The only way to completely avoid STDs and unintended pregnancy is not to have any sex at all, including oral, vaginal and anal sex. However, if you choose to be sexually active, it’s very important to make responsible, healthy choices for yourself. Using barrier methods consistently and correctly is the safest, most responsible and healthiest choice when you’re sexually active. Depending on the sexual activity, one of two barrier methods will be right for you: latex or polyurethane condoms OR barriers.
Correct Condom Use (video)
Condoms and latex barriers are both barrier methods. This means there is some sort of protective barrier maintained between one person’s genitals and another person’s body.
Male condoms are made of a thin material that covers the penis. They come in different shapes, sizes, colors, flavors and types. Latex condoms are considered the most effective at protecting against STDs and unintended pregnancy, though polyurethane condoms (for people with latex allergies) may also be used. Lambskin condoms are another alternative, they are NOT recommended to guard against STDs, but they can be effective at preventing unintended pregnancy. Male condoms can only be used once, a new condom must be used with each additional type of sex (i.e. oral sex to vaginal sex) and every time you have sex.
Female condoms are a newer barrier method. They are like small pouches that fit inside the vagina or anus. There are rings at both ends of the pouch and the closed end fits deep inside the vagina to prevent male pre-ejaculate and seminal fluid from making contact with the vagina, thus providing protection against STDs and unintended pregnancy. Female condoms can only be used once, a new condom must be used with each additional type of sexual activity (i.e. oral sex to vaginal sex) and every time you have sex.
Latex barriers, meant for use during oral sex, are usually square pieces of latex or silicone that are stretched and placed over the labia (for oral-vaginal sex) or the anus (for oral-anal sex). Latex barriers are often called dental dams. When a barrier is unavailable, it is ok to cut a male condom and use that. Non-microwavable plastic wrap works, too. However, you must make sure that the entire area (labia or anus) is covered completely to reduce the risk of exposure. Latex barriers can only be used once, do not wash or rinse them off to use again. With each additional type of sexual activity (i.e. oral-vaginal to oral-anal) and every time you have sex, you must use a new barrier.
- Use only latex or polyurethane condoms;
- Keep condoms in a cool, dry place;
- Check package for the expiration date and/or any damage;
- Put the male condom on an erect (hard) penis before there is any contact with a partner's genitals;
- If using a female condom, insert the female condom just before sexual activity begins;
- Add a couple of drops of water-based lubricant to the inside of a condom before it’s put on to help reduce friction (be careful not to add more than a couple of drops to the inside – too much can make it slip off!);
- Hold the tip of the male condom, squeezing out the air from the tip of it when rolling it over the erect penis;
- Use plenty of water-based lubricant on the outside of latex condoms; This reduces friction, which can help prevent the condom from breaking and also protect the genital area from developing tears or a burning feeling from dry rubbing;
- Hold the male condom in place at the base of the penis before withdrawing (pulling out) after sex (to make sure any contents aren’t spilled);
- Throw the condom away after it's been used.
- Leave condoms in hot places or places where the package can get worn, like your wallet or pocket;
- Use expired condoms -- they can be dry or weakened and can break more easily;
- Touch the wrong side of the male condom to the penis, and then flip it to the right side. This can transfer sperm and/or STDs. If, at first, you put it on inside out, throw it away and start over!
- Unroll the condom before putting it on the erect penis;
- Use oil-based products, like baby or cooking oils, hand lotion or petroleum jelly as lubricants with latex condoms. The oil weakens latex and can cause condoms to break;
- Reuse a condom. Always use a new condom each time you have sex and for each kind of sex you have (for example, never switch from anal sex to vaginal sex with the same condom as this could lead to infection);
- Flush a condom down the toilet because this causes sewer problems. Wrap it in toilet paper if possible and throw it away in the trash.
The decision to have sex of any kind is a big one. Sometimes, you can get caught up in the moment and be unprepared to make responsible, healthy choices. When this happens, you and your partner(s) may be at unnecessary risk. Don’t put yourself in this position! Talk to your partner long before you’re in the heat of the moment. Talking to your partner about how they feel about using protection should be part of your decision on whether or not to have sex with this person.
Many partners will be relieved to have this conversation -- they too, know the importance of using condoms, but may feel too shy or unsure how to tell you their feelings. In other situations, partners may not want to use barrier methods. They may say they just don’t like the way sex feels with condoms or barriers. Others might not think condoms are necessary if you or your partner is on birth control. No matter what the reason, it is not fair for someone else to disrespect your feelings or your health. Ultimately, it is up to you to empower yourself with accurate information to make healthy decisions. Don’t let others talk you out of making good choices.
Before you have this talk with your partner, be prepared for some of the reasons she or he may give you for not wanting to use condoms. The American Social Health Association has put together a list of reasons your partners may give, and replies you can offer that will assert your feelings without making the situation awkward. Try out some of these: