Use Condoms (and Dams) with Confidence

Condoms are an integral part of safer sex for vaginal, anal or oral penetration. You can use male or female condoms depending on your preference and what you’re doing. Male condoms are the old tried and true for straight intercourse, although the materials and lubricants have changed since we were teens. Some STIs can be passed via-skin to skin contact, so if you’re having intercourse, you may prefer to use the female condom, as it provides more coverage. They’re great with partners who don’t like traditional condoms. The drawback is they’re expensive and pharmacies don’t always carry them, but sex shops worth their salt should. If sex includes sex toys, use a fresh condom for each partner. When it’s your turn for oral sex (or a female partner’s turn), use dental dams or cut up condoms as a barrier.  Whatever you choices, keep these important points in mind.


Material Matters

Check what your condoms are made from. Historically, condoms have been made from a whole bunch of materials: animal skins, leather, linen (ouch!) rubber. These days they’re made from lambskin, latex, polyurethane, and the latest, polyisoprene. Polyisoprene condoms are made from a new formulation of latex that has been altered so it can be used by those allergic to latex, and manufacturers claim sensation very closely mimics skin-to-skin contact. Only latex, polyurethane or polyisoprene block STIs. Lambskin condoms can only prevent pregnancy, so check the label. 

Female condoms are made from polyurethane or nitrile and protect against pregnancy and STIs.  They’re also prepared with a lubricant, to make insertion easier and sensation better.


Say Yes to Lube

Lubricant (lube) improves sensitivity and has the bonus of easing the effects of vaginal dryness that can occur during perimenopause and post-menopause. A tiny drop inside the condom can increase sensation for a man, although don’t use too much, or the condom could slip off. Slicking lube on the outside of the male condom will increase sensation for both you and your male partner. Because the female condom is pre-lubricated, experiment with how much, if any, you want to add. For oral sex, a little lube on the the skin side of the dental dam can increase sensation.  

Water or silicone-based lubes are readily available in pharmacies and sex shops. (You can use oil-based ones for polyurethane condoms, but not with latex or polyisoprene ones, as the oil can cause them to break). Silicone-based lube lasts longer, but can be difficult to wash off sheets (!), so trying sample sizes of lubes is one way to go as you figure out what you like.  Women-specific sex shops are a great place to learn more about lubes in a non-intimidating way- it’s their goal to make you comfortable!


… And No to Spermicide

Never use a condom (or product) treated with nonoxynol-9. Nonoxynol-9 is a spermicide that has been found to cause micro-abrasions or tiny breaks in the skin that can allow bacteria and viruses to enter the body. In studies testing it as a potential microbicide for HIV prevention, it was found to increase the likelihood of transmission


Expiry Date Matters

Check your date before you check out your date. Condoms can break down even if they haven’t been used, particularly if they’ve been stored close to the body, or in a bag where they may have been speared by a pen or key. If the package looks intact, open it and remove the condom carefully. Check the condom itself before you put it in or on. 


Application Matters

Male condoms need to be put on an erect penis before any penetration occurs (if he’s uncircumcised, there’s an extra step). Make sure you’re putting them on with the right side out- they should unroll easily. Immediately following ejaculation, your partner needs to withdraw while holding the tip of the condom so that no semen can spill out.

Female condoms are great, as they can be inserted hours before you anticipate using them. There are two flexible plastic rings at each end of the female condom- one is inserted up against your cervix, the other stays on the outside of your body. They’re pretty easy to put in  once you get the hang of it – remember your first tampon? After ejaculation, your partner doesn’t need to pull out right away, but once he does you should twist the condom’s outer ring so no semen can escape and remove it by pulling gently before you stand up.

If you’re having anal and vaginal sex, always use a new condom for vaginal sex to avoid bacterial infection. And if you’re using condoms with sex toys, a new condom for each partner will prevent potential infections.

Condoms should only be used once and then thrown away.


Does Size Matter?

Some male partners will tell you that condoms are uncomfortable because they aren’t big enough. Condoms can stretch to amazing lengths when they’re on something other than a penis (try blowing one up like a balloon some time). That said, different kinds of condoms can produce different sensations to both partners. There are many textures and shapes you can try. Product names like “Big Boy” can put a little fun into things, and using lube will ramp up the experience for both of you.


When to Cut it Up: Oral Sex

Male condoms can be used as is for oral sex on a man. For you or a female partner, you need a barrier to cover the whole vulva, and you can use a condom or a dental dam. If you use a condom, cut it up the side to make it into a flat sheet to cover the vulva. Latex gloves can be used for penetration, and if you’re using sex toys, keep in mind the fresh condom for each partner rule. A little flavoured lube can be fun too.

If you’re not familiar with condoms, or haven’t used them in some time, you’ll find there is a range of options and uses. They’re a great tool in your safer sex toolbox, protecting you against STIs, introducing a conversation piece, and a little fun into your sex life.


More Information: Sexual health science, culture and news for women edging to middle age, parents and educators. Info on sexually transmitted infections, relationship dynamics, aging and sexual health, and sex education.

archives by Date

archives by Category

Browse our news archive by category. Subscribe to our general RSS feed.