them will most likely break due to extra friction, and it just doesn’t work or feel very nice for the wearer. One condom, used properly, is as safe as it gets.

If that isn’t safe enough for you, don’t have sex yet where you need one — stick to outercourse — or, if it’s about birth control worries, back up condoms with a second method.

Some extra tips:

• You or a partner being allergic or sensitive to latex does NOT mean you can’t use condoms. It just means you need to use condoms made out of another material. The female condom is nonlatex, and there are a couple brands of male condoms (like Avanti or SKYN) which are also not made out of latex, but which provide just as much protection for you and yours. “Lambskin” condoms, while nonlatex, don’t provide protection against STIs, so those aren’t the best choice.

• If you are uncircumcised, gently push your foreskin back — only to the point where it’s comfortable — while you’re putting the condom on. When the condom is unrolled about 1/3 the way down the shaft, with one hand pull the foreskin together with the unrolled part of the condom upward while with the other hand unroll the condom to the base of the penis. That way, the condom will allow the foreskin to move as it should. It sounds a lot harder than it actually is — just practice a few times first and you’ll get the hang of it.

• Lubrication is really important. Let me say it again: lubrication is REALLY important.Condoms have a high rate of success, but that rate drops when they aren’t used properly, and one of the easiest ways to break a condom is by letting it get dried out. Buy some lubricant when you buy condoms. Not only will it help them work better, well-lubricated sex is generally more enjoyable sex for both you and your partner. Even if a person who has a vulva is plenty wet on their own, our own lubrication doesn’t tend to work as well (or last as long) with condoms as the stuff made for condom use does. Even when a condom is already lubricated, it’s a pretty stingy amount of lube. Do NOT use butter, oil, body lotion, Vaseline or ANY lubricant other than lubricants intended for use with condoms. If you could buy it in a store aisle where food is displayed, it isn’t the right kind of lube.

• Condoms don’t have to be a pain. Don’t try and rationalize your way out of using one, or put up with a partner who does: you’ll both need to get used to using them for a good part of your life, and even if one partner lets you get away with it, you can be sure another one won’t. Bad attitudes about condoms also tend to form a self-fulfilling prophecy, making them seem like more of a drag than they are.

Condoms keep both you and your partner safe. They’re one of the least intrusive kinds of birth control there is for people of all genders when it comes to sexual side effects. And when you don’t have to worry about getting diseases or getting pregnant, sex is a lot more fun. Being a partner who steps up to the plate and just puts on a condom, without a partner having to beg, cajole, nag or argue, also shows a level of maturity and care most folks are looking for in someone they sleep with. Once you get used to using condoms, it’s a total no-brainer, and when you’re using good condoms properly, they really don’t make a huge difference with sensation.

• You should also wear a condom during oral sex just as much as during vaginal or anal sex, especially with new partners. Most STIs are transmitted through bodily fluids and mucus membranes… both of which exist in and on your genitals and your mouth. While there are more STIs transmitted via direct genital contact, and the risks are higher with vaginal or anal intercourse than with oral sex, there are plenty which can be transmitted orally.

• If you’re a woman who sleeps with women and you use sex toys together which cannot be sterilized through boiling, you’ll want to use condoms every time to cover those toys. While lesbian women have far lower risks of STIs, BV–bacterial vaginosis–in particular gets passed around a lot between women, and if you’re sharing toys, that’s an easy way that can happen. Keeping the toys clean, or covering them if they can’t be cleaned to the point where all germs are killed, keeps everyone safe and healthy.

• Not only do thinner condoms feel better, but because they cause less friction they’re also less likely to break. Yippee! Remember that you don’t have to stick to old-style, plain condoms. The thinner condoms, or those with textures, are just as safe as the plain ones, and many people enjoy the feeling of newer styles better. Want to read about the different styles of condoms to find out what might be just right for you? Check it out!

• When it comes to condoms, don’t scrimp. If you can’t afford them at all, check out your local Planned Parenthood, other sexual health clinics or even community centers or school nurse’s offices. They often give them out for free. And if you find when you go to use a condom you have that it’s broken, or was already opened, or has some other flaw, don’t gamble. Either get a new condom that IS in perfect shape, or if you only have that one, nix sex that requires condom use until you get working condoms.

• Hey, Women! Do yourself and your partners a favor by having your own stock of condoms: don’t be passive and rely on the guys to get them or always have them around. Condom sales studies show that the majority of the time, condoms are purchased by men, and we often counsel folks here through pregnancy scares because two people found they both were relying on the other to be in charge of condoms, and neither were prepared. If women and men alike take charge when it comes to having condoms around, it not only helps prevent finding yourself in a precarious situation, it also empowers both to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to sex together, which makes not only for better sex and relationships, but for feeling better about sex and shared, equitable responsibility.

heatherHEATHER CORINNA is an activist, artist, author and the director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for teen and young adult sex education and information. She is also the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College and was a contributor to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She’s received the The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism (2007), The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region’s, Public Service Award (2009), the Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Women’s Health Heroes Award (2009), The Joan Helmich Educator of the Year Award (2012), and The Woodhull Foundation’s Vicki Award(2013).

scarleteenSCARLETEEN is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around three-quarters of a million diverse people each month worldwide, most between the ages of 15 and 25. It is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online and has held that rank through the majority of its tenure.
Find Scarleteen on twitter @Scarleteen

The CSPH: Difficulty Maintaining Erection with Condoms

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It’s a common tale: the minute a condom goes near a penis an erection is gone! Some just use this as an excuse to not practice safer sex, but for others it’s a genuine issue interrupting their sex lives. Difficulty maintaining erection with condoms is a common problem, but doesn’t have to get in the way of great sex.

There are plenty of options and this article by The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health (The CSPH) goes into depth to talk about:

  • How the problem is more common with newer partners or when engaging with others who may have comparably less sexual experience.
  • How worry or unease may be causing the issue.
  • The need for the condom to be the right fit and how you can go about finding that with condom samplers.
  • How a drop of lube inside the condom helps increase stimulation of erection.
  • Letting your partner put the condom on.
  • Accustoming yourself to wearing a condom by using it during masturbation.
  • Using a internal condom (aka female condom) as an alternative to the penis condoms.
  • How suitable partners may be able to engage in condom-less sex if they are fluidly bonded and regularly tested for STIs.

This article was originally published on The CSPH website.

BY The CSPH | theCSPH.org

Each week, The CSPH answers questions that have been submitted through Formspring and Tumblr. This week’s question is:

So…”sexual pleasure & health” – How does a guy get both, if he wants to — or, more accurately, needs to have unprotected sex (no condom)?  No cop-out/excuse; but, the moment I or my partner even begin to try and put a condom on me – my erection is gone … for the rest of the night – gone! How do I/we get around that … and we’ve already tried all the basic “remedies”?

You may be surprised to learn that this issue—losing an erection when putting on condoms—is not so uncommon.  A quick survey of sex advice message boards reveals that many penis-owners encounter this, especially with newer partners, when engaging with others with comparably less sexual experience, and with those who have experienced some sort of change in their lives and/or sexual encounters, leading to nervousness and unease in sexual situations.  Fortunately, one does not need to choose between having sex and using protection.

To begin, I’m curious as to what “basic remedies” you and your partner have already explored.  Without knowing this, I cannot safely assume what you have attempted, since what is deemed “basic” by some may be less obvious to others.  Therefore, I am going to discuss a number of options that I hope will be helpful.

There are a few basic aspects that I attribute to your difficulty maintaining an erection while putting on a condom: ill-fitting condoms, a momentary loss of focus, the relative novelty of using condoms at all, and nervousness.  These issues may be related, but they also may not be;  what’s important here is that you take a moment to consider the root of your difficulties, which will help you narrow down potential solutions.

My first suggestion is that you make sure you are using condoms that are appropriately sized for your penis.  While most condoms are sold as one-size-fits-all, the fact of the matter is, penises come in a variety of lengths and girths, so what fits one person may not fit another.  Indeed, personal fit is essential to solving a number of condom-related issues, such as discomfort and even minimized sensitivity.  To find out your condom size, visit The Condom Review by Lucky Bloke.  The Condom Review also sells a fantastic array of condoms and sampler packs, which will allow you to better determine what brands and styles suit you and your needs. Furthermore, another condom trick is to place a dollop of lubricant inside the condom before placing it on your penis, providing extra stimulus for your erection.

Assuming your condoms fit well, my second suggestion is very simply for you to not put on the condom, but rather that your partner put it on for you.  Doing this may help circumvent potential nervousness and the momentary loss of focus that leads to softening erections.  What’s great about this option is that it can be incorporated into existing play, after it’s already been agreed upon that sex will be happening.  For example, while kissing and touching each other, perhaps with your penis being continually stimulated, your partner can roll a condom onto you.  Your partner may also want to try to put the condom on you using their mouth.  You can find instructions at the bottom of our article, Q&A: Yeast Infections & Sex.  YouTube also has a number of videos you can turn to if you’re a more visual learner, such as this one by Angel Walker.

Another recommendation is that you grow more accustomed to condoms in general by incorporating them into your masturbation.  This may help increase your comfort with this barrier method and/or otherwise desensitize you to its role in your sex life, in that rolling one on prior to partnered sex will no longer be new and strange.  Additionally, this may help if the reason you have difficulty maintaining an erection when putting on condoms is due to anxiety over what the condom represents, such as partnered play and/or the risk of pregnancy.  By re-navigating what your brain associates with condoms, you may find yourself more easily able to use them for sex with your partner.

That said, should you find yourself unable to maintain erections even after attempting these suggestions, you can also look into another barrier method: vaginal condoms, more commonly known as “female condoms.”  Vaginal condoms are contraceptive devices that fit inside the vaginal canal and over the vulva, covering a greater external surface area than condoms that fit on penises.  This makes vaginal condoms better for protecting against sexually transmitted infections such as herpes and HPV, which can be transmitted through skin to skin contact, regardless of penile condom usage.  You may find vaginal condoms to be more suitable for you and your partner, since they can be inserted up to several hours in advance of sexual activity and therefore allow for barrier-protected penetration without disrupting play time.  With that said, vaginal condoms may feel different than penile condoms for both you and your partner, so experimentation is encouraged.

