This guest post was written by one of our contributors, Sexual Health Educator, Natasha Albury, MPH.
So you want to be careful and safer in your romantic life by incorporating safer sex, or maybe to continue what you’ve been doing, but are worried about losing out on the fun, pleasure, and excitement of the whole sexual experience. Understandable! Mixing pleasure and safety can feel like a contradiction sometimes. Fortunately, you can reduce much of the risk of unwanted consequences and still have a fantastic sex life!
Allow yourself time to experiment, practice, and figure out what works well for you and your partner.
Whether you are in a new relationship or an ongoing romance, it’s never too late to start practicing safer sex! It can only benefit your health and relieve any concerns you may be having. Here are some helpful ideas to get you started:
Choosing the right safer sex tools, including condoms and lube for you and your partner’s comfort and personal taste will definitely improve your enjoyment of safer sex!
Find a good quality adult toy/erotica shop: one with lots of lighting and a large selection. I recommend a female-friendly sex toy & media shop, because they usually have a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere; a higher quality of erotic media; and friendly knowledgeable staff that can answer questions and help you find what you’re looking for. And these aren’t just for women – straight and gay men will find plenty of fun goodies there too.
These shops sell a wide variety of individual condoms and small packets of lubrication to try out. Put together a sampler of various brands and types of condoms and lubes that seem interesting. Take a dab of different lubes from the tester containers and massage some onto the back of your hand (it can double as hand lotion) to figure out which texture you like.
Talk with the shop clerks to learn about all of the advantages and features of different condoms and lubes, or look for reviews online. For example, condoms with a wider, roomier tip move more freely on the head of the penis, which provides greater stimulation. If you have a latex allergy or sensitivity, you can buy non-latex male and female FC2 condoms, which offer the same protection as latex condoms. Flavored condoms are generally for oral sex (check the label).
Don’t forget to check out various toys, such as c-rings that vibrate and fit at the base of a condom, and other supplies that help keep it fun – even when you’re playing it safe! Best of all, you can make a romantic or quirky date out of the shopping experience; no joke! You might even surprise each other with special gifts that show your enthusiasm to use those supplies with your partner.
If you’re on a tight budget, you can try collecting various condoms and lube packets from pregnancy and STD testing clinics, health departments, your doctor’s office, school-based health clinics, or other local non-profit organizations. While we’re on the subject of clinics, you can even make a date with your partner to get tested for STDs together. Some clinics provide testing for free or low cost.
If you’re feeling shy, live too far away from shops and clinics, or don’t like going to stores, you can shop online. Or you could consult a pure romance distributor one-one.
At home, in the tree-house or your grandma’s den – where ever! Stash your new goodies (condoms, dams, lube, toys etc.) where you’re most likely to need them, so they’re on-hand whenever you’re in the mood for lovin’.
If you live with roommates or family, you can designate a special box or compartment for them. This requires a little organizing, but it’s worth it. Fumbling around in the dark, or needing to hunt down your safer sex goodies while things are getting hot, can interrupt the flow and passionate mood.
Being ready helps make it a fun and positive memory!
Oh, and speaking of which… For hetero couples, you can insert a female condom in the vagina up to a couple hours before having sex, so that it feels more spontaneous. For all couples, you can roll a male condom on with the first erection for a similar reason – it’ll already be on his penis when you’re in the heat of the moment and want to start.
Cars, wallets, pockets, and purses are not a good place to store condoms for longer than an hour or so, because extreme temperatures and/or friction will ruin latex without noticeable signs.
Lubrication reduces friction, and that can make a world of difference as far as safety and enjoyment goes!
Even though most condoms are pre-lubricated, latex rubbers can dry out or get tacky and cause irritation after a while, especially during marathon sessions. FYI, keeping a condom lubricated lowers the chance of it breaking.
Try different water or silicone-based lubes to figure out which texture and brand works best and doesn’t bother your skin. Small packets of lube are cheap and you may be able to get free samples sent from the company.
Caution: Using oils, lotions, or vaseline will cause your latex barriers to break!
Lubes can be very slippery and long lasting, cushiony, tasty, or more natural in texture. Anal sex lubes are designed for that purpose and are usually thicker. Natural and organic brands with few – no synthetic chemicals – are available too.
