When most people think about safer sex, they think of sex impeded by awkward conversations and sensation-blocking barriers, entirely lacking in the spontaneity, closeness, and stickiness that make an experience fucking special. But safer sex practices, rather than dampening an experience, can ignite it and lead to more adventure, more spontaneity, more intimacy, and—if you’re trying to have them—more orgasms.
The fact is, safer sex is hotter sex.
It’s hotter because it’s based on communication. It’s hotter because it’s based on consent and mutual respect. And it’s hotter because once you dive into safer sex, you can go so much deeper—in every sense—than ever before.
Most of us didn’t start our sex lives with a framework for talking about sex. If you’ve seen your desires widely represented, it can feel like you’re somehow just supposed to know what to do. For those of us who haven’t, the scripts are even more opaque. But the only way to begin to approach not only safer sex, but also sexual pleasure, is to talk about it. The conversation isn’t, “I don’t trust you, so I want to protect myself,” but, “I want us each to have the best possible experience together. What can we do to make that happen?” By including not only safer sex barriers and STI testing, but also what you want to do together (what kinds of touch you do and don’t want, and what words you like to use for your body) you can explore a much wider sexual landscape.
So how do you start to talk about safer sex and pleasure, especially with someone new?
Make sure you cover your specific safer sex practices, including what barriers you use and when, how many other partners you currently have, when you last had an STI test, and what the results were.
First, have the discussion well before the moment. Think of it like a conversation with a friend about meeting up for a distanced hangout during the pandemic. You wouldn’t want to be face to face when you found out they’ve been getting weekly unmasked haircuts; you’d want to know before you were breathing the same air. Similarly, talking about sex when you’re outside of the context in which you could have it lowers the stakes and gives everyone a chance to regroup or act on what you talk about—such as buying extra gloves or condoms, or getting fresh STI and COVID-19 tests.
To broach the topic, open with something like, “I’d love to talk about sex before we have it.” If you’re not comfortable being that direct, it might feel easier if it doesn’t seem like the topic is coming from you. Try, “This might be weird, but I was reading an article about safer sex and…” Make sure you cover your specific safer sex practices, including what barriers you use and when, how many other partners you currently have, when you last had an STI test, and what the results were.
After you each share what you do alone, discuss what you’d like to do together. What have you been fantasizing about? What’s on the sexual menu? And what’s in your safer-sex toolkit? Here are some suggestions. Remember, all barriers are single use and should be changed between different body parts or bodies, so make sure to stock up.
Hands are some of the best sex toys out there. Put a barrier over yours and, as well as protecting your partners and yourself from STIs and microtears, you’ll never have to spend time cleaning under your nails again. Make sure to change gloves between bodies or body parts, and take them off by pulling them up from the wrist to flip them inside out for easy cleanup.
- Black Dragon Zero Nitrile Gloves are ambidextrous and available in a range of sizes. Nitrile reduces the spread of STIs, won’t trigger a latex allergy, and easily transmits body heat. Measure around your wrist for sizing, and if you’re between sizes, go up; it’s much easier to deal with a glove that’s a little too loose than one that’s way too tight.
In either case, taking the condom for a test run during masturbation can help you get a feel for the fit without having to worry about safety.
Condoms are the obvious safer-sex barrier for people with penises, but they’re versatile enough to use in lots of different ways: roll them down over a strap-on, pull them over the top of a wand vibrator, or tie them off with a small vibrator inside. If you’re using condoms with a flesh-and-blood penis but haven’t found one you actually like, try out different brands, sizes, and shapes until you find a fit and sensation that you and your partner(s) can get excited about. If you’re using them with a strap-on, compare the measurements of the condoms with those of the toy and look for a snug, but not super tight, fit. In either case, taking the condom for a test run during masturbation can help you get a feel for the fit without having to worry about safety.
- LifeStyles Skyn Latex-Free Condoms are made of polyisoprene and perfect for anyone with a latex allergy. They’re soft, vegan, preservative- and paraben-free, and pre-lubricated with a touch of silicone lube.
- Unique Plus Latex-Free Condoms come in a sturdy three-pack that will stay intact at the bottom of a drawer or bag. They’re made of strong polyethylene resin, vegan, and have a large fit. They also pull on instead of roll on, with removeable tabs that detach when in place.
- Okamoto 004 (Zero Zero Four) condoms are some of the thinnest natural latex condoms available in the US. They have a slim fit, light lubrication, and minimal odor compared to other latex condoms.
Dental dams got their name from their original use in dentists’ offices, though the ones made for oral sex are usually thinner. Use them over vulvas, over anuses, and even over soft penises belonging to folks who want to feel like they’re getting eaten out rather than getting a blow job (though a dental dam will not prevent contact with come or pre-come the way a condom will). The trick with a dental dam isn’t to stretch it taut, but to add a touch of lube to the side against the receiver’s body and then nestle it into all the crevices of their body while still holding it securely in place. Practice makes perfect.
- Line One Flavored Latex Dental Dams have a 6” by 8” surface area that’ll give you plenty of room to work with. They come in a light, non-distracting vanilla scent.
- Don’t want to worry about holding a dental dam in place? Lorals are vanilla-scented, single-use latex panties with a soft satin outside and a clingy inside that helps them stay put even during enthusiastic encounters. They feel—and look—more like lingerie than like a dental dam worn as underwear, and come in a bikini cut and a shortie cut in sizes 0 to 14. Lorals aren’t yet FDA certified to prevent STIs, so pair them with another barrier to play it safe.
- For folks with latex allergies or reactions to scent, it’s easy to turn a latex-free condom into a dental dam. Unroll the condom and use sharp, clean scissors to cut off the tip and cut down one side to create a rectangle. The Trojan Bareskin Non-latex Supra condoms are the largest Spectrum Boutique currently offers and will give you the most surface area—just make sure to put the lubricated side against the receiver’s body.
Lube, part of safer sex? You betcha. Lube is what makes using barriers not only bearable but pleasurable and even better than bare skin. In skin-to-skin sex, some lube absorbs quickly—but with gloves, condoms, or dental dams, lube will stay where you need it a lot longer. Lube also reduces friction, keeping everything slippery and making genital microtears or barrier breakage during sex less likely.
For safer sex, stick to water- or silicone-based lubes; oil-based lube is fun for solo sex, but degrades barriers. And if you’re using silicone sex toys, stick to water-based lube, since over time silicone lube will break down silicone toys.
Shift your mindset away from separation and towards mutual respect and pleasure, and you’ll find that the possibilities are wider than ever.
- You can use water-based lube with anything, and Sliquid Sassy is a perfect contender: a water-based lube with a silicone-lube feel. Its thicker, slippery texture makes it beloved for anal but excellent anywhere—and it rarely stains.
- Looking for something organic? Good Clean Love Almost Naked Water-Based Lube is a natural lube that lists aloe as its first ingredient. It’s water-based; glycerin-, petrochemical-, and paraben-free; and comes in eco-friendly plastic made from recyclable sugar cane.
- Silicone-based lube is longer-lasting, thicker, and slipperier than its water-based counterparts, and Uberlube is a great one: it contains vitamin E, doesn’t feel too sticky afterwards, and even triples as a light hair styling product or as bike grease. (Just don’t use it with silicone sex toys or polyurethane condoms.) In a sea of lubes with scents and graphic bottles, its minimal ingredients and minimalist packaging make it a frictionless favorite.
With communication and the right toolkit, safer sex practices and barriers aren’t borders that separate you but boundaries that can help you come together. Shift your mindset away from separation and towards mutual respect and pleasure, and you’ll find that the possibilities are wider than ever.