Finally, depending on your relationship with your partner, it may be worthwhile to discuss having sex without barrier methods.  Partnered sex without barrier methods is best when limited to individuals who regularly get tested for sexually transmitted diseases, are otherwise using contraception (as to limit the chances of unintentional pregnancy), and who are in relationships in which bodily fluids are shared only between partners who practice safer sex.  You can read more about this in the Q&A: Sex Without Barrier Methods.

When it’s all said and done, however, just remember that sex should be enjoyable and fun, and is frequently more than a little silly. Try not to worry about the condom, and just focus on getting down with your partner!

csphThe CENTER for SEXUAL PLEASURE and HEALTH (The CSPH) is designed to provide adults with a safe, physical space to learn about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues. Led by highly respected founder and director, Megan Andelloux, The CSPH is a sexuality training and education organization that works to reduce sexual shame, fight misinformation, & advance the sexuality field.

Love the Glove: 10 Reasons to Love Condoms

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The rate of STI infection among Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 is exceptionally high and this can be owed primarily to young people either not using condoms or other barriers, or failing to use them properly. Scarleteen, the internet’s source for comprehensive, inclusive sex ed and support for young people, is here with 10 reasons to  love condoms- reasons many of us never considered before.

This article is meant to help you understand the effects of inconsistent and unassertive condom use, and provide you with ten insightful reasons to use protection correctly, every time.

Here are the main points:

  • Correct and consistent use of condoms reduces the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by approximately 85%.
  • Proper condom use decreases transmission risk of human papillomavirus (HPV) to women by approximately 70%.
  • Issues like maturity, pleasure and communication all have an impact on one’s level of confidence using condoms.

View the original article here

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

lovegloveAt the present time, the United States now rules when it comes to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). And not in a Whoohoo, go USA! kind of way. You’ve probably also heard that the rate of sexually transmitted infections in people 15-24 years old is exceptionally high.

Figuring out why isn’t tricky for those who work in sexual health. Some people will say this is because teens are having more sex than ever (not true: you’re having less sex than teens a generation or two before you did), or because people are having sex outside marriage (a fine fairy tale for those who don’t see lab results for STIs among some married people or who don’t know about the history of STIs). But those of us who work in direct care know why STI rates are so high and why they’re so disproportionate in young people right now.

It’s primarily because so many young people — and namely those in the 18-24 group, as younger teens are often better with condom use than people of any other age group — are not using latex or polyurethane condoms and other barriers to protect themselves and their partners, or are not using them correctly and consistently. As someone who talks with people every day about their sexual behavior, and who also tracks young people’s sexual behavior and health over time, I know this all too well. We observe users who come to Scarleteen and see that those who have not used latex barriers at all or consistently are overwhelmingly the same users who eventually come to report an STI. Sure, every now and then we do hear from a user who always used condoms properly and who still got an STI. But that happens about as often as I find a $5 bill on the sidewalk.

There are other reasons the STI rate is so high in younger people. Cervical cell development of younger women isn’t complete, making the cervix more prone to infection. People in your age group often tend to have more sexual partners and shorter relationships than older people. The overall rate of STIs is higher than it used to be, making it easier to land one. But we know that the main reason is that overwhelmingly, many people in your age group are either not using latex barriers at all, or are not using them all the time, every time, correctly. While many older adults aren’t much better with condom use, it does matter more what you do because two thirds of all individuals who acquire STIs are younger than 25 years old.

It’s not complicated: most people who acquire a sexually transmitted infection are simply not using condoms or are not using them every time and properly.

A report from Child Trends DataBank in October of 2008 (based on data from the CDC) found “53 percent of teen boys say they don’t always use a condom. Among girls, about two-thirds say a condom isn’t always used. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS, and unintended pregnancy are major health consequences associated with unprotected sexual activity. Although a similar percentage of teens are sexually active in the United States as in western European countries, the U.S. has much higher teen pregnancy and STI rates than does Western Europe. This is due to lower consistency and effectiveness of contraceptive use in the U.S.” They add that “Condom use is higher among younger students than it is among older students. In 2007, 69 percent of sexually active ninth grade students, compared with 62 percent of eleventh graders and 54 percent of twelfth graders, used condoms. Part of this drop is due to higher levels of use of other forms of birth control among older students, although it is still a cause for concern since condoms are the only form of effective control against STIs for those who are sexually active.”

Condoms work very well at reducing STI transmission: According to a 2000 report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), correct and consistent use of latex condoms reduces the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by approximately 85% relative to risk when unprotected, putting the seroconversion rate (infection rate) at 0.9 per 100 person-years with condom, down from 6.7 per 100 person-years. Analysis published in 2007 from the World Health Organization found similar risk reductions of 80–95%. The 2000 NIH review concluded that condom use significantly reduces the risk of gonorrhea for men. A 2006 study reports that proper condom use decreases the risk of transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV) to women by approximately 70%.

You can read more about STIs all over Scarleteen, like here and here and here and… you get the picture. But you probably already know why you should use condoms. Our users generally report higher use of condoms than the overall demographic, so maybe you don’t even need to read what I’m about to say. But you’ve probably also heard or thought some things about condoms that might be keeping you or others from using them or from using them consistently, and I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard everything I’m about to say. Even if you’re already using condoms and using them every single time properly, I bet you know someone — a sibling, a friend, maybe even a sexual partner — who could stand to hear some of this. So, why use condoms and other barriers?

In a nutshell:

1. Because it can help you to get closer
2. Because barebacking isn’t as cool as you think.
3. Because chances are good that eventually, you’re going to either have to use condoms or knowingly be putting partners or yourself at a high risk of infection.
4. Because it pays it forward.
5. Because it feels good.
6. Because it helps you learn to be truthful in and with your sexuality and about sexuality in general.
7. Because it can keep you from proving people right who say you don’t have the maturity or the ability to have sex responsibly.
8. Because if you’re male, you can help to show men are better than the lowest common denominator.
9. Because being unassertive really isn’t sexy.
10. Because I love you.
For more details on all of these points, keep reading.

1. Because it helps you get closer

I know: I’ve heard some people say that condoms and other barriers keep people from getting close, too. But the folks I hear say that rarely seem to be the folks whose relationships are all that close or intimate. The people I hear from who DON’T say that about condoms, and who practice safer sex in their relationships seem to be the ones getting closer and feeling closer to each other.

Avoiding potentially sticky or difficult conversations doesn’t bring us closer: it keeps us apart. Asking someone to care for you in any way is not a barrier to intimacy: it’s not asking that keeps space between you and yours. Having to discuss sexual anatomy, sexual health or even just how to use condoms and use them in a way that works for both of you is not something that keeps people apart, but that brings people closer together. Talking about these things together, working through any misunderstandings or emotional issues around them and having something that adds extra communication to any sex you’re having are all the kinds of things that nurture closeness and real intimacy. Silence doesn’t bring people closer: communication does.

A lot of what we hear young people say about not using condoms has to do with one or both partners finding it hard to assert themselves, or being worried about a negative reaction: that’s not about closeness. Even more troubling is a conversation about condoms that starts with “I don’t want to use them because I want to be close,” and often leads to a bigger discussion in which what comes out is, “I’m scared to ask him to wear a condom.”

Being outright afraid to ask someone to do something to help safeguard the health of you both shows a serious LACK of getting close (or a desire to avoid getting close enough to find out if someone is or isn’t the person you currently think they are or hope them to be). We can’t say we and someone else are very close and at the same time say we feel scared of, with or around them. When we’re earnestly close to someone, we feel able to say or ask things when we don’t know if we’re going to get a positive response. If we want a close relationship, we have to not only say or bring up the things we know they’ll like hearing, or have a positive reaction to, but the things when we’re not so sure they’ll like or which we know are loaded, but that we need to say and talk about for our well-being and health and the quality of our relationship.

2. Because barebacking isn’t as cool as you think

I’ve been having a sense of déjà vu lately when hearing some hetero girls say they’re “not into condoms” with a wink and a grin, or that they, unlike those other girls who use condoms and who they tend to frame as killjoys, are willing to go without condoms, in this way that rings of trying to aim for a certain social status by being the one willing to risk health and life for… well, a whole lotta nothing much.

Why I’m having déjà vu is because I’m old enough to remember when some gay guys were all about that. I remember seeing how many of them died and were part of others dying because of it, as well as how many of the men who barebacked only because they didn’t know what we and you know now about how to protect ourselves died from barebacking. That trend in the gay community was not only lethal, it also resulted in those who were the least responsible defining a whole group of people culturally in a very negative way that is still strongly harming the GLBT community. It hurt all of us, not just the people it hurt directly.

On top of risking your life and health, any social status you might get from being the girl who’ll take big risks other girls don’t is likely to be temporary, and will also change very radically when you go from “That hottie who doesn’t make guys use condoms,” to “That [insert derogatory term for women of your choice here] who gave everyone Chlamydia.”

Not a pretty thing to say, I know. But it is what tends to wind up happening in the real world. The tide turns very quickly on girls who are sexually active PERIOD in our culture, even responsibly, but all the more so for those who aren’t responsible in their sexual behavior. I don’t like that or the misogyny it’s based in, as guys are rarely treated or talked about like that, but it’s out there. It’s tenuous enough to be a sexually active young woman, but when things go amiss and you do wind up with and spread an STI, it’s usually going to be framed as being YOUR doing, not the doing of everyone or anyone else who had sex with you and made their choice not to use condoms, too. Those are strongly sexist double standards, but they are out there and they can really hurt when directed at you, especially if you have to suffer in silence alone, knowing part of that result had to do with your own choices and actions.

From my point of view, what I see in these cases is a young woman having some big esteem issues and who seems to feel it’s worth it to risk her life and health for a temporarily increased sexual appeal. While our sexuality and our sexual relationships can support our self-esteem, they tend to be poor places to try and get self-esteem, especially if our sex lives involve a habit or precedent of not caring for ourselves and inviting or allowing others `to treat us without real care. Lack of self-care and solid self-esteem can’t coexist. If we have good self-esteem, we see ourselves as valuable and worthy of care. If your esteem isn’t so great, and you want it to be better, then insisting others treat us you care is one way to improve it: accepting or advertising yourself as open to being treated like a throwaway is a way to make sure your esteem gets even lower.

3. Because you are likely to end up with an STI if you do not use condoms and other barriers consistently and correctly

If you have sex with others without using condoms or other barriers correctly and consistently, you are likely to wind up with an infection at some point. And if you and your partner(s) don’t also get tested regularly, you — like most people with an STI — won’t even know you have one that you’re spreading around.

When we have users who interact with us at the boards talking about how they’re not using condoms, it’s a bit like being able to see into the future. Because inevitably, someone like that who sticks to that habit of going without will eventually post about an STI they wound up with within a few years, if not sooner.

A lot of people have a false sense of security based on not having gotten an STI yet. Mind, some of those people haven’t been tested to know their status, but some have. If you go without condoms or other latex barriers for a few months or a few years and didn’t get an STI, it can be easy to believe that not using condoms is going to work out fine for you. But because we don’t wind up with an infection in a month or a year or two of not using barriers doesn’t mean we won’t in time. The studies and statistics on STIs also tend to reflect that very clearly. The highest STI rates in young adults usually aren’t in the youngest sexually active teens: the group with the highest rates is usually those 18 and over who have often been sexually active for a year or two already.

And of course, if and when your luck runs out and you get an STI, especially if it’s one you can’t get treated and which is then out of your system via that treatment, you will then either need to use condoms or be purposefully putting others at risk (and yourself at risk of infections you didn’t get yet).

It’s a lot easier to establish your sex life in the habit of using safer sex practices than it is to add them later. If you start using condoms (and getting tested) early in your sex life, continuing to do so is a no-brainer. You get to be an ace at using barriers sooner, get to learn how to have conversations about safer sex as you’re learning to have all kinds of conversations about sex, and the more you do it and the sooner you start, the tougher it gets to space out safer sex, and the less and less it seems like any big deal. When it’s a solid habit, you just reach for that condom instinctively. And when you reach for it like that? Partners tend to react just as instinctively and just put it on with no fuss.

Most people will need to use condoms at some point to avoid infections. If you’re going to need to eventually anyway, why put it off, especially during the time in your life when you’re at the highest risk of infections and most likely to get one?

4. Because it pays to go forward

Younger people are particularly prone to monkey-see/monkey-do. In other words, if you and yours don’t use condoms, your friends are also less likely to. And then so are their friends. And theirs. And all young people.

Using condoms not only protects your health, it protects and can improve our global health. If you don’t get and spread an STI, you’re part of the solution to the problem: you, all by yourself, literally can help improve the public health just by not getting sick. Sexually transmitted infections impact our public health deeply. While many are easy to treat (once you get tested to know you have one, that is), and many won’t impact the individual health of most who get them, we’re not all at the same level of health nor do we all have the same level of access to healthcare and treatment. Some STIs that are no-big to most of us can be life-threatening to others because of preexisting conditions or suppressed immune systems. You might be able to get something treated easily because you have health insurance, but someone who winds up with an STI from your now-ex you gave one to might not have those same resources.

One thing I’ve always liked about using condoms is that I not only get to know I’m caring for my health and that of my partners, but that I am caring for your health, her health, his health and everyone’s health. Using condoms is one way I can to care for the whole planet while at the same time caring for myself. And that’s pretty awesome to be able to do with just a little piece of latex and an orgasm.

5. Because it feels good

Say what? You thought condoms made things feel less good, right? Actually some studies (Sexual Pleasure and Condom Use, Mary E. Randolph, Steven D. Pinkerton, Laura M. Bogart, Heather Cecil, and Paul R. Abramson) find that those who report that are often those who do not use condoms, haven’t in a while or who don’t use them often. They have also found that men believe this is so (even without any actual experience) more than women do, and that belief influences men’s experiences with condoms and whether or not men will use condoms. While yes, many people do report that unprotected sex feels better than protected sex, overall, people who use condoms and are used to using them tend to report experiencing greater pleasure with protected sex than those who often go without protection. In other words, people who use condoms often — most likely because they have better attitudes walking in the door, and because they learn what condoms they like and how to use them well — don’t really express that using condoms decreases their overall pleasure or satisfaction. The more you use them, the more they feel good, and it’s the people who don’t use them at all who tend to complain about them the most.

Even for males who report a difference in pleasure between condom and no condom, though, the differential is pretty minor between them and those who don’t report a difference. And in studies on women, there’s most often no real difference in sensation reported at all. Physically — when we’re talking only about physical sensation — for most men, condoms slightly decrease sensation. For women, that’s rare, which isn’t a shocker since unlike the clitoris, the vagina has few sensory nerve endings. The vagina tends to feel pressure, but not fine sensations, like the diff between a condom and bare skin. Mind, for some men, that decrease can be a bonus: for those who are looking to keep an erection around for longer, a decrease in sensation and the pressure a condom puts at the base of the penis can extend erection time for some men.

People who say they “can’t feel anything” with a condom on are either a) being dishonest or b) not using condoms properly. While a lot of people are dishonest, a lot of people also don’t know how to use condoms properly and what can help with pleasure. For instance, thinner condoms are just as safe as thicker ones. There are more condom types than what your average drugstore carries, and some kinds of condoms have all kinds of neat stuff going on to help increase pleasure, like extra headroom, textured dots on the inside, the works. Putting a few drops of lube inside the condom before it goes on as well as some lube outside the condom makes a big difference with sensation and can make sex feel better, full-stop. Having a partner put on a condom for you as part of the sex you’re having — rather than as an interruption — is something a lot of people find enjoyable and sexy.

How something makes us feel with sex is also bigger than physics. A Kinsey Institute study in 2008 (Relationships between condoms, hormonal methods, and sexual pleasure and satisfaction: an exploratory analysis from the Women’s Well-Being and Sexuality Study, Jenny A. Higgins, Susie Hoffman, Cynthia A. Graham and Stephanie A. Sanders, Sexual Health, Volume 5, Number 4) found that women who use both hormonal contraception (for those with male partners who need it) and condoms report higher overall sexual satisfaction than women who go without condoms or only use a hormonal method of birth control. In that study, women who used hormonal methods alone were least likely to report decreased pleasure, but they also had the lowest overall scores of sexual satisfaction compared with condom users. What does that mean? That pleasure as a whole is more than just mechanics or vaginal/penile sensation.

Sex is about our whole bodies, as well as other parts of our genitals than a condom touches and it’s also about how we feel emotionally and intellectually and how sex is part of our whole relationships and our whole lives. It feels good to know you’re taking care of yourself and others, and to have a partner give a hoot about your health and peace of mind. It feels good to have the self-esteem and the confidence to stand up for ourselves and what we need to stay healthy, and to only be in relationships where caring for ourselves is in alignment with what a partner wants: if that’s at odds with what they want, we can’t possibly expect to have a healthy, happy relationship with that person.

It feels good to approach partnered sex smartly and soundly. Knowing we’ll be protected well before sex even starts is going to incline us to be more interested in having sex in the first place. When we know our risks of infections are highly reduced, it’s much easier to relax before, during and after sex, and being able to relax more means our sexual response systems work better so we can get more sexually aroused and enjoy sex more. Worry and anxiety inhibits sexual response and limits pleasure.

6. Because it helps you learn to be truthful in and with your sexuality and about sexuality in general.

Let’s tell the truth right now. You don’t want to risk getting an infection. You don’t want to feel like you can’t ask to be cared for and treated with care with anyone you’re sexually intimate with. You don’t want to argue about condoms when you want to be sexual. You don’t want to be with someone even casually who cares more about getting themselves off than if they make you really sick in the process of doing it. You don’t want to have a sex life where it’s not okay to press pause for a sec for any reason, whether that’s about a condom being put on or adjusting to find a position that feels best. You don’t want to have to risk your health to prove your love to someone else.

There are some fictions that avoiding safety behaviors like condom use holds up, like the lie that sex should be all about either what pleases men, first and foremost, or about men calling all the shots, just because they can. Again, we’re dropping denial here: many guys who say they can’t get off with condoms are not telling the truth. Some haven’t even used condoms, and are just saying what they think they’re supposed to or because they’re embarrassed to admit they’re newbies with condoms, but some are outright lying. They have used condoms before and gotten off just fine, and they haven’t refused to use them with other partners who they know won’t have sex with them without a condom. And some, when they say they can’t get off with condoms mean something else: that what they get off on is seeing if you’ll sacrifice your health and life just to get them off. Not only does anyone want to avoid having sex without a condom with a partner like that, you don’t want to sleep with someone like that, period. Heck, you probably are safest just staying off their block.

Many people still believe the propaganda that there are microscopic holes in condoms that pathogens can get through easily: but that isn’t true, and we have always had every evidence that wasn’t so. Some people have the idea that people only use condoms with partners they feel or think are “dirty,” with sex workers, or for extramarital affairs. But in fact, even many married couples use condoms: according to a Population Reference Bureau survey in 2008, in developed countries condoms are the most popular method of birth control: around 28% of married people use condoms.

Another whopper? Only “promiscuous” people get STIs. I put that in quotes because we don’t ever know what that term means. To one person, that means 300 partners, to another, 20, to another, anything more than one. Many people get an STI from just a first or second partner, and some people who have had 50 or even 100 partners have never had an STI. Plenty of unmarried people have never had an STI, while plenty of married people have: one of the first big waves of sexually transmitted infections here in the states after WWI was among marrieds. ALL kinds of people get STIs. The idea that no one can or is likely to get an STI through first-time sex, or sex with a first partner reminds me of the idea my mother’s generation had that no one could get pregnant with first-time intercourse. It’s understandable given how much cultural messaging cultivates this idea, but it’s also just not true. People of all stripes get STIs every day: good people and not-so-good people. People of all colors and genders and orientations. People who grew up on this side of the tracks and people who grew up on that one. People who have had five or twenty partners and people who have had but one.

