Understand the different kinds of barrier methods that prevent STIs.

When used correctly, barriers like condoms, dental dams and gloves lower the chance of STIs. However, barriers don’t work for everyone. For some people, condoms can reduce sensation or make it difficult to get or keep an erection. An internal condom (sometimes called “female” condom) can sometimes help with this.

Condoms

There are external condoms (sometimes called “male” condoms) and internal condoms (sometimes called “female” condoms). When used properly, they can prevent many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy.

A new condom should be used every time you have sex, with each new partner, and when switching from anal to oral or genital penetration. The condom should be applied before sexual contact occurs. Condoms can be used with sex toys.

External condoms (sometimes called “male” condoms)

External condoms fit snugly over an erect penis and are usually made of latex or a non-latex material such as polyurethane. If you are allergic or sensitive to latex, consider using an internal (or female) condom. More information about external condoms:

  • Condoms come in different sizes, flavours and styles.
  • Lambskin and sheepskin condoms prevent pregnancy, but do not prevent all STIs.
  • Novelty condoms such as edible condoms, do prevent STIs or pregnancy.
  • Condoms can be bought without a prescription at any pharmacy and are sometimes available in washroom vending machines.
  • Condoms are often free in BC at many clinics, public health units and sexual health clinics.

Internal condoms (sometimes called "female condoms")

An internal or insertive condom is made from synthetic nitrile, a type of material that is thinner than latex but stronger so less likely to break. It fits inside the vagina/internal genitals or inside the rectum.

The internal condom is a good option for people who are sensitive or allergic to latex. It can be useful for those with a sexual partner who has difficulty maintaining erections or have soft erections. It can also be useful for those who need to rest during sex because of long sex sessions, ability or stamina. More information about internal condoms:

  • Internal condoms offer more STI protection than the external condom because the part of the condom that stays outside the body covers more of the skin around the genitals.
  • They can be put into place up to 2 hours before intercourse and they do not need to be removed immediately after intercourse.
  • Internal condoms can be used for both genital (e.g. vaginal) and anal sex. Note that they have not been officially approved for anal sex (this is considered “off label” use).
  • Internal condoms can be used with any type of lubrication.
  • They are not affected by temperature or humidity and have a shelf life of five years.

Dental dams

A dental dam is a thin piece of latex that is placed over the vagina/internal genitals or anus during oral sex. It can also be called a latex barrier/sheet, latex dam, oral dam or sheet.

Dental dams can be found in pharmacies and sexual health clinics or bought online.

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