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Have Q’s about the effectiveness of internal condoms? Toying with the idea of introducing love gloves into your lovemaking? Wanna know the deal with dental dams?

This guide was made just for you. Read on to fill your brain with barrier facts.

Internal and external condoms are the only (!) way to prevent STI transmission during penetrative sex, says Kecia Gaither, MD, who’s double board certified in OB-GYN and maternal fetal medicine, and director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln.

Likewise, dental dams are the only way to reduce the risk of STI transmission during cunnilingus and anilingus.

And finger cots and gloves are the only way to protect against STI transmission during vaginal, anal, or penile hand hanky-panky (which, for the record, is underrated AF).

Both internal and external condoms can help reduce the risk of pregnancy.

External condoms

“External condoms are 98 to 99 percent effective when used perfectly,” Gaither says.

Key phrase here: When used perfectly.

But humans aren’t perfect. So external condoms are only about 85 percent effective IRL.

So, what does perfect use look like, exactly? Pleasure-positive sex educator Reba Corrine Thomas, CEO of Sexpert Consultants, explains:

  • Don’t double bag.
  • Check the expiration date.
  • Put it on before any genital contact occurs.
  • Leave 1 to 2 centimeters of space for the ejaculate to go.
  • Use with lube.
  • Avoid oil-based lubes, arousal oils, or massage oils that degrade latex.
  • Pull out if the wearer starts to lose their erection.
  • Use a new condom every single time.

Thomas calls out that lube is wayyy more important than you realize.

“Friction is the main thing that can cause condoms to break or rip,” she explains. Lube reduces this friction.

For a condom-compatible lube, check out these online offerings:

Internal condoms

Internal condoms can be up to 95 percent effective.

But due to human error, they’re only about 79 percent effective IRL.

Here’s how to use an internal condom correctly:

  1. Check the expiration date.
  2. Leave the ring inside the condom in.
  3. Place it inside the vagina before any skin-to-skin contact occurs.
  4. Only use one internal condom. Don’t use an internal condom and an external condom.
  5. Make sure it’s not twisted.
  6. Hold it in place while the penis or dildo enters the vagina.
  7. If there’s semen inside the condom, twist the outer ring before removal.
  8. Use a new condom each time.

“They’re not that hard,” Thomas assures. “And [they] are a great option for folks who have latex allergies.” (Most are made of polyurethane.)

Did you know:

And while the IUD, pill, patch, implant, and shot can all be up to 99 percent effective when used correctly — meaning, for instance, taken, replaced, or injected on time — human error can make them less effective. Sigh.

That’s why folks who use alternative forms of birth control and wish to avoid pregnancy may choose to use condoms, too.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 1 percent of the population is allergic to latex.

Luckily for those folks, there are nonlatex external condoms made out of materials such as polyisoprene, polyurethane, or polyethylene. And all three materials protect against pregnancy and STIs.

The best nonlatex external condoms, which you can purchase online, include:

(And remember: Internal condoms are made of polyurethane.)

There are also animal skin external condoms, like Trojan NaturaLamb luxury condoms, which protect against pregnancy but not STIs.

Worth mentioning: According to Texas-based sex educator and HIV activist Goody Howard, many people who think they’re allergic to latex actually have a sensitivity to the lubricant that coats prelubricated condoms.

Sometimes just switching up the latex condom brand will do the trick, she says. The more you know!

Walk into any drugstore, doctor’s office, grocery store, or corner mart, and you’ll be able to pick up a pack of rubbers. Ditto goes for gloves and fingers cots.

No appointment, pharmacist, gyno, or MD required. Easy peasy!

While the same usually can’t be said for internal condoms or dental dams, you can buy both online.

You can get external condoms completely free at your local health department, walk-in medical center, Planned Parenthood, or local college health center. Usually this is true for internal condoms as well.

The same can’t be said for oral birth control or an IUD.

Oh, and how cool is this? You can type your ZIP code into CondomFinder.org and it’ll tell you the closest place to get condoms for free.

False: Barriers = a barrier to pleasure.

True: Barriers can make sex better.

“If you’re preoccupied about contracting or transmitting an STI or getting pregnant, sex becomes significantly less pleasure,” Thomas says.

Stress, after all, is the ultimate pleasure block.

“Donning a condom can be the difference between thinking about the risks of sex the entire time and letting go to really enjoy the moment,” Thomas explains.

Gaither adds: “Many barriers are available with ribbed or dotted detailing, which can actually enhance sensation for some people.”

Further, for folks with latex fetishes (which, FYI, is one of the most common fetishes), the presence of latex can intensify the scene real quick.

Both the idea that longer sex is better sex or that penetrative sex is the only kind of sex are problematic.

(Quickies can be hot! Oral, anal, manual, and solo sex all count as sex, too!)

Still, for penis owners’ and their partners who wish that the penis owner didn’t ejaculate so quickly, condoms can come in clutch, says Thomas.

“Condoms can allow people with penises to go longer without orgasming, which can bring them and their partners boosted pleasure,” she says.

Prone to bacterial vaginosis? Research has shown wrapping the willy during P-in-V sex may reduce the risk of postsex BV.

How? Well, semen can mess with the vagina’s pH, making it hard for the good, infection-fighting bacteria to survive.

Condoms intercept the pH-disrupting semen, thus allowing the vagina’s pH to keep living and thriving.

Even couples who are fluid-bonded and using another contraceptive method, or open to getting pregnant, may use condoms when they’re short on time.

Howard explains: “Condoms lead to easy post-quick cleanup.”

“The vagina owner doesn’t have to worry about semen leaking out of them the rest of the day,” Howard adds. Good point, right?

However, you should never ever go back to front without peeling off the condom you used and getting a new one.

Why? Because the bacteria in the anal canal can wreak havoc on the urinary tract and vaginal pH.

Swapping for a new condom allows you to mix it up without fear of infection — or needing to wash up before you switch.

Internal and external condoms are the only way to prevent pregnancy and STI transmission at the exact same time. #Multitaskers.

And gloves, dental dams, and finger cots are the only way to reduce the risk of STI transmission during hand, mouth, and fist play.

While those reasons should be enough to convince you to get down with barriers, there are plentyyyy of additional perks to protection products.


Gabrielle Kassel is a New York–based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.