In part 1 we covered the most popular barriers - external condoms. But there are several other options to protect yourself against STIs and unwanted pregnancy. In this post, we'll discuss the other main types of barriers and what they can be used for.
What are they? Like external condoms, internal condoms are thin, stretchy pouches - but instead of covering a penis or similarly shaped toy, they are designed to be inserted into the vagina or anus before sex. They are often called ‘female’ condoms but we prefer the more gender-inclusive term ‘internal condom’ as not everyone who uses them identifies as female.
Why use them? Like external condoms, internal condoms protect against pregnancy and STIs during intercourse. Internal condoms are wider than external ones, and can cover a slightly larger area around the vulva or anus, which may provide a little extra protection against STIs transmitted via skin-to-skin contact. Internal condoms can be inserted before you have sex, meaning you don’t have to interrupt the action to keep everyone safe. Some vulva owners also say that they like the feeling of empowerment from using internal condoms as they are not relying on anyone else to take action to protect their sexual health.
How to use: Planned parenthood has a great step-by-step picture guide to inserting, using and removing internal condoms. Here’s some extra tips to make things go as smoothly and safely as possible:
Hold on to the opening of the condom when you use it to ensure that the penis or toy you are inserting is actually going into the condom and not slipping between the condom and the side of the vagina or anus.
Never wear more than one condom at a time - as with external condoms, don’t double up or use both an external and internal condom at the same time, as you’re more likely to experience breakage.
As with external condoms, always check the expiration date, use additional body-safe lube and check the condom position occasionally during sex.
Proper storage is important - keep them safe from extreme heat, and from anything that might crush or tear them.
Material: As of the time of writing, there is only one brand of internal condom that is approved by the FDA - the FC2. It is made of nitrile, which is safe for those with latex allergies. They only come in one size but this is less of an issue than with external condoms, as external condoms need to fit snugly to work well, but internal condoms are designed to be quite roomy.
Other considerations: Ridiculously, the FC2 condom is only available with a prescription. The upside is that under the Affordable Care Act, many people’s insurance will completely cover the cost of the FC2 condom.
What are they? Dental dams are thin sheets of latex or similar material that were originally designed for use by dentists during dental procedures. They can be used as a barrier during oral sex.
Why use them? Dental dams reduce the risk of STI transmission when performing oral sex on someone’s vulva or anus. They cover a fairly large area and so are very effective at reducing the risk of skin-to-skin STI transmission. They can also be used during your period for mess-free oral sex.
How to use: Simply hold the dental dam in place over the vulva or anal area and go to town. Easy! If holding it in place is a pain, consider using a dental dam harness so you can go hands-free.
Dental dams can be hard to find in stores, so in a pinch, you can make an equally effective dental dam out of an external condom.
Materials: Dental dams are typically made of latex or polyurethane. Sheer Gylde’s dams are the only ones FDA approved for STI prevention, but any latex or polyurethane dam should be just as effective. Latex dental dams should never be used with oil-based lubricants as oil degrades latex and will make the dam much less effective.
What are they? Barrier underwear are pretty new on the scene - these are underwear that are designed for STI prevention during oral sex. They are an alternative to dental dams and completely cover the genital and anal area. Currently the only company making FDA approved barrier underwear is Lorals.
Why use them? For the same reason you’d use a dental dam - to prevent STI transmission during oral sex on the vulva or anus. Since barrier underwear cover the entire genital and anal area, they are a very effective barrier to STI transmission. They can also be used during your period for mess-free oral sex.
How to use: It’s as easy as it sounds - put them on like a normal pair of underwear before oral sex. Lorals are designed to be single use only, so be sure to throw them away once you’re done and use a fresh pair every time.
Materials: currently Lorals are only available in latex. Note that Lorals have two separate product lines - ‘Lorals for protection’, which are FDA approved for STI prevention, and ‘Lorals for Pleasure’ which are not FDA approved, so make sure you pick the one that suits your needs. SInce Lorals are made of latex, they are not safe to use with oil based lubricants.
One other note - Lorals are considerably thinner than typical latex clothing, which is why they’re so good for oral sex. Most latex clothing is simply too thick to provide much sensation during oral sex.
What are they? Medical gloves are thin, flexible gloves made out of latex or nitrile that are used by health professionals to prevent the spread of germs.
Why use them? Gloves can be used as a barrier to STI transmission during ‘hand stuff’, such as mutual masturbation. They can be useful in a group play situation where a person might be touching multiple partners (just be sure to change the gloves between partners!). Gloves are also recommended if a person has a wound, eczema or other skin condition, or a new tattoo on their hand. Similarly, they are a good idea if you’re fisting someone as this can cause small tears and bleeding in the vagina or rectum. You can also wear gloves to limit your contact with period blood during vaginal play or fecal matter during anal play.
How to use: Again, this one’s easy - put the gloves on and play! The only tricky part is making sure you take off the gloves safely, ensuring you don’t get contaminants from the outside of the gloves on your hands. The CDC has a visual guide on how to do this. It’s a good idea to wash your hands after removing gloves to further ensure they stay clean.
Materials: Medical gloves are typically made of nitrile, latex or vinyl. We don’t recommend vinyl as it may contain chloride and is not safe to use on our delicate mucous membranes (see our body-safe sex toy guide LINK for more information). Latex gloves tend to be more flexible and easy to move in than nitrile gloves, but are not suitable for those with allergies. And while nitrile gloves are safe to combine with oil based lubes, latex is not.
Neither latex nor nitrile gloves are officially FDA approved for STI prevention, but they are routinely used by medical professionals for disease prevention, and hence are likely to be effective for this during sexual activity.
In this two-part guide, we’ve taken you through some of the different barriers available to you to make sex safer. We’ve talked about why you might want to use them, how to use them, and the pros and cons of the different material options available. At Aphrodisia, we sell a curated selection of body-safe barrier options such as external condoms, dental dams and barrier underwear, and we are happy to help you find the products that meet your sex needs. Visit our online or brick and mortar store today to see our selection.