Your Safer Sex Toolbox

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Once you have decided on your own "safer sex" boundaries, you will need to gather the tools you will need to stick to your decisions. Some of the most common "tools" are included below:

Condoms

Currently, condoms are the only widely available, proven method for reducing transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) during intercourse. ASHA supports the promotion and use of condoms to limit the spread of sexually transmitted infections and their harmful consequences. Condoms are effective when people use them correctly and consistently.  For more about condom do's and don'ts click here.

Using a lubricant with condoms makes them both more enjoyable and less likely to break. Click below to see condom options:


Latex male condom

Advantages

  • Inexpensive
  • Accessible, the most common type of condom
  • Available in a variety of colors, textures, thicknesses, and sizes
  • Malleable and stretchy

Disadvantages

  • Can NOT be used with oils or oil-based lubes
  • Will degrade in high heat (wallet, glove compartment)

Polyurethane (non-latex) male condom

Advantages

  • Good for those with a latex sensitivity/allergy
  • Thin, so transmits warmth well
  • Safe with oil-based lubes

Disadvantages

  • Does not conform as tightly to a penis, so it may slip off more easily
  • Not as stretchy as latex, so it may break more easily and may fit a limited range of penis sizes

Polyisoprene (non-latex) male condom

Advantages

  • Good for those with a latex sensitivity
  • Malleable and stretchy like latex

Disadvantages

  • Can NOT be used with oil-based lubes
  • Will degrade (break down) in high heat (wallet, glove compartment)

Lambskin (non-latex) male condom

Advantages

  • Feels "natural"
  • Good for those with a latex sensitivity (but do not protect against STIs/STDs!)

Disadvantages

  • DOES NOT PROTECT AGAINST STIs/STDs, only pregnancy
  • Looser fit than latex

Female condom

Female condom

Made of polyurethane or nitrile

Advantages

  • Outer ring covers a larger surface area, protects more of a woman's mucous membrane
  • Good for those with latex sensitivity
  • A man does not have to pull out as soon as he ejaculates, as he would with male condoms.
  • Wearer can be in control
  • Can insert condom up to eight hours before sex

Disadvantages

  • Some say the outer ring irritates the clitoris and vulva
  • Expensive
  • Difficult to find
  • Cannot be used at the same time as a male condom
  • Slippage is common
  • May be uncomfortable for the receiver of anal sex

Male condom options include not just the type of material, but size as well. When it comes to condoms, size does matter. Learn more about condom sizing.

Lubricant

A good lubricant (lube) is one of the most important tools in your sexual toolkit. Lube reduces friction which can cause tiny tears in the skin, which make it more likely for the person to get an infection if his/her partner has one. Lube can also make sex feel better, whether having intercourse, masturbating, having oral sex, or using sex toys.

In addition, condoms work better and are less likely to tear when you use lube. Lube can also make oral sex with a barrier more enjoyable for the female receiving it.

Women self-lubricate their vaginas when they are turned on, but many factors may reduce lubrication: alcohol or other drugs (including hormonal birth control, stimulants, antihistamines, antidepressants, chemotherapy), monthly hormonal changes, peri-menopause, menopause, breastfeeding, a history of sexual assault, and other psychological and physical factors. Women may want extra lubrication on the vulva and clitoris during sex, as lubrication from the vagina often does not reach these external areas.

The anus does not self-lubricate, and you always need to use a lubricant to prevent the very fragile skin of the anus from tearing during anal play or intercourse. Most people like an anal lubricant thicker than those used for vaginal sex.

NOTE: Avoid any lubricant with lidocaine or benzocaine, which dull the body's natural defense (pain), which lets you know when something is wrong, including tearing of the skin.

Below are types of lubricants you might choose, with advantages and disadvantages of each:

Saliva

Advantages:

  • Free
  • Accessible

Disadvantages

  • Not as slippery as others
  • May spread infection if the saliva of an infected person is used as the lubricant
  • Dries up more quickly than others

Oil/petroleum-based lubricants

Includes such lubricants as Vaseline and baby oil)

Advantages

  • Great for external male masturbation
  • Inexpensive and accessible

Disadvantages

  • NOT for vaginal use
  • NOT for use with latex condoms or toys
  • Stains fabric

Natural/plant-based oils

Includes coconut, grapeseed, apricot, jojoba, olive oils; Crisco

Advantages

  • Great for massage
  • All-natural
  • Safe to eat
  • Moisturizing--good for dry skin
  • Inexpensive and accessible
  • Safe for vaginal and anal use
  • Absorbed into the skin

Disadvantages

  • NOT for use with latex condoms or toys
  • Stains fabric
  • Can go rancid

Water-based lubricants

Advantages

  • Doesn't stain fabric
  • Latex-friendly
  • Some come flavored for oral sex
  • Safe for vaginal and anal use

Disadvantages

  • Some ingredients may be irritating for sensitive skin (glycol,parabens, glycerin, flavorings, nonoxodyl-9).
  • Dries out quickly (Use saliva or water to reconstitute.)

Silicone lubes

Advantages

  • Latex-friendly
  • Stays slick in water (i.e. hot tubs)
  • Stays slippery longer than others
  • Safe for vaginal and anal use

Disadvantages

  • Expensive
  • Stains sheets
  • NOT to be used with silicone or cyber skin toys
  • Must be washed off with soap and water
  • May make surfaces such as floors and showers slippery

Barriers for oral sex

Barriers used during oral sex can help prevent transmission of STIs. Options include:


Dental dams (latex)

Advantages

  • Thicker than plastic wrap, less likely to tear

Disadvantages

  • Cannot be used with oil or oil-based lubes
  • Latex will degrade in high heat (wallet, glove compartment)
  • May be difficult to find
  • Limited range of sizes

Plastic Wrap

Plastic wrap (a.k.a. cling wrap), non-latex(i.e. Saran Wrap. Use a non-microwavable type.

Advantages

  • Easily accessible
  • Inexpensive
  • Can have exactly the size you want and need
  • Good for those with latex sensitivity or allergy

Disadvantages

  • Thinner than dental dams so may tear more easily


Sex toys

Sharing sex toys (like vibrators, for example) can be risky if they have vaginal fluids, blood, or feces on them. Sharing sex toys without cleaning them or using a condom can potentially expose a person to STIs.

The safest practice is not to share sex toys. If sex toys are shared, a condom should be used. With toys that can be inserted into the vagina or anus, a person may put a condom onto the toy. For shared toys in which the penis is inserted, a condom may be worn. It is important to change the condom before another person uses the toy so that any body fluids or infectious organisms on the sex toy are not passed on to the partner.  It is also important to change the condom when moving from the anus to the vagina to prevent possible infection. 

When cleaning sex toys, look to see what the manufacturer's instructions recommend. Some may be best cleaned with soap and water, while certain types of may be made from materials, such as silicone, that are dishwasher safe.