Then there’s the fiction that it’s not young people, or people who with their first or second partnership have to worry about STIs, but older people. You already saw the stats about who has the highest rate of STIs, so we’ve hopefully shredded that myth already. How about the one that says only gay men need to worry about STIs? Nope: the highest rates of STIs are in young, heterosexual women. Even HIV, once ignorantly called “the gay plague,” is more likely to be transmitted via heterosexual partnerships than homosexual ones, and worldwide, heterosexual women account for around half of all cases of HIV: 98% of which are in developed nations like the U.S.

Let’s not forget the one about how as long as people love and trust each other, or as long as people are lucky, no one is going to get sick; that STI transmission is all about luck or love or trust and not about something much more tangible and less arbitrary.

We can love someone all we want, but there are some things we can’t control — like how many of us are exposed to STIs via rape before we ever chose to have consensual sex, like how often partners — even in otherwise loving relationships — are dishonest or unfaithful, like how many people have already had sexual partners before they met a person they want to spend a life with. It’s important that we don’t base our ideas about STIs on a minority group or an unrealistic or unattainable ideal.

Viruses and bacteria don’t care who loves who or who trusts who. If we’re exposed to the genitals or fluids of others, we’re potentially exposed to STIs. If we reduce that exposure either by not having genital sex or by using latex barriers when we do, we’re much less exposed. If we go without, we’re wide open to this stuff, just like we are when someone coughs in our face. If your partner has a cold, we may get it whether they love us or not. If our partner has Chlamydia, we may get it whether they love us or not.

If we can’t be truthful in our sexual lives about our sexual health and about how we want support from partners in staying healthy, we’re unlikely to be able to tell the much harder truths that are part of a great sex life: like to talk about what we like, what we fantasize about, what we’re afraid of, what we’re feeling emotionally, what we don’t like. If we can’t say no to sex without condoms, we also are unlikely to be able to say no to sex we don’t want, full-stop. Asking someone to put on a condom is one of the easier things to ask for in our sex lives. If we can do that, asking for the other stuff also gets easier. The more truthful we can be about all aspects of our sexuality, including things like STIs and condoms, the better our sex lives are, both when it comes to our health and also when it comes to our sexual satisfaction.

7. Because it can keep you from providing people right who say you don’t have the maturity or ability to have sex responsibly.

Abstinence-only initiatives, for instance, get away with what they do in part because some of the things they say are true. Some young people really don’t — they say can’t, and in certain numbers, it sure starts to look like a can’t — make smart choices with sex, even when they know better. If you read any newspapers or listen to any news, you know that the standard way teen and young adult sex gets presented is as a giant public health problem and a big, scary panic. When you face discrimination about your age and sexuality, that has a lot to do with that presentation.

Some of why it’s presented and interpreted that way is because it is that way: not because young people are having sex, but because so many are without using safer sex and contraception. Right now, and over the last ten years, as a generation your sex life really is becoming a serious public health problem, primarily because you have not been using condoms, or using condoms consistently and correctly.

Do you really want to prove those folks right? Really? Do you want to be the person or group of people who they can use as evidence to show that people in their teens and twenties should be treated like children? I sure wouldn’t want to help anyone disrespecting me to be able to keep on doing it, and doing it with evidence I’m handing right over to them wrapped in a bow. As a youth advocate, I can’t tell you how many times I have had to argue that despite the way some youth behave, I know in my guts that you are all capable of handling your sexuality with care and maturity. It’s so frustrating, because I really do know that you are that capable: I see plenty of young people doing a better job with their sexuality than plenty of older adults are, but what I see and know is continually overshadowed by those who don’t have sex with care and caution and the reality of the level of STIs in your age group. Yep: I admit, I am asking you to use condoms to help make my job of advocating for you easier on me.

Perhaps your competitive spirit might also get riled by knowing my generation did a better job than yours with condom use. From that same AAP report I linked to earlier: “Among sexually active adolescent males 17 to 19 years old living in metropolitan areas, reported condom use at last intercourse increased from 21% in 1979 to 58% in 1988. Reported condom use at first intercourse among adolescent women 15 to 19 years old increased from 23% in 1982 to 47% in 1988. Data from the 1988 and 1995 National Surveys of Adolescent Males indicate that these increases continued, with reported condom use at last intercourse among 15 to 19-year-olds increasing from 57% in 1988 to 67% in 1995. The CDC data indicate increases in reported condom use at last intercourse from 38% to 51% among females and from 56% to 63% among males for those in grades 9 through 12 between 1991 and 1997.”

What about after the mid-to-late nineties? By 2003 (when we were still around that 73%), those increases in condom use started to come to a standstill then backpedal. Current data shows that “only 45% of adolescent males report condom use for every act of intercourse and that condom use actually decreases with age when comparing males 15 to 17 years old with males 18 to 19 years old. Also, females report less frequent use of condoms during intercourse than males, presumably because many adolescent females are sexually active with older partners. Rates of pregnancies and STDs in females are unlikely to decrease beyond current levels unless condom use by adolescents and young adults continues to increase significantly in the years ahead. Condom use by one half to two thirds of adolescents is not sufficient to significantly decrease rates of unintended pregnancy and acquisition of STDs.”

8. Because if you’re male, you can help show men are better than the lowest common denominator.

In a nationally representative sample of more than 3,000 U.S. men interviewed about condoms, the most frequently cited negative reactions were: reduces sensation, requires being careful to avoid breakage, requires withdrawing quickly, embarrassing to buy, difficult to put on, often comes off during sex, embarrassing to discard, shows you think partner has AIDS, and makes partner think you have AIDS.

Let’s briefly deconstruct these:

  • Gander, meet goose. If we’re going to talk about condoms changing how sex feels, we need to remember that something like the pill does too, and, unlike condoms, it changes how a woman feels all the time, both during and outside of sex. And as someone who has had a barrier over a much more sensitive part than a penis (the clitoris) and has also used hormonal medication can tell you (and that’s on top of knowing the data I do as a sex educator) a latex barrier, when used properly doesn’t change sensations more than most methods do for women. Other methods of contraception can cause pain and cramping, unpredictable bleeding, urinary tract infections, depression and a whole host of unpleasant side effects. Condoms are the LEAST intrusive and demanding of all methods of contraception, even though some guys talk about them — without considering this perspective — like they’re the most. If guys could feel what life can be like on the pill, use a cervical barrier or get a Depo shot, they’d easily see condoms for the cakewalk they are.
  • You have to be no more careful to avoid condom breakage than you have to be careful with someone’s body during sex. If you’re engaged with someone’s genitals and treating them the way they need to be treated to avoid pain or injury, you’re already being just as careful as you need to be with condoms. And if you’re not treating someone else’s body with care overall, you need to step it up and start doing that anyway.
  • You also always have the option of putting a new condom on and going back inside the vagina if that’s what the both of you want.
  • Condoms are no more embarrassing to buy than tampons: at least someone thinks you’re about to get lucky. For that matter, they’re not more embarrassing to buy than the magazines some of you read. And as you grow older, your “embarrassing purchases” list will increase, anyway: from Rogaine to hemorrhoid cream, denture cleaner to adult diapers, condoms are hardly the only thing you’ll need to purchase in public sometimes you really wish you could buy privately. Welcome to adult life, folks. That said, you always have the option of buying condoms online if you want.
  • They’re only difficult to put on if you don’t learn how. Practice makes perfect.
  • They don’t come off often during sex unless you’re not putting them on properly, not adding lube when you need to (and when your partner would then likely need you to as well for them to still have sex feel good) and when you’re using a condom that isn’t too big or too small for you.
  • Again, if tossing a condom in the trash is embarrassing, how about tampons, the medication you’re taking for Gonorrhea or a dirty diaper?
  • Condom use does not say you think someone has AIDS. What it says to a smart partner is that you have a head on your shoulders, you care about them, and that you have the maturity to recognize that they shouldn’t carry the responsibilities of sex all by themselves.

While some of these attitudes come from guys who are simply uninformed or misinformed, for those who know better or should, some of this stuff is just plain foolish. And THAT’s embarrassing, no? Male attitudes about condoms have more influence on whether or not condoms get used than female attitudes do. That’s because a) women’s attitudes tend to be better, b) men as a class still have more power than women (and men influence other men more than women do), and c) you’re most often the ones wearing them or the ones who make a fuss about wearing them.

9. And if you’re all hung up on what’s sexy…

Being open about all parts of sex, not just about what you might do to someone to get them off, is sexy in most people’s books. Being all ooh-ahh about giving a blow job or going down on someone, but then recoiling like a kid with mushy peas on their dinner plate about condoms doesn’t tend to be a turn on for a lot of people. For some — including the person with that response themselves — it can be a pretty serious turn OFF. I’m older than our readers, but speaking for myself, when someone reacts that way when I pull out a condom (and they rarely do), I’m just done. It feels seriously uncomfortable, like I was about to be sexual with someone who isn’t really ready for all of sex; like I was about to be with someone who is emotionally and intellectually many steps behind me. That’s not sexy to me at all: it sends a very clear message to my brain — the organ that drives most of our sexuality — that turns all of my turn-on signals into turn-off signals in two seconds flat.

Assertiveness is sexy: look at who you and the world as a whole tends to find sexy and that’s obvious. Being confident about caring for yourself and the firm belief and insistence anyone else you are sexual with must treat you with that same respect and care is sexy. Caring about yourself and your health, and caring about the health of others is sexy. Having limits and boundaries you don’t let anyone else trample on is sexy. Coming to, addressing and responding to the things that keep everyone as safe as possible during sex is sexy. Being confident in yourself and someone else that they’ve got some real maturity and smarts when it comes to sex is sexy. And there is absolutely, positively, nothing UNsexy about handing someone a condom or a dental dam that you’re giving them as a way of cementing a great, big, wholehearted “yes” to you two being sexual together. What could be unsexy about that?

Sexy is as sexy does. There is no one way to be sexy, no matter what anyone says. Being sexy is about how you feel sexy and sexual, and how you project those feelings to others when you’re feeling them. So, for sure, if when it comes to safer sex you are a shrinking violet, that’s probably not very sexy. But if you pull out or put on a condom with confidence and a smile, and if you get it in your head firmly that this is sexy, then it’s likely to be perceived as sexy. If you feel sexy in it, and it’s sexy to you, it’s going to be to someone else. To everyone else? Probably not, especially since there is absolutely nothing in the world that is sexy to absolutely everyone. But.

