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Condoms 101 and Safe Sex 101

Seven ways to use condoms better, plus 10 ways to make sex safer. From Our Bodies, Ourselves by The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective

The following guidelines provide basic information on condom and lubricant use.

  • For sex with a man, the condom has to be on his penis when it’s erect and before it touches your body, especially the vulva, mouth, or anus. Roll the condom over your finger first to see which way it unrolls. If you put the wrong side against the penis by mistake, it might touch fluid, so don’t reverse it — use a new one. Be careful not to rip the condom with rings or fingernails. Most condoms have a reservoir tip for the semen. Pinch this tip with your other hand to get air out while you roll the condom onto the penis, or have your partner do it. This keeps the condom from breaking when he comes. One of you needs to hold the base of the condom when he pulls out, so it doesn’t come off and leave sperm in or near your vagina.
  • Use a new condom each time you have sex, and have more than one with you just in case.
  • If you or your partner(s) experience irritation with latex condoms, don’t despair! The irritation may be due to spermicide (chemicals that kill sperm) on the condom, so try a brand without spermicide — don’t stop using condoms. If you experience itching, rash, or dryness, you might be sensitive to latex: Try using a polyurethane condom.
  • Flavored condoms may be more pleasant to use for oral sex, but the flavoring may contain sugars, which could encourage bacterial infections in the vagina if you use these condoms for intercourse. So it’s best to save those yummy chocolate-mint and strawberry condoms for going down on him.
  • For extra sensation, try using a ribbed condom.
  • Use a lubricant if you are dry, because dryness can cause condoms to break. Lubricant can be put directly into your vagina. Putting a tiny amount in the tip of the condom may give the man extra pleasure — which could be a plus in persuading him to use condoms. Be careful to use only a tiny drop, and only in the tip, not the sides, so the condom won’t get loose and slip off. Use only water-soluble lubricants, such as K-Y or Astroglide. Never use an oilbased product with latex. Vaseline, baby oil, or baby lotion will damage the rubber and destroy its protection. Using spermicide for lubrication is also not recommended.
  • The female condom can be useful if your male partner(s) can’t or won’t use other condoms. Once you try it and get used to it, you may find it as convenient as the male condom. Some women like it even better. It’s a good idea to practice inserting a female condom before you use one during sex. You can use small amounts of any lubricant, including oil-based ones, inside the pouch or on the penis, but don’t use a spermicide as lubricant. If your drugstore doesn’t carry the female condom, you can order it from the pharmacy, your health care provider, or by mail. Some sex stores also carry female condoms.

10 Ways to Make It Safer

  1. Practice putting a condom on a banana or a cucumber.
  2. Role-play with your friends what you will say with a partner.
  3. Create some rules for yourself about what you will and will not do — such as “Safer sex until we test” — and follow them.
  4. Avoid getting so high or drunk that you can’t control your actions.
  5. Talk with your partner about how to make using condoms or dental dams sexy.
  6. Put the condom on together.
  7. Explore lovemaking that doesn’t include penetration. (You’re more likely to have an orgasm, too.)
  8. If you have a history of sexual abuse, seek a supportive therapist who can help you heal.
  9. Tell a man who resists using a condom, “I’m so hot for you, and a condom keeps you hard longer.”
  10. Try a female condom. Tell a man, “There’s more room to move,” since it’s not as tight on his penis.

Author of Our Bodies, Ourselves (Copyright © 2005 by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective), The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective aims to empower women by providing information about health, sexuality, and reproduction. Advisory board members include Teresa Heinz Kerry, Susan Love, and Gloria Steinem. To learn more visit




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