Using Barrier Methods for Safer Sex

Barrier methods help to block skin-to-skin contact or the transmission of bodily fluids. There are several types of barrier methods available.

Dental/Oral Dams

Dental or oral dams are used during oral sex (including oral-vaginal and oral-anal sex) to reduce the risk for STI transmission. Several STIs, such a chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HPV, and herpes, can be spread through oral sex. Here are some quick facts about dental dams:

  • They can be made of latex or polyurethane (a type of plastic)
  • They could be flavored
  • You can use water-based lubricant with them, including flavored lubricant

To use, place the dental dam on the part of the body where you or your partner will be performing oral sex (either on the vulva or anus). The dental dam may need to be held in place. Use a new dental dam each time you engage in oral sex. A dental dam should not be used during oral-penis sex; an external condom should be used instead.

Learn more about dental dams and how to use them.

External Condoms

External condoms (also known as “condoms” or “male condoms”) are worn on the penis or placed on a sex toy during sexual activity. When used consistently and correctly, they’re very effective at reducing the risk for STIs and pregnancy. Condoms can be made of latex, polyurethane (a type of plastic), polyisoprene (a non-latex alternative), or animal skin. (Note: animal skin condoms should not be used for STI prevention, as they are not very effective at reducing the risk for STIs.)

Some facts:

  • Condoms have been around for thousands of years. The rubber condom was invented in approximately 1855. Latex condoms, which are commonly used today, was developed in the 1920s.
  • Latex condoms should be used with water-based lubricants—never oil based, which can damage the latex.
  • Condoms come in a variety of sizes and styles, including ribbed and studded.
  • Condoms are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in reducing the risk for STIs and pregnancy. Make sure you check for the “prevention statement” on a condom before using it to make sure it’s FDA-approved.
  • Only use one condom at a time—doubling up does not provide double protection. The friction caused by the two condoms could cause them to break.
  • Try putting a drop or two of lubricant inside the condom before putting it on the penis to help increase sensation and pleasure.
  • Use a new condom for each instance of sexual activity and never re-use condoms.
  • Don’t assume your partner will have a partner—take control of your sexual health and bring one of your own! You might be able to find free or cheap condoms on campus or in health clinics.

external-condomSteps for using an external condom:

  • Get consent prior to any sexual activity.
  • Check the expiration date. If a condom is expired, it could be deteriorating. The condom would no longer be effective at preventing pregnancy and STIs.
  • Check for the prevention statement.
  • Feel the bubble. Pinch the  wrapper to check for an air bubble. If an air bubble is not present, the wrapper has been punctured and you need a different condom.
  • Carefully open the condoms. Slide the condom to one side within the packaging. Tear down the opposite side of the condom wrapper to ensure the actual condom doesn’t rip. Never use teeth to open and be careful with finger nails.
  • Make sure the condom is right-side out. It should roll down on the outside. If it’s not in the correct position and you put it on the penis, don’t flip it around—there could be pre-ejaculate (pre-cum) on the condom; throw it away and get a new one.
  • Pinch the tip of the condom. Pinch the tip of the condom to leave room for ejaculation. This will help prevent the condom from breaking during sexual activity.
  • Roll the condom down the penis or sex toy. While pinching the tip, roll the condom down the shaft of the penis or toy. The condom should cover the entire shaft, again, leaving room for ejaculate at the tip.
  • Engage in sexual activity. Use a new condom for each type of sexual activity (i.e.: don’t go back and forth between the vagina, anus, or mouth).
  • After ejaculation, hold the base of the condom and pull away from your partner. Pinch the tip and slide the condom off while still holding the base. Throw away! Do not flush.

Learn more about external condoms and how to use them.

Internal condoms

Internal condoms (also known as “female condoms”) can be used during vaginal and anal sex. They are made of nitrile, which is a latex-alternative. They are placed inside the vagina or anus during sexual activity. When used consistently and correctly, they offer similar risk-reduction for STIs and pregnancy compared to external condoms.

A few facts:

  • Internal condoms come with lubrication, but you can add more for even more sensation and pleasure.
  • They can be inserted up to six hours before sexual activity, meaning they’re less likely to interrupt the heat of the moment.
  • Internal condoms should not be used with external condoms—using both could create friction causing the condoms to break.

Internal-CondomTo use an internal condom:

  • Get consent prior to any sexual activity.
  • Check the expiration date and carefully open the wrapper.
  • If you’re putting the condom in your anus, remove the inner ring. If you’re putting the condom in your vagina, leave the inner ring in.
  • Relax and get into a comfortable position. You might try putting your leg up on a chair or toilet seat.
  • If you’re putting the condom in your vagina, squeeze the inner ring and push into your vagina (kind of like inserting a tampon). Push it up into your vagina as far as you can.
  • If you’re putting the condom in your anus, push it in with your finger.
  • Make sure the condom isn’t twisted after insertion.
  • Engage in sexual activity, making sure that the penis, sex toy, or other object being inserted goes inside the condom and not outside the condom.
  • After you’re done, carefully twist the condom, making sure anything that’s inside the condom (like ejaculate) stays inside.
  • Gently pull the condom out of the body and throw in a trash can. Never flush a condom down the toilet!
  • Use a new condom for each instance of sexual activity.

Learn more about internal condoms and how to use them.

Gloves/Finger Cots

Gloves and finger cots (which are like tiny condoms for fingers) can be worn on the hands during sexual activity (like hand jobs and fingering). If someone has a cut or sore on their hands, these products can help to reduce the risk for STI transmission. They can also be used if someone has an outbreak or sore on their genitals. Simply put a glove or finger cot on prior to sexual activity. Use a new glove or cot each time.

Gloves can also be made into a “cape” or a condom for people with a small penis, some intersex people, and some transmen. You can cut a glove to create a condom alternative. To make:

  • Cut the glove up the pinky side.
  • Cut off the fingers part, leaving the thumb hole in place.
  • Open the glove and put the thumb over the penis or phallus.