People who claim their own sexuality in a real way and feel confident in it, which includes taking care of themselves and insisting on the same from others, tend to be the people who both express feeling the most sexy and who others perceive as sexy.

10. Because I love you.

I’d hope that at this stage of my career as an educator, it’s obvious that the primary reason I do what I do is simply out of love for all of you. The benefits are nonexistent, the pay blows chunks and sometimes I have to take a whole lot of crap from people who think I’m Satan incarnate for helping you out with sexuality: if I didn’t love you and think that a good way for me to express that was by doing what I could to help you take care of yourself and have a healthy, happy sexuality, I wouldn’t do this job at all.

Getting an STI is rarely the end of the world. While a couple are literally deadly serious, most are treatable and most will not have that great an impact on your life if you find out you have one early and get treated. But I don’t want you to be sick if you can avoid it. If it can be avoided, I don’t want you to have to deal with the negative feelings around an STI that are tough to avoid in a world that really stigmatizes STIs and the people who have them. I don’t want you to have to get extra pap smears, to have to endlessly experiment with new drugs for HIV or to have to tell a potential partner you have a genital herpes outbreak. I’ll support you if you do, and know that I don’t think anything different about you than I think about someone who has the flu or leukemia, but whatever I can do to help prevent it in the first place is something I want to do.

I know that if you just don’t have sex that you are even less likely to get an STI than if you use condoms. But I don’t just tell you not to have sex because a) I know that most people, once they are into or past puberty, will have and want a sexual life with partners, b) I think that sexuality is part of who we are and can be a great part of our lives and c) I know that you can reduce your risks of unwanted consequences very well and still be sexual when that’s what you want. I also know that a truly great sex life includes protecting yourself and others as best you can from negative or unwanted consequences of sex.

I know from my work and my own sexual life how much more enjoyable and less stressful sex is when you’re safe and smart about it. Not having to worry about the complications of an infection, about giving an infection to someone else, or about taking huge risks with infection is nice: it’s much less stressful than the alternative. It’s often amazing to me, as someone who has had more sexual partners than most of you ever will given generational differences, to talk with many of you who are terrified about the risks you’ve taken after the fact within sexual lifestyles and scenarios that are comparatively more conservative than mine have been, but far less safe as far as protecting your sexual health goes. I don’t panic after sex, and that’s not because I have some secret or don’t care about the bad stuff that can happen: I don’t panic because I know I can keep myself very safe and still have the sex I want to, and I have more than two decades of doing so to look back on and see how well that’s worked. I can see the same with the people I work with as users or clients in my sexual health work.

When it comes to sexuality, here’s what I want for the people I love: I want it to be great for them and anyone they are sexual with. I want them to feel good about their sexual lives, not scared, freaked out, panicked or upset. I want them to stay healthy. I want them to feel empowered by their sexual choices, whatever they are. And I’m not sure how all of that can happen if and when anyone is taking unnecessary risks or avoiding asking for, and insisting on, sexual partners treating them with care, which certainly includes not exposing them to illness when that can be avoided. Because I love you, if and when you want a sex life with others, I want you to have one that is wonderful and enjoyable, but also as safe as it can be so that it can keep ON being wonderful and enjoyable.

I love you, so I want you to use condoms and other barriers if you’re going to be sexually active, and to chillax with the genital sex that presents possible STI risks if you can’t. It’s just that simple sometimes.

Safer Sex Wrap Up

Safer sex is a group of practices of which condom/latex barrier use is one part. The standard guidelines for safer sex suggested by public health agencies are that any two (or more) people who are new partners use condoms or other latex barriers for all vaginal, anal and/or oral sex for at least six months, and then only ditch them (if you want to) AFTER each has had a new round of testing for all STIs with negative results AND those two people have been sexually exclusive for six months.

If you and/or a partner didn’t have previous sexual partners for ANY genital sex of any kind or it’s been longer than those six months since either or both of you did, then if you get tested straightaway w/negative results if you had no partners or tested when it’s been more than six months since a previous partner, then your risks are already very low. That doesn’t mean after all that you’ll have NO risks: rather, it means that so long as you both stay sexually exclusive afterward, at that point, your risks are likely very minimal.

To completely eliminate our risks of STIs, we need to not have sex. With anyone. Ever. We’d need to avoid the nonsexual behaviors that can transmit some infections, like IV drug use. We’d also need to avoid sharing towels and linens, kissing our aunt Mabel who has the cold sores sometimes, and a whole bunch of other things very few of us who live outside a hermetically-sealed bubble will be able to avoid.

If you want to see the safer sex guidelines other sound sexual health organizations advise, here are a few for you to peek at:

Very few people will not have sex with anyone in a lifetime: most young adults will also have at least one sexual partner before their 20’s. If we’re going to be sexual with partners, to reduce our risks and make oral, vaginal and/or anal sex safer we need to use latex barriers, get tested (and treated if we have any infections) and limit our number of sexual partners. Doing just one of any of those things can help some, but it’s all three of those together that public health agencies make clear have been shown to be most effective.

We have much bigger piece on safer sex here. You can also find out about how to use condoms properly here, and find out what all your options are with condoms here. Have questions? Come on over to our message boards and we’re glad to talk things over with you.

scarleteenSCARLETEEN is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around three-quarters of a million diverse people each month worldwide, most between the ages of 15 and 25. It is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online and has held that rank through the majority of its tenure.

Find Scarleteen on twitter @Scarleteen

Latex-Free Condoms?

Photographer Rorro Navia

Photographer Rorro Navia

Researchers at Condom Monologues investigate the confusion surrounding Durex’s only latex-free condom option: Avanti Bare.

Here are some key points:

  • Durex’s only non-latex condom first switched from polyurethane to polyisoprene in 2008.
  • In 2011, Durex Avanti changed and was no longer a non-latex option. It was now manufactured as latex but with the same name.
  • Durex does now offer non-latex again. The new name is called Avanti Bare Real Feel.
  • Always read condom packaging carefully.

This article was originally published here.

BY CONDOM MONOLOGUES | CondomMonologues.com

How many times can you change a condom from latex to latex-free and back again?

Well, if you are Durex Avanti you can be transformed at least three times.

As the world’s most widely distributed condom brand, Durex have a lot of strings to their pleasure bow: offering consumers an abundance of various shapes, textures, lubes and sex accessories to choose from. When it comes to latex free options, however, the company puts the onus on just one condom, yet even this single choice is not without confusion. Durex Avanti, previously the name of their latex-free rubber, is in fact a latex condom. The non-latex option has been recently rebranded Avanti Bare Real Feel™. In fact, this latex-free option has been through a few re-branding rotations.

In 2008, it was replaced from being made of polyurethane to synthetic polyisoprene. Polyurethane is a type of soft plastic; polyisoprene is the latest latex-free technology, chemically similar to rubber latex but without the proteins that cause allergic reactions (see our article about the differences). In Europe, the product’s current name is simply, and explicitly, “Latex Free”. The North America version, however, is not so straight forward.

Michael Gesek, from Durex Consumer Relations Canada, explained to Condom Monologues, that when multinational consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser took over Durex in 2011 they lost supply of the materials to make Avanti Bare and thus it was discontinued in North America. Recently the polyisoprene product was secured again and is renamed Avanti Bare Real Feel. Besides the (longer) new name, nothing is different about this new polyisoprene rubber. It’s now rolling out on store shelves.

However, few consumers know that Durex did not offer latex-free condoms for a period in the midst of company turn over. In fact, Avanti Bare went from being made of polyisoprene to becoming just a standard latex condom. Yet despite this very dramatic product change, Durex kept the name and package similar to the latex free version- as if condom shopping isn’t confusing already!

As expressed by Melissa White, CEO of Lucky Bloke, this move was irresponsible and “a major packaging fail!” In response, Lucky Bloke listed a consumer warning on their site. It’s unclear what Durex’s strategy was for informing the public about this change. One may assume that when Durex lost supply of the polyisoprene condom, they may have sent a notice to selective distributors with the expectation that sellers would inform consumers. To the best of her knowledge, Melissa White does not recall any advanced warning from Durex.

So, please be aware that Durex does offer a latex-free condom now, just make sure not to pick up the former Avanti Bare and read packaging extra carefully!

condom-monologuesCONDOM MONOLOGUES SexEd, Activism, Storytelling and More… Condom Monologues dispel harmful myths about safe sex and sexual stereotypes that permeate our ways of understanding what is “healthy sexuality”. They accomplish this through sex-positive, pleasure-focused approaches to sexuality that affirm the diversity of people- genders, sexualities, kinks and relationships.
Find them on twitter @CondomMonologue

4 Effective Condom Alternatives to Latex Sensitivity

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Latex sensitivity or latex allergy causes symptoms that can range from unpleasant to— in severe cases— deadly… nothing about that is sexy. So what is one to do when it comes to condoms? Lucky Bloke, global condom experts, to the rescue with several safer sex suggestions.

This article is intended to inform you of the various non-latex condom options available and what the benefits are of each. Here is some essential know-how:

  • Condom technology presents the latex sensitive with multiple, pleasurable alternatives to latex condoms. Here is a sample pack of non-latex options.
  • Polyurethane condoms are thinner and less elastic and form fitting than latex condoms. They do, however, transfer heat better.
  • Polyisoprene condoms are stretchier and more resistant to breakage than other condom options. They are also very soft to the touch and offer an enjoyable sensation.
  • The nitrile FC2 “female condom” is the only option that works no matter the size of the penis.

This article was originally published on YourTango.

BY MELISSA WHITE | CEO of LuckyBloke.com

If you or your partner has a latex sensitivity, all hope for a fun (and safer) sex life is not lost. Condom technology has come a long way, and there are some incredible alternatives to latex available. In fact, non-latex condoms can even be more pleasurable for couples, regardless of latex sensitivities. Lucky Bloke is here to share four top non-latex condom options:

1. Polyurethane condoms. Polyurethane condoms are made from a special type of plastic. They not only prevent pregnancy, they reduce your risk of STIs.

