One of the number one reasons that people don’t use safe sex barriers is that they simply didn’t have them when they needed them. Sometimes folks assume the other person will have what they need, and some folks are hesitant to keep barriers and other things they might need on hand because of the stigma associated with sexual activity. There are also some gendered social messages on who should carry what (like men should carry condoms and women should carry birth control) that leave a lot of your sexual safety in the hands of someone else. Let me assure you, anyone who would judge you for taking full measures to care for your sexual health and wellbeing is not worth worrying about. Take ownership of your sexual safety by making yourself a safe-sex toolkit. It’s a fun, easy, and empowering way to make sure that you’re always prepared to get caught with your pants down.
What kinds of things are handy to include in your safe-sex toolkit? Let’s explore!
Note: Every single one of the following options can be an excellent and worthwhile consideration for folks of any gender or sexual orientation! Also, this list doesn’t include everything you might need, because all our sexual needs are different, but these are certainly some fantastic starting points to get you on your way.
Sometimes referred to as “male condoms” or just “condoms” – these are exactly what they sound like. Even if you and your partner don’t usually use condoms, consider adding them to your go-kit. Not only are condoms 85 to 98% effective for protecting against HIV, many STIs, and pregnancy, they’re also super handy for helping reduce mess! Condoms can also be put over toys to help keep them safer for sharing and easier to clean. Consider carrying a variety of condoms in case your partners have a latex allergy or need size options.
Safety tips: Don’t store condoms in a hot car or carry them in your wallet; both activities negatively impact the integrity of the condom and make them more fragile/prone to breaking. Condoms have a shelf life of 2-4 years, so make sure you’re checking your expiration dates. Always throw condoms in the trash, never flush them down a toilet.
Good lube makes sexy time feel even better. Whether you’re engaging in solo sex or partnered, lube is a pleasurable part of safer sex. Lubricant helps reduce friction which helps keep condoms from breaking and reduces microtears in linings of your mucous membranes that can occur during vaginal and anal sex. Even if you have a favorite go-to lube, consider getting some small sample sizes so that you and your play partner(s) have a variety of options available to you. Water based lube is easier to wash off but doesn’t always feel great for butt stuff. Silicone lube is excellent for butt stuff but can leave you feeling slippery for a while afterwards. Flavored lube is excellent for oral play and other kinds of foreplay but can sometimes be irritating during penetrative sex. Creamy lubes and products like coconut oil can feel silky and wonderful for masturbation and hand jobs but aren’t latex condom safe. Your local HIV/STI testing providers, Planned Parenthood, and/or your health department often have small sample size lubricant but they don’t always have much variety. A sex shop will have many more options but they won’t be free.
These condoms were formerly referred to as “female condoms”. Instead of being worn by the insertive partner, like external condoms, these are worn by the receptive partner. Unlike external condoms, which must be put onto a toy or erect penis right before sex, internal condoms can be worn for up to eight hours before sex occurs! You can also use internal condoms for anal sex (Note: this is a common but off-label use that is not technically FDA approved).
Internal condoms have a plastic ring that keeps them anchored against the cervix. If they’re being used for anal sex instead, you simply remove the ring first. Internal condoms are almost always made of nitrile, which is latex free. This makes them a great choice for almost any user, even folks with allergies and sensitive skin, and nitrile is compatible with all lubricants! If you’re unfamiliar with them, they can seem a little awkward at first, but just like anything else, once you get used to using them that awkwardness goes away. Many folks come to find they prefer internal condoms to external condoms.
For more on using internal condoms, check out this article on Female Condoms by Avert.org. The biggest drawback is that they can sometimes be hard to find. Your physician can prescribe them to you, you can sometimes get them in sex stores or from your health department, or you can order them directly from FC2, the company who makes them. FC2 has provided some excellent information on how to get these condoms in your hands.
Disposable gloves are an often overlooked but excellent and versatile safer sex barrier. They come in several sizes and are widely available – in fact, I bought some in the first aid section at my grocery store today. You can buy disposable gloves made latex, vinyl, or nitrile – and as we’ve already discussed, variety is important for folks with allergy and skin sensitivity and depending on what type of lube you prefer to use. Different materials also have different textures, so consider experimenting to see which feelings you like best for which activities. Gloves are excellent for mess free hand jobs, masturbation, and other finger sex. Additionally, they also add some protection against the spread of bacterial infections and some STIs.
Here’s a great article for more discussion on gloves as safer sex tools.
Dental dams are a small film, typically made of latex or nitrile, that can be used as barriers for oral sex; specifically cunnilingus and analingus. Like gloves and internal condoms, many people are unfamiliar with using dental dams during foreplay and sex, and this can feel awkward. The more you use them, the easier it gets to integrate them into your sex life, and they’re totally worth it! Dental dams are an awesome way to help reduce the spread of some STIs and other infections.
Here’s a CDC article with diagrams for using dental dams and some Do’s and Don’ts to keep in mind. These can also be hard to locate sometimes, but other things can be used in place of traditional dental dams – including plastic wrap!
Here are instructions, with photos, for turning a condom or glove into a dental dam.
Consider keeping wet wipes handy to help with clean up and reduce skin irritation after a friction-inducing sex session. They can also help you feel a little cleaner if you didn’t have a chance to wash up before sexy time! As someone who lives in a very hot and sweaty (and swampy) part of the US, I can personally attest to the wonders of keeping wet wipes handy for just such occasions. Pro tip: Even ones that say they’re safe to flush can mess up plumbing and septic systems, as well as being harmful to the environment. Throw them in the trash instead of flushing them.
Sometimes a hot and heavy roll in the hay can trigger the start of your period, especially if you’re close to when it would’ve started anyway. Or maybe you’re already on your period and you need to ditch your pad or tampon (if you use those). Or maybe you’re having sex with someone who menstruates and they’re very glad to see that you’ve considered their needs. Don’t let your period put a stop to your play time! Having period supplies handy can be a huge relief when you need them.
While barriers are certainly the best and most consistent way to reduce the spread of STIs, some research studies have shown that gargling with an antiseptic mouthwash (like Listerine) before oral sex can also help reduce the oral spread of some STIs.
Note: The same does not hold true for flossing and tooth brushing. Brushing your teeth and flossing often opens microtears in your mouth (that may or may not visibly bleed). This can potentially increase the risk of spreading STIs between partners.
What if your barrier breaks? What if you skipped your pill (or aren’t on birth control)? Plan B! Plan B is a pill that keeps a fertilized egg from implanting, so it will prevent a pregnancy (but Plan B will not work to terminate an existing pregnancy). While it has a number of side effects that make it less-than-ideal for frequent use, occasional use is safe and effective for most people. Plan B has a 4-year shelf life and is available over the counter and many pharmacies and from Amazon! Note: Plan B is less effective for folks over 175lbs and folks with some health conditions. It may also have interactions with certain medications. Discuss this with your pharmacist or healthcare provider if you’re not sure about safely using Plan B for you or your partner.
PrEP is a pill you take once a day to prevent HIV! PrEP’s efficacy increases with consistent use, so this isn’t something you take once and then you’re done. There are many programs available to help at-risk folks get PrEP whether they’ve got insurance or not. To find a PrEP provider near you, use this provider locator.
Remember, this list is not exhaustive, but these would be excellent ways to get your safer sex toolkit started! Is there something I didn’t mention that you enjoy using and want other folks to consider? Comment and let us know!