How to keep yourself safe during sex
Editor's note: This is a sex education column that contains explicit and graphic content.
Note from the reporter: I write about sexuality because I believe that people have a right to accurate information and that good sexuality education works to create a more equal and just world by emphasizing bodily autonomy, consent, and diversity in sexuality. Sex education should include information people can actually use and apply into their sexual lives (while the science behind how a pregnancy is created is fascinating, it is not ultimately as useful for people than, say, a discussion of contraceptives or condom usage is). Finally, good sexuality education is also feminist and queer education and strives to provide justice for people who have been abused because of their sex or gender and provides information condemning sexual abuse, assault, and rape.
Condoms are awesome, liberating, and sexy.
The oldest condom we could find was from the 17th century in Sweden. It's made out of pig intestines and had instructions to dip it into milk to prevent illness. Today we still have condoms made out of lambskin, but they’re not super popular. They only prevent against pregnancy, not STIs, so we won't be focusing on those today. Needless to say, we don't recommend dipping any condoms in milk anymore.
Condoms are the only way to prevent STIs and pregnancy during sex. Plenty of people use them alongside other forms of birth control. The pill, the IUD, the implant, the shot—are all forms of contraception work with condoms.
External condoms—otherwise known as “male condoms”—wrap around the penis. That way during ejaculation, sperm has nowhere to go except for the reservoir of the condom. These condoms are often made of latex, but there are also non-latex ones as well. These are usually made of polyutherane, a synthetic rubber.
There are countless brands making countless kinds of external condoms nowadays. They come in all sizes, and condoms today are thinner than ever before. (And yes, thinner condoms are as effective as thicker ones.) There are even fun ones, like ones that have flavors or ones that glow in the dark. Some come in special shapes, like ridges. If you don’t like one brand of condom, then you have loads of other options to choose from and try out.
For full STI prevention, condoms are for vaginal intercourse, anal sex, and fellatio. You can get STIs during these forms of sex, so it’s important to stay safe. They should be on before there's any contact made with the mouth, vulva, or anus.
Putting on a condom is simple. Most of the time, when condoms break, it’s due to human error, so let's go ahead and nip this in the bud.
To put on an external condom, take it out of the packaging with your fingers. Do not bite the package to tear it open, or use scissors. Once it’s out, make sure it looks like a sombrero, not a beanie. That is, make sure the rim is on the outside, not on the inside, of the condom. Feel free to dab some lube on the inside of the condom, even if it’s already lubricated. This helps the person with the condom on have more sensation during sex. It also reduces friction and prevents the condom from tearing! (Pre-lubricated condoms often don’t have enough lube to make much difference.)
Pinch the tip, or reservoir, of the condom, and roll the condom down the penis, making sure there are no air bubbles. Put some more lube on the outside to increase its effectiveness. When you’re done using it, pull out holding the base, roll the condom off, taking care to keep the sperm inside. Tie it up, and throw it away--do not flush! If at any point you make a mistake, take off the condom, throw it out, and try again with a different one. Condoms are super cheap, (STI’s and pregnancy? Not so much) so it’s okay to throw it out and grab a new one.
Use a new condom for every different sex act. In other words, do not use the same condom for oral sex that you do for vaginal sex. And always, ALWAYS, switch condoms between anal and vaginal or oral sex. Not doing so will give you the absolute worst infections. (And if you choose to go condom-less, please still don’t switch between anal and vaginal. I hardly ever make absolutes, but I can’t emphasize this one enough.)
Be sure to keep your latex condoms away from heat and direct sunlight. Store them at room temperature, and check the expiration date before tearing it out. (This means that condom you’ve had in your wallet or car isn’t effective. Throw out those condoms you bought in middle school but never used.) Never, never, never double up condoms. The extra friction will actually increase the chance of both of them tearing.
So yeah, even if we were to stop our conversation here, condoms are wonderful. But there’s still another option for people.
Internal condoms—also known as “female condoms”—go inside the vagina. They cover the cervix so sperm can’t reach it. They are less common than external condoms, and there’s only one brand available, and they’re not made of latex. They are a little less effective than external condoms.
But a lot of people like them way better than external ones. For starters, the penis haver doesn’t have to maintain an erection to use them. And since they don’t wrap around the penis, a lot of people say it gives them more sensation during intercourse. Also, for some people the rim rubs against their clitoris, adding extra sensation. And you can put on an internal condom a few hours before sexual intercourse. This means you don’t have to stop whatever you’re doing during sex to put one on. It’s ready for you since you planned it out ahead of time.
