Barrier Methods: The Ultimate Guide to Using Condoms, Dental Dams, and Latex Gloves


Using protection methods and talking about it with your partner doesn’t have to be awkward. Here’s the ultimate practical guide to having protected sex that is just as exciting!

This article is presented by Tel-Jeunes.

The evening is perfect, and so is the mood. To your greatest pleasure, his hand is in yours, and you feel as though the evening is far from being over. But what will happen when your clothes hit the floor and your caresses become more sultry than ever? The question titillates you, but you can’t help but feel a twinge of anxiety—about protection.

Safety and communication are very important to you, especially with a new partner. But how do you broach the subject without breaking the magic, without extinguishing the moment’s spark?

If I ask them to use protection, will they judge me? How do I ask them if they have protection? Will it spoil the mood?

To answer these questions, our team has created a practical yet spicy guide to protecting yourself against contracting STBBIs.

Barrier methods

First off, why use protection? By using condoms, dental dams, or latex gloves, you can protect yourself against sexually transmitted and bloodborne infections (STBBIs) during sexual activity.

STBBI protection methods are complementary to contraceptive methods that prevent unintended pregnancies (e.g., the pill, IUD, etc.). Condoms, as the only method that protects against both STBBIs and pregnancy, are the perfect two-in-one!

Here are the different barrier methods that you can use to protect yourself from STBBIs:

External condoms: Lubricated or nonlubricated, with or without spermicide (a product that kills sperm), flavoured or unflavoured, regular or glow in the dark, smooth or ribbed, you name it! Placed over a penis or sex toy, external condoms are an effective barrier against STBBIs for the duration of the sexual encounter, when used correctly.

This is the cheapest, most popular type of condom, and it’s available in the widest range of funky options. It can be used during both penetrative and oral sex. They’re single-use: once you’re done, straight into the trash it goes.

Internal condoms: These are inserted directly inside the anus or vagina, and act as a physical barrier during vaginal or anal penetration. They’re more difficult to find than external condoms (if you don’t see any on the shelves at the pharmacy, you can ask the pharmacist or find them in sex shops, either online or in stores), and they also require a bit more practise than their external counterparts, but they’re worth it if external condoms are not your or your partner’s jam.

For example, some people are allergic to latex or find external condoms uncomfortable and prefer internal ones, which are always made of either nitrile or polyurethane. Other people like the fact that internal condoms can be inserted up to eight hours before sex (yay for planning ahead!), and that they offer more control to the person wearing one.

It’s also an interesting alternative for those with softer erections during intercourse or who are having difficulties finding an external condom that fits them well (an ill-fitting condom can slip or break, which reduces its effectiveness). Internal condoms are used only once and then thrown away.

Dental dams: Dental dams are the OGs of safer oral sex. Used during cunnilingus or anilingus, dental dams help protect against STBBIs. If you can’t find them at the pharmacy or sex shop (or if you need one on the fly), you can cut a nonlubricated external condom or latex glove to create a DIY dental dam.

To use it, you apply water- or silicone-based lubricant both on the dam and on the area that will be stimulated by the mouth (i.e., the anus or the vulva). The dental dam is then placed in a way that completely covers the area and needs to be held in place during cunnilingus or rimming. Also, don’t flip the dam over! After one use, throw it in the trash.

Latex gloves and finger cots: These are just as easy to obtain as external condoms and can be used to protect against STBBIs during sexual activities that involve hands or fingers, such as fisting or fingering.

To use them, first wash and dry your hands completely. You then put on the latex gloves, just as you would winter gloves, but be careful not to tear them with jewellery or your nails. Make sure that they fit well: not so loose that you lose sensitivity, but not so too tight to prevent tearing. Finger cots are used in the same way, only on individual fingers. Discard the gloves and finger cots after use.

Communication is lubrication

Let’s be real: No matter how long you’ve been dating or how you define your relationship, it’s crucial to discuss the things you like, you’d like to try, and that are important to you. When it comes to STBBI protection methods, however, it’s even more important to have this talk before having sex, making sure the other person is receptive to having this discussion and without pressuring them into having sex.