These condoms have no odor and tend to have a longer shelf life than latex condoms; they are not as sensitive to temperature or UV lighting. Best of all, polyurethane condoms transfer heat very well between the condom and skin. As a result, many people find that polyurethane condoms offer a more intimate and pleasurable sensation than latex condoms.

Compared to latex condoms, polyurethane condoms are thinner and less elastic. They are not as form fitting as latex condoms, so it’s important to keep that in mind when you’re getting frisky. It is highly recommended that users pair a quality water-based or silicone-based lube with polyurethane condoms to reduce the risk of slippage or breakage.

Our top pick: TROJAN | Supra which offers a standard fit

2. Polyisoprene condoms. These are relatively new to the market after gaining FDA approval for preventing pregnancy and STDs in 2008. These condoms are made out of a synthetic latex material which is just as strong as latex without containing the proteins that trigger allergic reactions.

Since this material was created in a laboratory setting, it has been engineered to offer a few key advantages over polyurethane or latex condoms. Notably, polyisoprene condoms are generally stretchier and more resistant to breakage than other condom options. They are slightly thicker than polyurethane or latex condoms and as a result, are a bit more form fitting. Despite the added thickness, polyisoprene condoms are very soft to the touch and offer an enjoyable sensation.

These condoms pair very well with water-based lubricants and silicone-based lubricants, but should never be used with oil based lubricants.

Our top picks: LifeStyles |SKYN which offers a standard fit; LifeStyles | SKYN Large which offers a larger fit

3. FC2.  The FC2 (aka the female condom) offers an advantage for women who want to ensure protection from pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted infection. The female condom is a strong, thin, and flexible nitrile sheath inserted into the vagina, prior to sex. It has a flexible polyurethane ring on one end, a soft nitrile ring on the other, and is absolutely latex-free. It is pre-lubricated with a slick silicone-based lubricant, but additional lubricant can be used, as well.

Many advances have been made to the FC2 condom. It is not much larger than a “male” condom and it has no latex odor. There are so many advantages to this condom that it is impossible to list them all here.

The FC2 is a great choice for any condom user who has any type of allergies or chemical sensitives. Also, as the woman wears the condom, they are the only option that works no matter the size of the man’s penis. This is incredibly important for men who benefit from a slimmer, more tailored condom. The FC2 is the only non-latex option for these couples.

The FC2 is also the ideal alternative for any couple that faces condom-related erectile challenges. And if this isn’t enough, couples who seek enhanced pleasure (better heat transmission, more stimulation, and a natural feel) should absolutely check the FC2 out.

Our top pick: FC2 | Female Condom which offers a fantastic fit, regardless of penis size

4. Natural skin condoms. Natural skin condoms are one of the oldest methods of preventing pregnancy, and are made from a thin layer of sheep cecum (which is part of sheep intestines). Due to their porous nature, lambskin condoms should only be used to prevent pregnancy. They are not effective at preventing STIs/STDs. Unless you are absolutely certain that both you and your partner are STD-free, lambskin condoms are NOT the option for you.

Many people who use lambskin condoms say that they’re extremely pleasurable due to their thin construction, and how well they conduct heat. In fact, many men who use lambskin condoms have reported that they’re barely able to tell that they’re even wearing a condom during sex. For those who are concerned about the environment, these condoms are also completely biodegradable. They’re not as elastic as latex condoms, and they’re a bit more generous in fit than latex alternatives.

Since these condoms are made from an animal by-product, they do have a certain smell that might take some getting used to. Of the three latex condom alternatives, lambskin condoms are by far the most expensive at several dollars per condom, and are currently only manufactured by TROJAN. Despite these potential drawbacks, lambskin condoms remain popular and can be used with any lubricant.

Our top pick: TROJAN | NaturaLamb which will fit all men albeit a bit differently

Even if you don’t have a latex allergy, it’s not a bad idea to keep a few non-latex condoms at hand if you’re sexually active with multiple partners. You never know when you might end up in a sexy situation with someone who has a latex sensitivity. Safe sex is everyone’s responsibility.

For those of you in a monogamous relationship, there’s a lot to be said for keeping things fresh in the bedroom; trying out new condoms might just give you the incentive you need to get busy.

condom ad condoms too loose

How to Choose & Use Condoms: A Better Guide

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BY JOELLEN NOTTE | theRedheadBedhead.com

Condoms may not be anyone’s favorite but they are far preferable to unplanned pregnancies and STIs, right? Right. So, if we’re going to use condoms, we should definitely make sure we’re using them right, right? Right.

The problem is, a lot of folks are still kind of fumbling the condom thing and so much of the information out there is, well, not great. With “helpful” tips like, “if it’s not rolling the right way, it’s on the wrong way”(what?), intense mis-leading warnings such as “you should ONLY USE WATER-BASED LUBRICANTS!!!!” (not actually true) and condescending instructions like “remove the condom carefully, not spilling the contents. Wrap it up and dispose of it” (this just seems obvious), folks aren’t really getting a ton of help with the whole thing.

So I’m going to give you some quick and fun pointers to help you rock rubbers right.

Choosing your condom- As with anything you wear, you want your condom to fit right and be comfortable. Unlike anything else you wear your condom also needs to protect you from diseases and feel good to the inside (whether it be vagina, mouth or anus) of another person. There’s a lot to think about.

Luckily the folks at Lucky Bloke put together this great guide to determining your condom size. You may have to try a couple different condoms to find what works for you, but seriously? Best. Research process. Ever.

The most important thing is that, in the end, you buy condoms that fit!

Fitting your condom- If a condom is too tight to comfortably roll it down it can cause problems ranging from discomfort and loss of erection to broken condoms. Don’t assume larger condoms are just there for men of crazy porn-style proportions. If regular condoms bind or are particularly difficult to get on look into a bigger fit. Also, when wondering if you need bigger, length isn’t everything. Even if your penis is of an average length, it may require more room in terms of girth.

Sometimes standard condoms maybe a bit big. In this case these are slimmer fitting condoms out there. Check out your options.

Rolling it on- The “is it facing the right way?” thing has long been perhaps the most troublesome part of condom application.

The best tip I ever got on the topic came from Megan Andelloux: Take your condom out and put it on the tip of your finger- What kind of hat does it look like? If the answer is “The kind of beanie you’d wear because it’s cold out” (the roll is pointing down) then it’s facing the wrong way. If the answer is “A sombrero” (the roll is pointing up) then it’s time to party! “Olé!” indeed!

Leave yourself some space- Ejaculate moves quickly, like really quickly. It leaves the penis at about 35 mph (that’s faster than a moped can go, just fyi). This little fact makes it very important that you make room in your condom for that high-speed sperm to go without bursting your bubble, so to speak.

Okay, here’s the deal: you need space in the tip of your condom and you need that space to not have air in it. It can be helpful to unroll the condom a little before you go to put it on so you have some slack. Once you have it on, grip the penis and condom firmly at the base, give a gentle tug to that tip and squeeze out any air and voila! All dressed up and ready to go.

Keep it slick– I love lube. Lubricant is great for increasing pleasure with condoms especially as latex can stick to skin. Further, a few drops of lube inside a condom can do wonders for the wearer’s pleasure.

I find the lube instructions that come with condoms a little discouraging though- there’s a lot of talking about only using water-based products. This is not strictly necessary. What you don’t want to do is use oil-based products (lotions, vaseline, even mineral oil) as they will break down latex or polyisoprene condoms. Generally, silicone based lubricants are okay for condoms.

Take it all off- After ejaculation you do want to be sure to withdraw the penis from your partner before it goes limp and hold onto the condom at the base of the penis so as to not spill ejaculate on/in your partn​er, rendering the use of the condom futile.

After that, it’s pretty much basic campsite rules – leave no trace. Carry out your mess and dispose of it properly. If you can master the use of a condom you can also master the use of a trash can – I believe in you!

Bonus tips!

Foreskin – If you are in possession of a foreskin and it is mobile (this is not always a given) pull the foreskin back first, then put the condom on. Once it is in place and you have pinched the tip to get any trapped air out, push the foreskin back toward the tip of the penis, while holding onto the base of the condom to keep it in place. This allows for free movement of the foreskin during sex. Add a drop or two of lube inside the condom and away you go.

Colored condoms – This is another tip from the fabulous Megan Andelloux: Colored condoms are safer than plain ones. Why? It’s easier to see if they have broken. So get colorful! Megan suggests coordinating with upcoming holidays.

 

JoEllen-NotteJOELLEN NOTTE is helping to share the gospel of better living through better sex ed (amen!) – serving as both the Education Coordinator & Lead Sex Educator for the Portland Academy of Sex Education and a co-Emissary of Sex Geekdom Portland. Working as an adult retail consultant, she is working to help promote better sex through better adult retail. JoEllen first began fighting sexual mediocrity on her site theRedheadBedhead.com. Follow JoEllen on twitter: @bedheadtweeting

All Barriers All The Time: Condoms, Dams, Gloves…

With permission from Scarleteen

With permission from Scarleteen. Illustrated by Isabella Rotman.

Safer sex barriers like condoms, dams, gloves, and finger cots, offer some of the most effective protection against STI transmission. However, many people feel stumped on exactly what they should be using to best protect themselves and their partners, and how  to integrate safer sex practices in a way that adds to the experience, rather than detract from it. This article, originally published at Scarleteen, answers all your barrier questions and helps you learn about every single barrier choice you have:

The main topics covered below are:

  • How much protection barriers actually offer
  • What they don’t protect you from
  • How to use both external (male) condoms and internal condoms, dental dams and gloves
  • How to protect sex toys
  • 3 ways to ease the use of barrier methods

This article was originally published on Scarleteen

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen
Illustrations by ISABELLA ROTMAN | thismighthurt.tumblr.com

Barriers-SquareHooray for barriers! Not the crummy kind that keep us from things we want, the kind that can protect us from pathogens that can be passed from one person to another, resulting in in illness and infection. Safer sex barriers do a great job reducing our STI risks, so we’ve got the best chance of enjoying the good things sex can offer without big risks of transmitting (giving) or acquiring (getting) infections in the process. Barriers keep germs out while letting us do the things we enjoy, want and which can bring us closer; to our own sexuality and to other people we may share it with.

