Condoms, PrEP, and Safer Sex FAQs

Safer Sex FAQs

As adolescents, many students have to sit through an awkward life science lecture where an uncomfortable teacher– often the PE teacher– plays a video that goes over the ways your body will change and what to expect. 

Inevitably, there's a mention of sex. Students shudder and giggle, the teacher hurries through his talking points, and then there's a fleeting mention of using condoms. 

Unfortunately, that's the totality of sexual education that many of us got. And condoms– the absolute heroes of healthy sexuality– go under-discussed. If you're lucky, you may have been shown how to apply one to a banana or told where you can find some, but even that barely begins to scratch the surface of your options for safer sex and how to use them correctly.

The best sex you can have is informed, confident sex. So, let's take a moment to briefly cover the primary types of contraceptives and prophylactics that are available to you and what you should know about them. 

Condoms

As mentioned, condoms generally get the lion's share of attention when it comes to safe sex. 

In spite of their popularity, there's actually more to condoms than most people realize. 

External Condoms

External condoms are sheaths that go over the penis to create a barrier during sex. 

Most external condoms are made from latex, but non-latex options made from polyurethane, lambskin, or polyisoprene are also available.

In addition to having a wide variety of materials available, external condoms also come in a variety of sizes, thicknesses, and even flavors (though if you actually use and enjoy flavored condoms, please comment below and let us know). 

The variety of options available for condoms is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you can find the perfect condom for what you enjoy. The downside is that you might not know where to start and may try a few brands or types of condoms that you do not like. 

When you're buying condoms, consider the following attributes:

Condom Thickness

The thickness of the condom you use will directly affect your sensitivity and observed stimulation. Thinner condoms allow you to feel more of the stimulation than thicker condoms. Because of this, many people prefer the feel of thin condoms. However, anyone concerned about rapid ejaculation may feel more comfortable using thicker condoms since they decrease sensation. 

Condom Size

Pop culture would have you think that everybody wants to need a Magnum XL condom and pornography would make you think that the majority of folks need one that big. 

In reality, most people with penises will need average-sized condoms. If you are slightly smaller than average or above average, you may want to experiment with different brands and sizes. What's important is that when you are erect and have the condom on, it fits snuggly around your shaft and does not easily slide around or move out of place. 

I recommend checking out this sizing chart by Condom Jungle if you're unsure what size you are. 

Textures, Lubricants, and Flavor

There's an external condom for just about any preference.

Flavored condoms, for example, are designed for people who prefer to use a condom when receiving oral sex. 

Some condoms also come pre-lubricated, meaning that there's a small amount of condom-friendly lube applied on the outside of the condom when you take it out of the package. While this can be handy on the go, if you're engaging in anal sex or if your partner prefers, it's ideal to have another form of lubricant available. 

Similar to lubricants, some condoms come with a desensitizing substance on the inner side of the condom. Again, this is ideal for men who deal with rapid ejaculation. If you use these, it's important to double-check that you do not put it on inside out or rub your hands on the outside once you have it on, as doing so may apply some of the desensitizing creams to your partner and minimize their sense of stimulation. 

Finally, condoms also come in a variety of textures, including condoms that have a studded, ribbed, or combination texture. These raised surfaces in the latex are intended to provide additional stimulation to the receiving partner. Generally, textured condoms are designed for vaginal sex as opposed to anal sex. Also, it's important to communicate with your partner about what they prefer– textured condoms may be too stimulating or uncomfortable for some individuals, so it's best to not assume. 

Internal Condoms

Alongside external condoms, internal condoms are also available. Internal condoms, sometimes referred to as vaginal condoms, are inserted inside the vagina prior to sex and create a barrier similar to an external condom that protects against STI transmission and unwanted pregnancies.

Internal condoms are great options to explore for folks who want to continue practicing safer sex, but perhaps want to try something other than external condoms for whatever reason. They also result in a different sensation for both partners, which some people may prefer over external condoms. 

While internal condoms are effective, they aren't as widely used as external condoms as they are somewhat difficult to insert correctly until you get used to them (which can be tricky for "in the moment" experiences). Additionally, internal condoms are typically designed for vaginal sex, so they should not be used for anal sex. 

Can You Use An Internal and External Condom/ Two Condoms At the Same Time to Be Extra Safe?

No! You should only ever use one condom at a time. Using an internal and external condom at the same time, or double-layering condoms, can result in excessive friction which damages the condom and makes it more likely to break. 

Can You Use Lube With Condoms?

Yes! And you should be using lube– it's brilliant and very important for the comfort of all parties involved. Water-based lube and silicone lube are pretty much always okay to use with standard condoms.

Some lube does not work with condoms, though. Oil-based lubricants can erode the condom and make it more likely to break. 

How Do I Put On A Condom?

Per our advertiser guidelines, we cannot show you a condom application tutorial. You can, however, check out the (illustrated) guide over on the CDC website. 

