‘Barrier methods’ is the technical term used for products that are aimed at preventing the exchange of bodily fluids (e.g., semen, vaginal secretions, blood etc) between people. Examples of barrier methods for women include male condoms, female condoms, dental dams and finger cots/latex gloves. These barrier methods have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, when used correctly and consistently. Some women feel that using a barrier method ‘ruins the mood’. Many feel that barrier methods decrease pleasure, serve as a barrier for ‘true’ intimacy, convey distrust between partners, and can become a major burden in the bedroom. While this may be true to some extent, the bottom line is that there is no other way to protect yourself and your partner from STIs during sex. So, it is a trade-off but certainly the benefits of using a barrier method greatly outweigh the disadvantages. In order to make barrier methods more appealing, barrier methods are now available in a variety of shapes, colours, flavours, textures and sizes. The use of barrier methods can also be made more fun and sexy by incorporating their use into foreplay. By using barrier methods you are conveying the message that you care enough to protect yourself and your partner.
THE FEMALE CONDOM
- The female condom (or femidom) is a great alternative to the male condom, whether sharing a sex toy with another woman or having sex with a man.
- Follow the directions on the package for correct placement. Be sure the inner ring goes as far into the vagina as it can. The outer ring stays outside the vagina.
- Guide the vibrator / dildo / penis into the femidom.
- After sex, remove the femidom before standing up by gently pulling it out.
- For oral sex or rimming, the femidom is also a great alternative to the dental dam. Simply cut along the side and fold open. Place over the vagina or anus before stimulating with the tongue or lips.
- Use water-based lube to assist with placement and for heightened pleasure.
- Remember: don’t re-use femidom’s or use in combination with the male condom.
THE MALE CONDOM
- A new male condom is recommended when having penetrative sex (whether sharing a sex toy with another woman or when having sex with a man).
- Ensure that the condoms are stored away from too much heat, cold or friction.
- Check the packaging and the expiry date before using the condom. Open the package carefully. Do not open the packaging with your teeth. Be careful that your fingernails or jewellery do not tear the condom. Ensure that you have enough water-based lube beforehand. If you don’t have water-based lube, you can substitute it with plain white low-fat yoghurt. Oil-based lubricants such as butter, baby oil, Vaseline, Dawn or Aqueous Cream should be avoided as these products can cause condom breakages – condoms will lose 70 percent effectiveness within 30 seconds!
- Gently squeeze the tip of the condom (to get rid of the trapped air) and place onto the tip of the penis or dildo.
- Roll the condom down. If the condom is on the right way, proceed to roll the condom down the shaft of the penis or dildo, all the way to the base.
- Put water-based lube on the outside of the condom and on your vagina. Begin penetration. Check the condom during sex, especially if it feels strange. Make sure it is still in place and unbroken. Add more lube when necessary.
- Only remove the condom after penetration is over. Dispose of it by wrapping it in paper and throwing it in the bin. Don’t try and flush it as it may cause plumbing problems.
- Remember to use a new condom every time you have penetrative sex. Never use the same condom more than once or use a condom that has been used by someone else.
- Do not “double bag” (use two condoms at once) as friction between the condoms increases the chance of breakage.
THE DENTAL DAM (or as we like to call it “the Silk-e”)
- A ‘Silk-e’ is a rectangular latex sheet that can be used for oral sex and rimming (annilingus). It can be used to protect against the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. They are available in a variety of flavours for enhanced pleasure.
- Placed over the genital area or anus, it allows for oral-genital/anal stimulation without any exchange of bodily fluids.
- ‘Silk-e’s’ are quite pricey and are not readily available.
- In the absence of a Silk-e, a great alternative is to use non-microwavable cling wrap (available at most shops) or a cut flavoured condom. The cut condom is achieved by cutting alongside the shaft of the condom. This is then opened and placed flat over the genitals or anus.
FINGER COTS AND LATEX GLOVES
- A finger cot is a latex device resembling a condom, but designed specifically to fit over the finger. This is ideal for finger fucking and offers protection against the transmission of most sexually transmitted infections, including Herpes and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
- These are not readily available. Non-powdered latex gloves are more commonly used, especially for fisting, and are more readily available.
COMMUNICATING ABOUT USING BARRIER METHODS
- You might find it difficult to bring up the subject of barrier methods with your sexual partner(s). You may feel embarrassed or shy or worry about rejection. Or if you are already in a sexual relationship, you may worry that by bringing it up, your partner will assume that you have been unfaithful or cannot be trusted.
- It is definitely easier to raise the issue of barrier method usage before you have sex for the first time. You can stress that this is your policy and that you always have sex with a barrier method to protect yourself and your partner(s). In most cases, if she is as concerned about her health as you are, she will have no problem with it.
- It may be difficult, but it is not impossible, to discuss barrier method use any time during a sexual relationship. Stress that it is not only a question of trust, but precisely that you care for her and that you want to ensure that she is protected. The discussion may be undertaken in a larger context, if you are ready and willing, of negotiated safety. Thus it will include a discussion about going for an HIV test, what the results will mean for the relationship, and also issues about sex outside of your primary relationship.
- In any case, do not wait until you are in bed or about to have sex to have the discussion about the use of barrier methods. It might be helpful to have the conversation at a low-key moment, such as over dinner or over the phone. Tell her that it is not because you do not trust her, but that you are just concerned about health in general – yours and hers.
It is important that you set ground rules for yourself with respect to barrier method use. Make it a practice to use barrier methods, whoever you are having sex with – especially when it is a casual sexual encounter.