An internal condom is much bigger than an external condom, and has two rings. One is on the inside, and one goes along the entrance, shaping the outer rim. To insert, apply lube on the outside of the condom. Pinch the inner ring and put it inside the vagina. Try to push it in as deep as you can, either with your fingers, your partner’s fingers, or even the penis can help push it in. The outer ring should stick out. Lube up the penis before it goes inside. Once you’re done, take it out, making sure no sperm inside gets on the vulva or vagina. Tie it up, and throw it away, the same way you would with an external condom.
Much of the same rules from the external condom apply for the internal condom. Check the expiration date. Don’t double up (don’t use a male condom and female condom together, since that also increases breakage). If you want to have anal sex with the internal condom, apply more lube on the outside that you think you need. Take out the inner ring, and insert. This means that if you want to switch between anal and vaginal, you can insert one condom in each. Now you have a way to switch without as great a risk of infection.
If your condom breaks and you are at risk of becoming pregnant, go grab some emergency contraception from Walmart. If you only use condoms for contraception, grab some EC and keep it somewhere safe ahead of time. It’s most effective the sooner you take it after intercourse. And while you’re at it, go ahead and make an appointment to get tested for STIs at Health Services. They hear about this all the time, so it’s pretty much going to be just another routine procedure for them.
Okay, so now you’ve got the deal on condoms. Now you have to actually use them.
Using condoms, in a lot of ways, is about respect—respect not only for your partner, but for yourself as well. Think about it. You’re taking care of your health, and helping your partner to feel safe during sex. It’s difficult to get aroused if you're worried about pregnancy or infection. It’s the same way we’ve regulated the food industry by ensuring that the people who make food wear gloves. Would you want to eat that Philly cheesesteak from CINO if you learned that the chef wasn’t wearing gloves? Sure, they might not look sick to you, but why risk it? And don’t think that because someone doesn’t look like they have an STI means they don’t have one. Most STIs are asymptomatic, meaning there’s no way for someone to know they have one without a test. There’s no bumps, bruises, pus, or extra fluid that shows up and is a giveaway. So if someone wants you to wear a condom, there’s no need to get defensive. Wear a condom; you might be protecting yourself anyway.
What if someone refuses to wear a condom? Well, you get to walk away from having sex with them. They can throw all the excuses out there in the world. But in the end, if they won’t wear a condom, then they aren’t respecting themselves or you. So you don’t have to sleep with them, full stop.
Do you think condoms don't feel very good? Think about it like this: if you believe that a condom won’t feel very good, you’re already setting yourself up to fail. If you start a class thinking it’ll be awful, bake a cake and think it’ll turn out bad--well, you’re coming in with a bad attitude. You’re setting yourself up for a bad semester, a bad cake. So come to class excited about what you can learn. Know that you'll have fun baking a cake. Set yourself up to have a good time. The same attitude goes for condom use. You have to change your attitude. Condoms actually enhance intimacy because they allow you to have sex safer. Putting on a condom means you care. A lot of people also think that penises wrapped up in a condom is sexy, since that means sexy times are about to begin. And a lot of couples make putting on a condom a sexy act, a part of sex itself.
By the way, if anyone claims that their penis is “too big” to fit inside a condom, it’s true that the might need a different size. But, for research, the condoms they give away here on campus go all the way up to the elbow without breaking. So if they can fit the arm, they can fit over a penis. That’s not a solid argument to make against using them.
You might have already decided you want to use condoms the first time you have sex. Or, you want to try to introduce them into a current relationship. Talk about it with your partner. Try a bunch of different ones together. See what you like and which ones work the best for the both of you.
Of course, all this to say that most people don’t use condoms for the rest of their lives. If you want, here’s a quick step process. Get tested with your partner. If the results come up STI free, then keep using condoms and other barriers for six more months. (It can take that long for STIs to show up.) Then get tested again. Remain monogamous, meaning neither of you should have sex with anyone but each other. If you are in a relationship where someone could become pregnant, find a form of birth control. Then you can stop using condoms. If someone is not monogamous, this process won’t work.
So, until you feel like you can get there, use condoms. They're seriously so much fun, so sexy, and so helpful! Grab some from Student Health Services, or at any pharmacy. And if you ever have any left over--well, they make great balloons!