Barrier Methods

If you had any sort of sexual education growing up, you were probably taught about using condoms for birth control. Condoms are a fairly inexpensive and effective way to help prevent unwanted pregnancy and the spread of STDs. When used effectively (aka perfectly every time you have sex), condoms can be up to 98% successful at preventing pregnancy. Condoms are known as a barrier method of birth control, meaning they act as a barrier between sperm getting inside the vagina; it should all stay in the condom. Some barrier methods, like condoms, can act as birth control, but a number of other barrier methods are also a great way to prevent STDs.

Condoms themselves are a great and inexpensive barrier method of birth control, offering different sizes and thicknesses to provide different sensations. Condoms are typically made of latex, and some people can’t use them due to allergies. There are non-latex condoms available, but there are also other barrier methods to rely on when it comes to preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

1. Internal or vaginal condom

Internal condoms work by being inserted into the vagina or anus to protect you from unwanted pregnancy and STDs. Vaginal condoms are bigger than penile condoms and are up to 79% effective at preventing pregnancy. Internal condoms look a little strange, but trust that they’ll work just fine. Essentially, they look like a clear tube with a ring on the end.

These condoms are bigger than traditional condoms, but if inserted correctly, they won’t cause any discomfort. If you’re wearing one in your vagina, squeeze the ring and insert it so the open end of the tube is near your vaginal opening. If inserting into the anus, remove the ring on the end so it’s easier to insert. Just make sure to hold the condom open when something is being inserted to make sure you’re protected the whole time. Planned Parenthood has a great step-by-step guide for how to properly insert one.

Internal condoms aren’t always available at drug stores like penile condoms, so they can be a little harder to find. They are available at health clinics and some university health centers give them away for free. You can also find them online. The only brand approved by the FDA is called FC2, so make sure this is the brand you purchase if you get any. These condoms are also made out of synthetic rubber, making them a great option if you or your partner has a latex allergy. Additionally, these condoms can put wearers in a great position of control over their safe sex practices if their partner doesn’t want to wear a condom. Additionally, since they fit differently than traditional condoms and go inside of the body, they could provide fun new sensations for you and your partner. Yay!

2. Dental dam barrier methods

I know for a fact that I was never taught about dental dams in sex ed. I learned what this was from the feminist group I was involved with in college. Thanks, college feminists! Dental dams act as a barrier method for safe oral sex.

Dental dams are a thin, square sheet of latex that is placed over the vulva or the anus before oral sex to prevent the spread of STDs. Fun fact, types of dental dams are even used by orthodontists or dentists during oral care. MIND BLOWN!

Dental dams create a barrier so STDs cannot spread. These are not used for the prevention of pregnancy—they should only be used for oral sex. Dental dams can be bought at a drug store or you can even make them from a rubber glove or condom. To make them from a condom, cut off the tip of the condom and cut open one of the sides, forming a rectangle, and voila! A dental dam, baby! If you or your partner is allergic to latex, make one by cutting up a rubber glove.

Dental dams can provide easy STD protection during oral sex for anyone that uses them.

3. Finger cot

Finger cots are basically little gloves for your individual fingers. You may have seen a doctor use a finger cot before, or even put one over a medical instrument, and they can also be used for safe manual sex! Finger cots are made of rubber and typically used for inserting fingers into the vagina or anus, providing protection against STDs. Finger cots can be bought at a drug store or made by cutting up a rubber or latex glove, and are great if anyone involved is allergic to latex. In addition to preventing STDs from spreading, they are also a great option for anyone extra concerned about cleanliness when fingers are inserted into the body.

4. Gloves as barrier methods

Gloves work similarly to finger cots but provide more protection because they cover a larger surface area. Gloves can be used as a barrier method for manual stimulation, using the fingers or fist, in the mouth, vagina, or anus. Gloves protect all people involved from getting any germs from under the fingernails inside the body, and from spreading STDs from sexual fluids. Again, since they are typically rubber, these are great for anyone with latex allergies.

All of these barrier methods are fairly inexpensive and easy to access. If you are in a monogamous relationship where you and your partner have both been tested for STDs, you don’t need to use these barrier methods unless you are also wanting to prevent pregnancy, then in that case use condoms, penile or internal. If you have multiple sexual partners or you and your partner haven’t been tested, these barrier methods act as a great way to prevent the spread of STDs. 

Asking your partner about their STD status

Additionally, asking your partner about their STD status before having sex is a great way to create open communication and care in your relationship, whether that is a one-time experience with someone or a long-term relationship. Make normalizing talking about STD status and getting regularly tested part of your safe sex practice in addition to these great barrier methods.

Some people complain about a slight loss of sensation when using barrier methods,  but being worried about unwanted pregnancy or contracting an STD during sex will kill the mood even more. Stay protected and have safe and consensual sex!

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