Safer sex practices like using condoms or birth control, correct lubricants, and considerate anal sex will keep you and your partner healthy and reduce uncomfortable side effects or unwanted outcomes.

Lubricants

A lubricant is a substance used to reduce friction during sexual activity. Condoms are widely regarded as the most trusted way to reduce to transmission of HIV and STIs, so choosing the correct lubricant while using condoms is especially important. Using incorrect lubricants like vaseline or mineral oil with condoms can break and/or disintegrate the condom during use and put you at higher risk. Similarly, not using lubricant while using a condom or during condomless sex increases the likelihood of tearing (including micro-tears) that also put you at higher risk.

Which lubricants are safe to use with condoms?

Safe with Condoms
  • Water­Based or Silicone Lubricant
  • Aqualube
  • Astroglide
  • Glycerine
  • All ID Lubricants (except ID cream)
  • Aloe­9
  • H­R Lubricating Jelly
  • K­Y Lubricating Jelly
  • Prepair
  • Probe
  • ForPlay
  • Gynol II
  • Wet (except Wet Oil)
  • DeLube
  • Spermicides
Not Safe with Condoms
  • Aldara Cream
  • Baby Oil
  • Cold Cream
  • Edible Oils (vegetable, olive, peanut, corn, sunflower, coconut, etc.)
  • Body Lotions
  • Massage Oils
  • Mineral Oils
  • Petroleum Jelly
  • Vaseline
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Shortening
  • Suntan Oils and Lotion
  • Whipped Cream
  • Vaginal Yeast Infection Cream and Suppositories
  • Condom Use

    When used properly, a condom is very effective at reducing the risk of HIV and STI infection, and it also provides protection against unwanted pregnancy. There are two main types of condoms, male condoms and female condoms — both are equally effective.

    This page will give you basic information about condom use, such as what condom types there are, what lube to use, and how to use them properly.

    • What are condoms made out of

      Condoms are usually made of latex or polyurethane. Polyurethane condoms are good for people who are allergic to latex, but can be used by anybody. Both types equally protect against HIV, STIs, and unwanted pregnancy.

    • Do I need to use lube

      Yes. Lube is necessary to reduce the risk of the condom breaking. Some condoms already have lube on them, while others allow you to use your own. Latex condoms can only be used with water-based lubricants, not oil-based lubricants (like Vaseline or lotions), as they weaken the latex and can lead to the condom breaking. Both oil- and water-based lubricants can be used with polyurethane condoms.

    • What size condom do I need?

      Part of practicing safe sex and using a condom properly is making sure you are wearing the right size condom. Many condom manufacturers create a standard size, but that is often larger than the average-sized penis in the United States. However, it’s easy to start the search for your correct condom size by using the “toilet paper roll” method.

      How does the toilet paper roll method work? If your erect penis has plenty of room inside the empty tube, almost too much, you need a small condom. If you have just enough room — not too tight, but not too loose — you need a medium-sized condom. And if the tube is extremely tight and almost painful, you’re in the large category.

      Still, you should purchase (or get for free at your local test site) a few varieties of condoms in your general size. Different brands will have unique textures and sensations, so have fun trying new condoms on until you find something that works best for you.

    • How do I use a male condom?

      Male condoms can be used for oral, vaginal, and anal sexual activity. Never use the same condom twice.

      Here are a few other tips:

      1. Discuss using a condom with your partner.
      2. Buy latex or polyurethane condoms or get them for free at a local testing site.
      3. Check the listed expiration date.
        Check for an air bubble in the package. If there is no air bubble, the condom could be. compromised. Throw it away and get a new one.
      4. Open the package carefully and remove the condom.
      5. Use a correct water- or oil-based lubricant (depending on condom type).
      6. Pinch the tip of the condom, leaving one-quarter- to one-half-inch tip.
      7. Roll the condom down entire length of the penis.
        Continue with planned activity. If a condom breaks during sex, pull out quickly and replace the condom.
      8. Hold the base of condom and withdraw from your partner while the penis is still erect. This will reduce the chance of fluids escaping.
      9. Dispose of the condom properly.
    • How do I use a female condom?

      Female condoms can be used for both vaginal and anal sex. Never use the same condom twice.