If we still want to engage in genital sex — like vaginal or anal intercourse, oral sex or manual sex — safer sex is the only thing yet proven to effectively reduce the STI risks those activities can present. That means regular STI testing, and consistently (not just sometimes) and correctly (used exactly as directed) using barriers. Most STIs are primarily transmitted through body fluids, so protecting ourselves against them is mostly about limiting or avoiding our contact with each others fluids. Barriers are what help us do that when we don’t also want to limit or avoid being sexual with other people.

How much protection do they offer? When used consistently and correctly, latex condoms are highly effective preventing STIs, and are the only thing that’s yet shown to be highly effective. With fluid-borne infections, like HIV, Hepatitis or Chlamydia, condoms have been found in studies to reduce the risk of infection by as much as 99%, and as little as around 50%, with both figures largely influenced by how consistently and correctly condoms are used. Specifically addressing HIV protection, the UNFPA states an effectiveness rate of 90-96%, Family Health International states a rate of 80% – 97% protection. With infections transmitted by skin-to-skin contact alone, findings for protection range from around 30% to around 90%. Again, proper use and consistency is a big player. Barriers can also help prevent infections like urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis.

Barriers protect us better from infections spread only or mostly by fluids than they do with those spread by skin-on-skin contact (like molluscum, HPV and Herpes). That’s mostly because most barriers do not cover the whole surface of the genitals of a person, their partner, or both. But the biggest player in how effective barriers are in preventing infection is just like with methods of birth control: it’s if they are used all the time, and also used properly. How effective a barrier is is far more within your control than outside of it: effectiveness has way more to do with always using them and using them right than it does with any limitations of the barriers themselves.

All you really need to use them well and get the protection they offer is to learn which ones you use for what activity or body part, how to use them properly and some practice, confidence and a commitment to the health and well-being of you and yours. We can give you most of that right here, and we can give you a good start to developing that last part for yourself.

Condom-title
Let’s start with the barrier people tend to be the most familiar with: condoms. We currently have two different options when it comes to condoms on the whole: the “male” (or outside) condom, and the “female” (or inside) condom. Outside (“Male”) Condoms are the barrier to use for any kind of intercourse (vaginal or anal) or oral sex involving a penis. [Go here for more instructions on how to use a condom, and how to find the right fit].

How to Use outside (“male”) condoms:

whitecondom-Diagram-Scarleteen1) Use a condom that is new, and at least six months in front of the expiry date: make sure your condom is not expired. The expiration date is somewhere on every individual package. Be sure you’re also using a condom that hasn’t been kept anywhere where it could have gotten worn, or too hot or cold . We always need to keep condoms and all other barriers places with moderate temperatures, and store them only in places they won’t get too knocked around or sat upon.

2) Open the condom wrapper with your fingers: don’t use teeth or scissors if you can help it. Take it out, then roll it out a tiny bit so the edge is rolled up on the outside of the condom, facing up. Otherwise the condom won’t roll down right. Put a few drops of water-based lubricant inside the tip of the condom: that helps with getting it on, and makes condoms feel a lot better for the wearer during use.

3) Pinch and hold the tip of the condom with your fingertips to leave some space — about an inch — and roll the rest down the length of the penis while still holding the top. The ring of the condom should be as close to the base of the penis as possible. When you’re down to the base, run your fingers from the tip all the way down to press out any air bubbles: this helps keep condoms from breaking. (This isn’t necessary when using a condom to cover toys.)

4) Put some lube on the outside of the condom. The amount of lubricant already on lubricated condoms is rarely enough for the condom to feel good for everyone, and the lubrication the vagina or penis can produce by itself often doesn’t fare so well with latex: it’s easy for parts to feel dry and raw fast. Plus, a well-lubricated condom is a condom that is not at all likely to break. While you are using the condom, neither you nor your partner need to hold onto it: condoms are designed for hands-free use.

5) After ejaculation (or not, but you’re finished for now) — and before you withdraw — hold the base of the condom with your hand. Keep your hand there while you withdraw, and until the penis, or toy, is all the way out of the vagina, anus or mouth. Pull it off (slowly, so slowly: whipping condoms off fast usually ends in a mess, tears or unstoppable laughter) with that same hand on the rim of the condom and your other hand by the tip. Tie a knot near the base of the condom.

6) Throw the condom away in the rubbish bin – NEVER reuse condoms.

For those using outside condoms who’re uncircumcised, there’s a variation in putting a condom on. You, or your partner, will need to first gently move the foreskin back a bit, then put on the condom, rolling it about halfway down the shaft of the penis before letting go of the foreskin, and then rolling the condom down to the base. Because of the foreskin, you or a partner may find the condom doesn’t go as far down to the base as it does with a circumcised penis, and that’s okay. You also may find that using a few drops of lubricant inside the condom, before you put it on, is more important (or not) to your comfort than it is to those with circumcised penises. This is just another thing to practice with to find out what feels best for you.

Uncircumcised-Condom-Application

Most of this is just going to be about working out what feels best for you and your own foreskin, insofar as how much you roll the foreskin down, and when you let it slide back up. Some people with foreskins even find that putting them on the same way you would without a foreskin is what works best for them. So long as the base of the condom is firmly on the base of your penis and it all feels comfortable for you, you’re good.

You can find condoms in pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations, in clinics and health centers (often for free), or you can order them online. No barriers, including condoms, are only legal or available for people of a certain age: people of every age can purchase them lawfully.

whitebananaThere are a LOT of brands and styles of condoms out there to choose from right now. So many choices! Yay! People are going to have some that don’t work for them, some that are fine, and others that are their Best Condom of Ever. If condoms don’t feel good, fixing that can sometimes be as easy as just using a different size, style or brand.

We’re fans of everyone knowing how to use condoms, not just people with penises or people who use condoms as a method of birth control. It can make it way tougher to get and keep in the habit of using condoms if we don’t all know how, or only one partner knows. If you don’t have a penis yourself, or a partner with one, that doesn’t mean you can’t still learn! You can learn to put condoms on by using a dildo, or food items like bananas or cucumbers. (Extra bonus: it’s kind of hilarious. As it turns out, bananas look silly with condoms on.)

With any kind of barrier, it can be harder to learn to use when we only practice with partners. Even when a partner is great and we feel great with them, there’s always an extra pressure just by virtue of someone else being involved, especially if we both also want to be sexual at the time, so we can be a little hasty or distracted. Learning to use, and practice using, barriers when you’re all by yourself makes becoming a pro easier.

whiteinternal-CondomInsider (“female”) condoms

Inside condoms may be the most underrated barrier there is.They’re amazing! An inside condom can be put in in advance of sexual activity, making it great for those who feel like outside condoms are an interruption, no matter how brief, they’d prefer not to manage. The materials they are made of conducts body heat better than latex condoms. They are made of a non-latex material, so are just as good for those who can’t use latex as those who can, and can also be used with even oil-based lubricants, unlike most outside condoms. They also don’t tightly grip the penis, so for those who dislike the tight feeling of the base with outside condoms, the inside condom can be a great way to get the protection we want without the feel of a standard condom.

They cost a little more than outside condoms, and can be harder to find, but if you have never tried one, we’d say it’s worth it. Inside condoms may just turn out to be your new favorite thing of ever. If you can’t find them where you buy condoms, they can be ordered widely online. You can also ask a pharmacy if they can order some in for you.

For those who used female condoms a few years ago and vowed never to do so again, because the material they were made of made louder sounds during sex than your mouth is even capable of making- They are not made of that material anymore. The new materials are soft, smooth, and best of all, perfectly quiet.

How to Use Inside (“Female”) Condoms:

1) Just like with outside condoms, you want to first open the package carefully with your fingers.

2) Then, put a little lubricant on the outside of the closed end. As the illustration above can show you, the inside condom has two rings, an inner one in back, where the material covers it completely — where it is closed — and an outer ring in front, where there is an opening to the condom, just like with an outside condom. whiteHow-To-use-Female-Condom

3) Next, you will need to insert it inside the vagina, or anus, depending on what kind of genital sex you are choosing to do. Some put the inside condom inside while they stand with one foot up on something, or squat, or sit on the edge of a chair or toilet, or lay down. You’ll find out by experimenting what works best for you. Inside condoms can be inserted up to 12 hours before use, so if you prefer to put it in way before sexual activity, you can do that. You’ll squeeze that inner, or back ring, together with your fingers until it basically makes a line, and put it inside the body the way you’d put in a tampon or menstrual cup, pushing it gently back as far as you can. With vaginal insertion, until it reaches your cervix (which feels like a little nose inside the vagina, if you have never felt it before). When it’s all the way back, you pull the finger you pushed it inside with out, and let the outer ring of the condom hang about an inch outside the vagina or anus.

4) Then, a partner will insert their penis — or a toy — inside the vagina or anus and the condom inside. The base will not grip them like an outside condom’s base does. For those new to sex or using this kind of condom, do be sure and check that the penis, or toy, is being inserted inside the condom in the vagina, rather than to the side of the condom.

5) To remove the inside condom, you will have your partner withdraw — no need to hold anything. Then you twist the outer ring, and the part of the condom outside your body until it’s closed, gently pull it out and throw it away.

Dental-Dam-Header

Dental dams are the barrier we have to help reduce our risks of infections during cunnilingus (oral sex involving the vulva) or analingus (oral sex involving the anus). Some people have the idea that oral sex with someone with a vulva does not pose STI risks. While oral sex risks are higher when there is a penis involved, rather than a vulva, please know that does not mean cunnilingus poses no risks, or is an activity where it’s sound not to protect yourself or your partners. It does still present STI risks, particularly with common infections like Gonorrhea, HPV and the Herpes virus.

Like condoms, dams come in both latex and non-latex. Like condoms, they also are available with or without flavoring, if you have preferences in this regard.

How to Use Dental Dams:

Open the package carefully, take out the folded square and open it up — it’s like the littlest bedsheet on earth, and you just want to open up that sheet like you were making the littlest bed. You and/or the person whose vulva, or anus, is having the dam put unto may want some lube on their genitals before putting it on. Then you, or they, just place it over the genitals, and you, or they, hold it there with hands during sexual activity. whiteDental-Dam-Placement

That may sound like a stumper, until you think about how often you’re usually also using your hands anyway with cunnilingus or analingus. Basically, all you’re doing with the dam is having the edges of it stay between where your fingers might be anyway, or your partners, and being a little mindful about that to keep it in place.