What Do I Do If A Condom Breaks During Sex?

Don't panic if your condom breaks during sex. While uncommon, it is possible. If you notice your condom breaks, carefully exit your partner and communicate that the condom has broken. Remove and discard the broken condom, apply a new condom, and get back to making magic happen. If you or your partner have concerns about the condom breaking, it's never a bad idea to have a regular STI test

What If I Have Difficulty Maintaining An Erection With An External Condom?

If you notice that you're having trouble maintaining an erection with a condom on, first you should make sure that you're using an appropriately sized condom and that you're putting it on correctly. Beyond that, you may want to try an ultra-thin condom which allows for the greatest degree of stimulation.

If you are and you're still having a hard time having a hard time, then perhaps you and your partner could explore options such as an internal condom for vaginal sex. Additionally, you may want to speak with your doctor to see if a low dosage of a medication such as sildenafil would help. 

What If I Have Difficulty Reaching Climax While Wearing A Condom?

If the slight loss of sensation experienced when using a condom causes you to have difficulty attaining orgasm during penetrative intercourse, then experimenting with thinner condoms would be the best next step. 

If ultra-thin condoms do not help and you continue to have difficulty reaching climax but not sustaining an erection, then you may want to consider alternative means of completing your sexual encounter. Too often, especially among men, we assume that the logical progression of sex is from penetration to ejaculation. You may find that your sex life is just as satisfying if you sustain penetrative sex for whatever duration is best for you and your partner(s) and then finish yourself off externally without the condom (just be cautious about where your bodily fluids end up). 

Alternatively, speak with a sexual therapist– they may be able to counsel and provide insights and advice to make your protected penetrative encounters more rewarding. 

Should I Always Carry A Condom With Me So I'll Be Ready If I Need It?

Perhaps. However, keep in mind that you can get condoms at most pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations, and hotel concierge desks. Should you need a condom when you weren't expecting it, they're not too hard to get. 

If you do want to keep a few condoms around, that's okay too. Just remember to not store them in your wallet or glove box, as they're likely to experience heat degradation in those locations, increasing the risk of damage or breaking. 

Additionally, if you do keep condoms on hand for those "just in case" moments, be sure to double-check their expiration dates prior to using them. Condoms can expire, and once they expire, their effectiveness decreases. If a condom ever feels stiff or brittle, don't try to use it– that means it has expired and needs to be retired. 

PrEP

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, is another way to have safer sex that way more people ought to know about. 

PrEP does not protect against all STIs or pregnancy. It is, however, 99% effective at preventing the transmission of HIV. For folks who have a higher risk of HIV exposure, taking PrEP is a highly effective means of preventing yourself from contracting the virus. 

Most often, PrEP is taken as a daily pill, however, bi-monthly injections are also available with some healthcare providers. 

Taking PrEP does require a prescription. You cannot go to the pharmacy and purchase PrEP on your own. Talk to your doctor or use a service like Nurx to speak with a doctor and find out if you're a candidate for using PrEP. 

Generally, in order to start PrEP, you will first have to complete an STI screening and have bloodwork done to assess your liver health and function. Most drugs, such as Truvada, that are used as PrEP can be hard on your liver, so if you already have degraded liver health, it may not be an option for you. 

Most prescribers also require quarterly or twice yearly STI and liver screenings to renew your PrEP prescription. 

Does PrEP Protect Against Anything Other Than HIV?

No. PrEP purely prevents the uptake of HIV. It will not prevent other STIs or pregnancy. 

Is PrEP Effective AFter Your First DOse?

No. PrEP requires multiple doses in order for you to be fully protected. Your risk of contracting HIV decreases drastically after 7 days on PrEP and you're fully protected after 21 days. 

Should I Use A Condom If I'm ALready On PrEP?

Yes. PrEP only prevents the transmission of HIV. 

Is It Safe To Have Sex With Someone Who Knows They Are HIV+ If I'm On PrEP?

Yeah! If your partner knows they are HIV+, they probably are already on a treatment regimen as prescribed by their doctor. If they are undetectable, then whether or not you're on PrEP, they can't transmit the virus. 

While it's important to limit your risk of contracting HIV, it's also important to not stigmatize individuals who do have HIV. With modern medicine, HIV-stigma that prevents folks from getting tested and seeking treatment is more deadly than HIV itself. HIV+ individuals can continue having fulfilling sex lives with partners who do not have HIV without spreading the virus. 

You're significantly more likely to contract HIV through sex with a partner who thinks they're HIV negative than one who knows they are HIV positive. 

Why Is PrEP So Expensive?

Capitalism and a f***ed up healthcare system. 

Luckily, most insurance plans will cover PrEP under preventative care and generic options are available. If for whatever reason you do have to take a name-brand PrEP, specifically Truvada, you may also be eligible for a Gilead Prescription Co-Pay Card to significantly reduce the cost. 

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