      For vaginal sex:

      1. Discuss using a condom with your partner.
      2. Buy female condom or get them for free at a local testing site.
      3. Check listed expiration date.
      4. Open the package carefully and remove the condom.
      5. Hold the condom at the closed end, with the open end hanging down. Grasp the flexible inner ring and squeeze with the thumb and middle finger so it becomes long and narrow.
      6. Choose a position and insert. Squat, raise one leg, sit or lie down. Gently insert the inner ring into the vagina. Push the inner ring up and back into the vaginal canal, moving it into place. Push the condom as far as it will go — near pubic bone. Make sure it is not twisted. The outer ring remains outside the vagina.
      7. Continue with planned activity. Gently guide your partner’s penis into the vagina. Make sure that it enters properly. Once the penis is inserted, if there is discomfort, withdrawal the penis and reposition the inner ring.
      8. To remove the condom, twist the outer ring and gently pull the condom. Do not flush or reuse the condom.

      For anal sex:

      1. Discuss using a condom with your partner.
      2. Buy female condom or get them for free at a local testing site.
      3. Check listed expiration date.
      4. Open the package carefully and remove the condom.
      5. Hold the condom at the closed end, with the open end hanging down. Grasp the flexible inner ring and squeeze with the thumb and middle finger so it becomes long and narrow.
      6. Choose a position and insert. Squat, raise one leg, sit or lie down. Gently insert the inner ring into the rectum as far as possible..Make sure it is not twisted. The outer ring remains outside of the rectum.
      7. Continue with planned activity. Gently guide your partner’s penis into the rectum. Make sure that it enters properly. Once the penis is inserted, if there is discomfort, withdrawal the penis and reposition the inner ring.
      8. To remove the condom, twist the outer ring and gently pull the condom. Do not flush or reuse the condom.
    • Where can I get free condoms?

      Visit your local health department, test site, or call 1-800-332-2437 to find out where you can get free condoms in your area. Project INK in Columbus is also offering young men of color who meet certain criteria the option of ordering free condoms that would be discretely mailed to your home. For more information about Project INK, visit our Free Condoms page.

  • Birth Control Basics

    Choosing a birth control method is a personal decision that should be discussed between you and your physician. This page will familiarize you with common birth control terms and methods that may be helpful in any decision-making processes. It is primarily female-focused.

    • Which contraceptive is right for you?

      Effectiveness is not the only important factor when choosing a birth control method. Factors such as cost, insurance coverage, availability, ease of use, potential side effects, and personal beliefs also play a role. Birth control methods are something that couples are encouraged to discuss, especially in regards to future family planning as well. Including a physician in your discussions and decision processes may also provide clarity and information for methods that will best fit your needs. There is no one method that works best for everyone and only condoms protect against HIV and STIs.

    • Hormone-Based Contraceptives

      The Pill

      The pill is an oral contraceptive with varying chemical structures and hormone dosages that is taken daily. Common hormones used in oral contraceptives are synthetic estrogen and progestin. Depending on the pill’s chemical and hormonal makeup, women may experience menstruation monthly, every few months, or not at all.

      The use of oral contraceptives has also been effective in reducing acne, hair loss, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and heavy bleeding.

      The Vaginal Ring and Transdermal Patch

      The NuvaRing and Ortho Evra are two hormone-based methods that do not require taking a pill every day.

      Both use synthetic estrogen and progestin the same way as the pill and deliver hormones through the skin/tissue. Women using these methods experience menstruation monthly during set periods of time.

      Injected Contraceptives

      Depo-Provera (progestin) and Lunelle (progestin and estrogen) are contraceptives that are injected by a medical provider every four to twelve weeks depending on the hormone composition.

      The Implant

      The Implanon is about the size of a matchstick and is implanted under the skin of the upper arm and releases the hormone progestin. It is inserted by a medical professional that requires only a local anesthetic and is effective for up to three years. Note: It may not be effective for women more than 30% heavier than their medically ideal weight.

    • Barrier and Spermicide Methods

      Cervical Barriers

      Covering the cervix provides protection against pregnancy. The diaphragm, cervical cap, FemCap, and Lea’s Shield are four common methods that prevent sperm from entering the uterus. Cervical barriers should be used with spermicide.

      Spermicide

      Spermicide is a chemical that kills sperm and is available in foam, sponge, suppositories, creams, and jellies. These spermicides are not all safe to use with condoms and should be reviewed prior to use.

      Directions for spermicide use (available in the packaging and varies by type) should be read in advance of sexual activity.

    • Intrauterine Devices

      Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are small, plastic objects inserted into the uterus by a medical professional. The two IUDs available are the ParaGard and Mirena. Paragard is a plastic T free from hormones with a copper wire wrapped around its stem, copper sleeves on the side arms, and is effective for 10 years.

      The Mirena is a polyethylene T with a cylinder containing progestin and is effective for 5 years. Both have plastic threads that attached that hang through the cervical opening into the vagina. These threads are used to check placement of the IUD and ensure it hasn’t slipped out of place. Women may experience spotting, lightened, or absence menstruation.