You can tell your partner that your (and their) sexual health is important to you. To make the conversation easier, try to use “I” statements as much as possible.

For example: “I care about our sexual health and it’s important to me that we protect ourselves.” Also, by being direct and honest, you can decrease misunderstandings.

If you feel too self-conscious to use “I” statements or explicitly address your own needs and desires, you can ask more general or indirect questions. For example, you can make a casual remark while watching a movie, such as, “Have you noticed that, in sex scenes, we almost never see people use condoms? It’s weird, right?”, or you can mention information you stumbled upon: “Hey, I came across this TikTok/article that said…” These are ways to subtly open up the discussion while removing some of the pressure.

Another advantage of broaching the subject before getting intimate is that it enables you to be better prepared. Asking more direct questions like, “What do you think about dental dams/condoms?” or “Do you have a preference when it comes to protection?” can be very useful for better understanding your partner’s point of view while enabling you to discuss the type of protection that is right for the both of you.

It’s also a good opportunity to explain that knowing that you are both protected will make you even more in the mood and more comfortable about letting yourself go and enjoying the moment. Even if it’s awkward at first, tell yourself that you’ll only have to break the ice once! This conversation can only deepen trust and connection, two elements that make lovemaking even more enjoyable.

What if your partner refuses to use protection or gets angry when you bring it up? You could open up the discussion to better understand their reluctance. Maybe they simply lack information about protection methods and STBBI risks, or perhaps they harbour certain fears. Talking together could help them understand the importance of protection.

The person with whom you’re having sex should respect your request for safer sex and take your pleasure into account as much as their own.

You have a right to sex that feels safe, and you should never feel obligated to have unprotected sex if it makes you uncomfortable. You also have the right not to have sex at all if you don’t feel ready or if you simply don’t want to. This is a fundamental part of consent, even if you’ve already had sex, and even if it was unprotected. Also, if the act has already started, you have the right to change your mind and stop. By the way, removing protection during sex without a partner’s consent is sexual assault.

Where can I get condoms?

Now that you and your partner have established what’s best for you in terms of protection during sex, it’s time to take action.

First, you have to obtain said protection. The good ol’ local pharmacy is the perfect place to buy condoms, dams, or gloves, but you can also find them in most big-box stores, sex shops (online and in store), clinics, and, if you’re a student, probably even at your school!

To be ready for when desire and opportunity strike, keep the essentials on hand. Having to stop and spend 20 minutes looking for a condom and a pair of scissors to create a DIY dental dam can definitely dampen the mood.

If you’re not yet completely comfortable with using the agreed-upon protection method, no stress: before having sex, you can first practise with sex toys, fruits, vegetables, or your own body (and have fun while you’re at it)!

With your partner, you could also engage in a bit of role play (like a sexy medical scenario) or dirty talk while putting on the condom. Using one’s tongue and mouth is also encouraged (as always) when placing the dam or condom. However, contact between the mouth and penis should be avoided!

Silicone- or water-based lubricant is your best friend (with benefits) for increasing sensation when using any barrier protection method (e.g., you can put a bit of lubricant on the penis before putting on the condom).

A few golden rules (that apply to all barrier methods):

  • Check the expiration date.
  • Make sure there are no holes.
  • Store in a cool place (not too hot).
  • Gently tear open the wrapper with your fingers and not with your teeth or a sharp object.
  • Use only one condom at a time (friction can cause the latex to break).
  • Change condoms, dams, or gloves when moving to different bodies or areas on the body (e.g., use a different dental dam for the anus and vulva, change the condom if sex toys are shared, etc.).

And whatever sexual practises or protection methods you prefer, getting tested regularly remains the only way to make sure that you have not contracted an STBBI!

Safer sex is a door to more exploration

Navigating sensitive topics such as protection methods can seem intimidating, especially when pleasure and responsibility seem like an odd mix. However, it’s entirely possible to reconcile the two by incorporating protection in a playful and erotic way during your canoodling sessions. The main thing is to have open and honest communication that adds a layer of trust and intimacy to your relationship without ruining the mood.

Being proactive when it comes to protection not only shows self-love and respect for your partner but also opens the door to more liberated and fulfilling sexual exploration.