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!

Condoms are one of the most popular forms of birth control. They are relatively inexpensive, easy to find (they’re available in nearly every grocery store and drug store), non-invasive, can be used as needed, and are effective at preventing pregnancy and preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections. What’s not to love?! A lot of college campuses and health centers will even give them out for free. However, I have noticed in the last year or so, more and more stores are selling locked-up condoms behind glass or putting them inside of a clear plastic box that needs to be unlocked.

Have you noticed locked-up condoms?

Typically, items that are expensive or often stolen are locked away like this. I’ve seen some stores that will lock razors or even expensive skincare at a drug store behind glass that needs a key to open. I’ve noticed at my local grocery store, ALL of the condoms are inside individual plastic boxes that a clerk needs to unlock to release, similar to how some alcohol has a lock on the top that you need help opening. Although I understand that stores don’t want condoms to be stolen, I think this is a harmful solution. 

How locked-up condoms stigmatize sex

People can feel awkward buying condoms at the store, especially young people who are coming into their sexuality and have just begun having partnered sex. If the store you’re buying condoms at doesn’t have a self check out, the idea of looking a stranger in the eyes as they ring up your condoms can be intimidating for some people. Having safe sex is a normal part of life, and buying condoms to do so shouldn’t be intimidating. 

We live in a sex-negative culture where we typically don’t comfortably talk about these topics. Now imagine going to the store to buy condoms only to find they are locked up behind a glass case or need to be specifically unlocked at check out by a clerk. I worry that this extra step of intentionally asking a stranger to unlock the birth control at the store will deter people from buying condoms as frequently, resulting in more instances of unprotected sex. We don’t want that! We don’t want more exposure to STIs! We don’t want young people exploring their sexuality to put themselves at risk of an unwanted pregnancy. We don’t want anyone of any age to be at risk for that either. 

Other options for purchasing condoms?

I understand that perhaps stores don’t want these items to be stolen, but in the grand scheme of things, someone stealing a $5 pack of condoms is worth it to me. This is also coming from someone who believes birth control should be free everywhere for anyone. 

Condoms can be bought discreetly online, but it’s fast and easy to purchase them at a drug store as well. Not all stores have started locking up their contraceptives, but I’ve noticed enough that it worries me. My grocery store for example locks up all of their condoms but doesn’t lock up their razors or razor blades. In terms of items being stolen, I believe stolen razor blades are more hazardous than stolen condoms! And also way more expensive. 

I’m not sure what the solution is, but my hope is that this extra step of unlocking affordable birth control doesn’t deter people from purchasing condoms. If you need a little boost in confidence, I did write about how to confidently buy condoms. You’re welcome.  

Content warning: This article discusses stealthing, a form of sexual assault in which a condom is removed during a sex act without consent. 

Stealthing is the nonconsensual removal of a condom during a sex act. This is sexual assault. Despite being sexual assault, this topic is rarely discussed, even though it happens too often. Thirty-two percent of women who sleep with men, and 19% of men that have sex with men have reported this happening to them. California just became the first state to outlaw this specific act, which I think is great progress in the right direction. 

Is stealthing assault?

Many people don’t discuss stealthing because I think many people don’t realize it is assault. If you consent to having sex with someone under the condition that they use a condom, then in the middle of sex, they remove the condom without you knowing, you are not continuing to consent to what’s happening. That is assault. This is a problem because it is sex without consent, even though it began consensually, but it can also put someone at risk for an STI or an unwanted pregnancy when the sex they agreed to with a condom would not expose that risk at all. Consent is essential for all sex acts. It’s essential in many of our interpersonal interactions in fact. Consent says that everyone involved in whatever is happening says “yes” to all that is happening. If someone removes a condom without the other person’s knowledge, it is impossible for them to consent to that.

How are stealthing cases handled?

California just outlawed stealthing earlier this year, and I hope this brings much-needed attention and discussion to this topic. Many sexual assault cases do not end in favor of the survivor, and the way investigating sexual assault cases in this country is handled is not great. This is a step in the right direction though, allowing survivors of stealthing in California to sue the perpetrators. 

I first heard about stealthing several years ago through an article I saw online, but I had never heard of it discussed amongst people I knew or in any discussions of consent. It was also a topic of discussion on the most recent season of “I May Destroy You,” where the main character is raped after being drugged, then several weeks later is assaulted again when her partner removes the condom during sex when she turns around to switch positions. She asks him about it afterward and he says he “assumed” she could feel that he took it off, blaming her for being upset. 

How can I talk about consent?

Hopefully, other states will follow in California’s footsteps and outlaw stealthing as well, furthering this conversation of assault and consent. Sexual consent is ongoing throughout a sex act. If someone agrees to sex with a condom, then that condom needs to stay on the whole time, unless there is consent for it to be removed. This act being outlawed can also act as an opportunity for people to further discuss consent. As I mentioned, consent is ongoing, and it can be changed at any time. It is a discussion. Sex without consent is an assault. Hopefully, this being outlawed can help acts of stealthing to decline, and other states will follow California’s example.