    • Emergency Contraception

      There are many reasons and circumstances where a woman has unprotected sex that puts her at risk of unintended pregnancy. Pregnancy can be prevented through the use of emergency contraceptives.

      Emergency contraceptives are not abortion pills and do not terminate a pregnancy if the fertilized egg has already attached itself to the uterine wall. Hormonal pills such as Plan B and Next Choice use higher doses of progestin and estrogen that are common in other hormonal birth control methods. Non-hormonal methods such as Ella (pill) or the insertion of a ParaGard IUD are also effective at preventing pregnancy. Anyone over the age of 17 can purchase Plan B or Next Choice by asking a pharmacist, though the pharmacist is not required by law to dispense emergency contraception.

    • Fertility Awareness Methods

      Fertility Awareness methods are those that use the signs of cyclic fertility to prevent of plan conception.

      Standard Days Method

      The standard days method requires a woman avoid unprotected sex for a twelve day period in the middle of the menstrual cycle. Women typically have a menstrual cycle between twenty six and thirty two days long where sex should be avoided between days eight through nineteen. These twelve days account for days surrounding ovulation and potential variations in timing.

      Use of Cycle Beads assist women in tracking her menstrual cycle and know when she can and cannot get pregnant.

      Mucus Method

      The mucus method determines the time of ovulation by monitoring the cyclical changes in cervical mucus color and texture. A woman will “read” her mucus by putting her fingers insider her vagina and noting the consistency of secretions.

      • After menstruation, some dry days will pass where there is no vaginal discharge appears on the vulva
      • When there is yellow or white sticky discharge, unprotected sex should be avoided.
      • The ovulatory mucus is clear, stringy, and stretchy. Unprotected sex should be avoided.
      • Approximately 4 days after the ovulatory mucus begins and 24 hours after a cloudy discharge resumes, it is considered safe to resume unprotected sex that won’t result in pregnancy.
      Calendar Method

      The calendar method is often also referred to as the rhythm method. This method estimates the calendar time during a woman’s cycle when she is ovulating and fertile through the use of a monthly chart that notes the length of her cycles. Ideally the chart will have at least a year’s worth of cycle data.

      • The first day of menstruation is counted as day 1
      • To determine high-risk days where unprotected sex should be avoided, a woman subtracts 18 from the number of days of her shortest cycle.
      • To estimate when it’s safe to have unprotected sex and avoid pregnancy, a woman subtracts 10 from the number of days in her longest cycle.
      Basal Body Temperature Method

      This method monitors the body’s slight temperature changes that take place during ovulation and high fertility days. Hormonal changes from ovulation typically increase the body temperature slightly by 0.2F degrees. Thermometers have been developed to effectively indicate high-fertility window periods.

    • Methods to Avoid

      These methods have been proven to be ineffective at preventing pregnancy.

      Nursing

      Though nursing does create hormonal changes in a woman’s body that delays the start of ovulation, there is no way to accurately predict when ovulation will resume. Ovulation also often occurs before a nursing mother menstruates again, so waiting until the first menstruation after birth is not effective at preventing pregnancy.

      Withdrawal

      Removing the penis before ejaculation does not guarantee that sperm was not deposited. Pre-cum is common and often occurs without men realizing that it happened. The withdrawal method is unreliable and known to fail more often than other methods.

      Douching

      Douching after intercourse does not wash out sperm, but actually pushes it further into the vagina and uterus. It also can irritate the vaginal lining and cause dryness when used often.

  • Anal Sex

    Anal sex can be enjoyed by both men and women, however, it also comes with some added risks and considerations. Practicing safer anal sex will keep you safe from HIV and STIs and reduce uncomfortable side effects like tearing.

    Condoms and Lubricant

    Though no one has ever gotten pregnant from anal sex, it is still very important to wear a condom. The anus has not naturally evolved to be penetrated and has thinner lining in the anal cavity that is prone to tearing when condoms and lubricant are not used. These micro-tears in the anal cavity put a person at much greater risk for contracting HIV and STIs in comparison to other condomless sexual activity. Since the anal cavity also does not produce it’s own lubrication (depending on hormonal activity), using a water-based lubricant will reduce the risk of tearing and prolonged discomfort after anal sex.

    Hygiene

    The anal cavity and the lower part of the rectum have lower levels of little fecal material in them than many people may think. Make sure to wash the anus, genital area, and your hands with antimicrobial soap before and after sexual activity.

    Other Activity

    Even after cleaning yourself properly, it is still important to remember not to transfer any bacteria or fluids by switching directly from anal sex to oral or vaginal sex. Even microscopic fecal material and bacteria can cause oral, vaginal, and eye infections. To prevent infections, change condoms between each activity and wash your hands.