Make sure the same side of the dam that’s been against the body stays on that side.(Pro-tip from one of our volunteers: use a permanent marker to put an irreversible word/letter on the corner of one side if you’re worried about spacing which side is which.) When you’re done using it, throw it away, and as with other barriers, don’t reuse: you need a new dam for any additional sexual activities, or if you want to change the part of body you are using it on, like, for example, starting with cunnilingus and shifting to analingus.

Dams can be tricky to find in some areas, or for some populations — like younger people. If they aren’t available where you already purchase condoms, they can be found online. If online ordering won’t work for you, that doesn’t mean you have to go without! You can make a dam by cutting a condom lengthwise, or by cutting a glove: check out these easy instructions for DIY dams. You also have the option of using Saran Wrap or Cling Film instead, just don’t choose the kind expressly for microwave use, since, as it tells you on the box, that kind has tiny perforations in it intended to let steam out, but which would also let germs in.

Want more information on dental dams and related issues? Take a look at these links:

Gloves-and-finger-cotsGloves and finger cots can be used to reduce the risk of infections with manual sex, like fingering, handjobs, or any kind of anal play with the hands. While manual sex poses far less risk of infection than intercourse or oral sex do, and handwashing does a great job by itself at reducing risks, gloves and finger cots still have some good things to offer. Like condoms, you can find both latex and non-latex options.

For instance, they make things feel better for some people. Genital tissue is tender, and hands, fingers, or nails can be rough, even when we take good care of them. Callouses and hangnails can cause abrasions that don’t feel good and increase our risk of infections. Gloves feel slick and uniformly smooth; that not only tends to feel mighty-nice, it helps prevent small genital tears or abrasions which do not feel mighty-nice at all. It can also be harder to wash our hands sometimes or in some settings, and gloves or finger cots give us the ability to change them, without having to run to the bathroom for another handwash, between activities easily.

You probably already know how to put on a glove: you just put your fingers and thumbs inside. Just know that hands need to be dry before using them, otherwise they can be harder to put on. You also want to avoid using the kind of latex gloves with powder inside when using gloves for genital sex. As with other barriers, lube plays a big role in things feeling good. As with other barriers, you don’t want to reuse gloves. You want to use them for sexual contact with one specific body part only: a different sexual activity means a new glove is needed. To take them off, pull from the base of the glove, at your wrist, towards your fingertips. The glove will turn itself inside out as you pull it off from the bottom. That makes getting them off easier, and also keeps all those fluids inside when you toss it.

Finger cots look like really tiny condoms: you just roll one on a fingertip (or more than one, if you like!), when you are going to use just fingertips for something. You know the drill: lube, one cot per activity or place, no reusing, roll them off and toss’em when you’re done.

Gloves are available at pharamcies, and sometimes even at grocery stores (look in the drugstore aisle). Finger cots can be found online. whSex-Toys-Header

Sex toys, like people’s bodies, can also carry, harbor and transmit pathogens. Many can’t be boiled, and are made of porous materials that pathogens like hanging out in. If you want to be safe with your toys, even when you’re the only one using them, you want to cover any toy that can’t be boiled or otherwise safely and effectively sanitized, and use a new barrier with every use. Ideally, you don’t want to be sharing most toys, but if and when you do share, or plan to, using barriers is important for everyone’s best health. Using barriers with toys also often makes cleaning them and keeping them clean a whole lot easier! Dildos-look-good-in-condoms

Condoms cover dildos and other long-shaped toys well, and you can also drop a small, corded vibrator, like bullet styles, into a condom and cover it that way. For sleeves or pumps, toys meant for the insertion of penises, you simply use a condom like you would for intercourse while using it. If you are using household objects for masturbation, they very much should be covered, but even if they are, they shouldn’t be shared. For several reasons, some pretty basic etiquette and good-neighborliness among them.

Finger cots can also cover small toys. If you feel stumped about what to use, a dam can be a good option, because you can wrap almost anything in it and have plenty of it left to hold unto. You can also use a dam (or condoms) for safer sex with toys by putting it on your body part you were going to contact with the toy.

Don’t forget lube!

whiteWater-based-lubricantsLatex barriers should not be used with oils or oil-based lubricants, as most will degrade the latex. The easiest way to be sure you’re using the right lube? If it says it’s latex safe, and/or meant for sexual (or vaginal) use, you’re good. When in doubt, stick with something water-based or, if you want to get more adventurous with your lubes, do so only when using non-latex barriers.

Barriers are usually easy to use once you get the hang of them and get into the habit of consistent use. They’re easy to learn to like once we feel confident and capable with them: when using barriers feels like a major drag, it’s often because one or more of the people using them, or thinking about it, doesn’t feel experienced enough using them, or doesn’t know how to use them in the ways that feel good yet. Learning how to use them and getting practice can not only help them to be most effective, it also will typically help people feel a lot more happy about them emotionally and socially.

Three ways to make using barriers feel easier:

1) There’s no perfect thing to say to convince a person who does not want to use barriers to use them. There’s also no special way we need to ask — beyond something like, “Can you/we use a condom/dam/glove, please?” — or even can ask to make magic happen and change someone’s mind on this.

Letting go of any expectation you will ever need to say anything to someone who refuses EXCEPT, “Oh well, seeya later then,” can make you feel more relaxed pretty instantly about inviting partners to use barriers with you. You don’t ever, seriously, ever, have to have arguments about this or write a fully cited thesis to try and prove your point to a partner. You just need to offer, and if they don’t accept, just graciously choose not to have sex with them.

If your words feel clumsy or uncomfortable,the easiest, simplest way to ask someone to use a barrier is just to hold it out and offer it to them before you do what you were about to start doing. That’s it. So easy. And it works very, very well.

You don’t even need to use any words; you often won’t have to, since most people know what barriers are for. When you’re about to do something sexual and you just take out the barrier and hold it out, or start putting it on yourself, most people get that barriers are a given if they want to have sex with you, and they will just get right on board if sex with you is something they want. (Or, they may feel the same way, you just pulled out the barrier before they did!).

All people asking each other to use barriers is is just someone, or more than one someone, actively caring for their health and that of their partner in a very basic, noninvasive way and asking for cooperation with that. You may need to negotiate or adjust some things, like what style or kind of material or lube someone likes, talk about testing, or show a partner how to use a barrier. But really, just taking it out and using it or handing it over — or words as clear and simple as, “Can you/we use a condom/dam/glove, please?” — should generally suffice. Which leads us to…

2) Keep barriers (and lube!) on hand. Don’t rely on others to have them, or set things up so only one partner is responsible for getting them. Share in both the freedom and responsibility of having them yourself! If you want to offer them to partners, you obviously need to have them in the first place. Plus, when barriers aren’t used when they’re needed, it’s often because no one has them handy when they need them, and both people were assuming the other person would. whiteStop-in-the-name-of-love

3) Know and understand: a barrier against pathogens is not a barrier to intimacy, to closeness, bonding or pleasure. A LOT of people think or believe those things, and this is a case where thinking or believing a thing actually CAN make it so. We know from study that those negative thoughts influence people’s experience of condoms. People who think condoms or other barriers are a drag, or get in the way of closeness or pleasure often wind up experiencing them exactly that way because they strongly believe those things to be true. On the other hand, people who don’t believe those things, who think neutrally or positively about barriers, often experience intimacy, closeness, pleasure and bonding while still using barriers. Because barrier use also often involves communication, honesty and mutual care, it, and the skills we hone when practicing safer sex together, can actually help facilitate and support intimacy and pleasure, rather than standing in their way.

Look, we can’t always stay healthy. We’re people, we get sick sometimes. STIs are very common, especially among those in their late teens and 20s: they are challenging to avoid. Some people have already contracted an STI early, especially since so many people don’t use barriers right from the start, don’t use them with all kinds of genital sex, or have not used them consistently or correctly. It happens, and like any illness, it’s not something anyone needs feel shame around, even if and when they contracted an STI by knowingly choosing to take risks. Rather, it’s something to get better from or cope with, changing what habits you need to to better support your health in the present and future, just like with any other kind of illness.

We obviously want to avoid STIs or transmitting them whenever we can, just like we want to avoid getting or passing on strep throat. Using barriers is about doing something basic to protect our health and that of others, like covering our mouths when we cough, washing hands before eating, or staying home when we’re sick instead of giving everyone the flu. It’s also harder to feel a desire to be intimate, and to experience pleasure when we’re sick.

These kinds of barriers? Good stuff. Good stuff that even helps the good stuff stay good stuff, even. Once you know what they are and how to use them, and get some practice with them under your belt (as it were), they’ll likely turn out to be one of the easiest things you do to protect your health and also one of the things you do in your sex life that leaves you feeling highly empowered, capable and in control of your body and health.

Go to Scarleteen to read the entire post for more instructions on how to use all the protective barriers under the sun!

heatherHEATHER CORINNA is an activist, artist, author and the director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for teen and young adult sex education and information. She is also the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College and was a contributor to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She’s received the The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism (2007), The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region’s, Public Service Award (2009), the Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Women’s Health Heroes Award (2009), The Joan Helmich Educator of the Year Award (2012), and The Woodhull Foundation’s Vicki Award(2013).

ISABELLA ROTMAN is a Chicago cartoonist and illustrator from Maine who truly cares about your genital well being. She is the author of the queer and quirky sexual health book You’re So Sexy When You Aren’t Transmitting STDs and a recent graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Other than educational comics, Isabella’s art is usually about the ocean, mermaids, crushing loneliness, people in the woods, or sex. If any of the above interests you then you may enjoy her self published comics or blog ThisMightHurt.Tumblr.com.

scarleteenSCARLETEEN is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around three-quarters of a million diverse people each month worldwide, most between the ages of 15 and 25. It is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online and has held that rank through the majority of its tenure.
Find Scarleteen on twitter @Scarleteen