Putting a drop of lube inside the tip of a male condom makes the condom roll around on the head of the penis, which is more pleasurable. You can also add lube to the inside of a female condom, or on the side of a dental dam which goes up against your partner’s vagina or anus for increased sensitivity and pleasure.
Spice It Up
With age comes responsibilities, and with that comes routines to use time as efficiently as possible. This affects our personal relationships, and for most couples, it means that over time, they’ll have to work on changing up their routines for intimacy. Boredom, and its cousin Disinterest, make it hard for any couple to enjoy their sex life, let alone safer sex. Therefore, being playful and creative is even more essential!
Having oral sex or using just your hands and toys for the final encore sometimes, in place of intercourse, is one way to inject variety and enjoy safer sex. You could even learn how to roll a condom on with your mouth! Whatever you do to make sex safer, it’s much more fun to make that a part of foreplay rather than a separate act. You can pour or slab some lube onto your partner’s genitals or you can stroke it on.
Easy Does It
Remember to start out gently, and gradually work your way towards more challenging goals, such as a jumbo dildo or an acrobatic position.
Some couples really enjoy rougher sex play, which is considered riskier for getting or passing STDs, due to greater friction and micro-tears. Those very tiny tears on your delicate bits are essentially openings that bacteria and viruses easily pass through. Besides, serious chafing is not fun for most folks.
Find your favorite lube, begin with simpler goals, and don’t be shy about checking in with your partner during sex to ask if everything’s feeling good.
Talk, Talk, Talk
Talking about your expectations to use protection and/or getting tested will improve the overall relationship experience, because those conversations can prevent disappointment and disagreements later-on. To be completely fair, many adults have never had sexual health education and are basically in the dark.
You may have to be patient with your partner if they need to process what you’re saying.
It may be apparent, but your sex life truly does not need to be modeled after what you’ve seen in movies in order to be enjoyable and fulfilling. After all, screen sex is almost never so ‘real’ that it portrays those moments when sex is embarrassing, laughable, awkward, or uncomfortable any way.
Figure out what appeals to you; use your imagination, and talk with your partner about your hopes, needs and expectations.
Lastly, if you’ve decided to wait on having any type of sex (anal, oral, or vaginal), until you reach a certain point in the relationship, such as getting tested, agreeing on a protection method or having some degree of commitment, you can still have loads of intimate and pleasurable experiences with your partner in the meantime! You can enjoy cuddling, making out, strip-tease, massage, erotic media/shows, petting, masturbation, bathing together, dry humping, and so much more without exchanging fluids, which can accidentally lead to a pregnancy or an STD.
(Note: If one or both of you have a cold sore blister, there’s always a risk of passing a herpes virus, so it’s best to wait on kissing till the blister heals completely. And some infections can be transmitted via skin-to-skin contact, so be aware of your risks in advance.)
I’m not going to sugar-coat this and say that if you simply follow these tips for enjoying safer sex, it will always work out smoothly. A person’s attitude toward and approach to using protection and talking with partners and getting tested, plays a big role.
Each person has his/her own relationship to their body and with sex. A good share of that comes from an individual’s upbringing and culture. Some people aren’t accustomed to safer sex practices, and it will take them time to adjust to the differences.
If you are able to talk honestly and openly in the relationship, stay open to new possibilities and you respect each other, there’s a good chance you’ll make it happen!
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Natasha Albury, MPH is an Advocate for equity and social justice, a Promoter of comprehensive sexual health education for youth and adults, and a Dark Chocolate Connoisseur! She earned her Masters in Public Health at Portland State University, and is trained as an ‘Our Whole Lives’ sexuality educator. Natasha works as an ESL Instructor and moonlights as a Condom-Fairy and Clean Works educator and volunteer for the Grand Rapids Red Project. To read her full bio, along with links to her recent posts, check out our contributors page. You can contact Natasha Albury on LinkedIn to inquire about group presentations on sexual health issues or for family/individual consultations.
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Have you also wondered how to incorporate safer sex into your sexual activities without ruining the mood? Did this help answer your questions? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!