Sex Barriers 101

Sex barriers are one of the most important items in any sex-positive person’s bedside drawer. Barrier methods are a very effective way to prevent the spread of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies. They can also be used to enhance certain sex acts and provide a more pleasurable experience. Unfortunately, a lot of people are unaware of the different types of sex barriers, or aren’t sure what they’re used for. As most sex education is very heteronormative, the only sex barrier we tend to be taught about is the external condom. But for many of us, especially folks under the LGBTQI+ umbrella, our sex lives are likely to include a much wider range of activities than just P-in-V sex. Similarly, if you’re polyamorous, kinky, or enjoy casual sex, the humble condom probably isn’t the only sex barrier that you need to be familiar with. Today I want to talk about four of the most common safer sex barriers: The external condom, the internal condom, the dental dam and the glove.

External Condoms

External condoms are the safer sex barrier that most people are familiar with. For many of us, our sex education classes consisted of putting external condoms on bananas and smuggling a few extras in our pockets to use as water balloons. External condoms are readily available, and can be purchased at most grocery stores, pharmacies and even in vending machines. External condoms are worn on a penis or dildo during sex and are removed and disposed of immediately afterwards. They are most commonly made of latex, but there are many alternative materials available.

External condoms offer effective protection from STI’s and unwanted pregnancy. They are also a good choice if you’re using a dildo on multiple partners, as you can change the condom between partners to prevent cross-contamination. They can also be a great addition to anal play, particularly if you’re worried about making a mess. Simply roll a condom over your favourite toy and when you’re done you can just remove the condom and throw it away. Even if you’re in a fluid-bonded relationship and are using alternative contraception (or if unwanted pregnancy isn’t an issue for you) then condoms can still be useful. They can reduce sensitivity in the person who is wearing the condom, meaning that they might be able to last longer. Using a condom can also be a fun tool for role-playing hook up scenarios.

The most important thing about using a condom is making sure that you put it on and remove it correctly. Doctor Doe has a fantastic video which shows you exactly how to use an external condom to ensure maximum protection.

Internal condoms

Internal condoms are less popular than external condoms, even though they are just as useful. Internal condoms are often called “Female condoms” but I prefer to use the term “Internal condom” because I feel that term is more inclusive and better describes how they work. An internal condom is a long sheath that can be inserted into the vagina or anus before sex. It is worn during penetrative sex. Internal condoms are less readily available than external condoms, but they can be purchased from pharmacies and adult stores.

Internal condoms are extra handy because they can be inserted up to eight hours before you have sex. That means that if you know sex is on the cards, you can pop one in and then when the time comes, you can just relax and enjoy yourself without stopping to find and unwrap a condom. Internal condoms also provide a little more protection against STI’s because the outer ring covers a greater surface area, meaning that there is a lot less genital contact than with an external condom. Internal condoms may be a great option if your partner finds it uncomfortable to wear an external condom.

Dental Dams

Dental dams are a large sheet of latex which is used to cover the entire vulva or anus during oral sex. They provide protection against STI’s by reducing contact between the mouth and genitals. They are lightweight and easy to carry in a pocket or handbag, and they come in a range of different flavours and colours. Like the Internal Condom, dental dams are a little more difficult to get, but most adult stores will stock them. In a pinch, you can also make a dental dam by unrolling a condom and carefully cutting down one side to make a flat sheet.

Dental dams can be tricky to get the hang of because unlike the other sex barriers, they don’t stay in place on their own. You will need to use your hands to stretch it over the genitals and hold it in place while you’re performing oral sex. You could also ask your partner to hold the dam in place so that you can focus on pleasing them. It’s also extremely important that you keep track of which side of the dam has been on your partner’s genitals and which side has been on your mouth, to avoid cross-contamination. If in doubt, discard the dam you’ve been using and grab another one.


Nitrile or latex gloves are worn over the hands to provide protection during masturbation, fingering or fisting. It’s very easy to find protective gloves at pharmacies and in adult stores, and they are often sold in large boxes very cheaply. They’re very simple to use- just put them on your hand, have your fun and then remove and dispose of them.

Gloves serve multiple purposes during hand sex. They provide a physical barrier that protects against STIs and fluid transmission. Although hand sex is a relatively low-risk activity in terms of disease transmission, if you have a cut or graze on your hand you could potentially pass bacteria or viruses between your skin and your partner’s genitals. Gloves also make hand sex more comfortable by smoothing over callouses, hangnails, and sharp fingernails which might catch and hurt during play. If you’re into fisting or more vigorous hand sex, using gloves will stop the skin on your hands absorbing your lubricant, meaning that you don’t have to reapply as often during play. As most gloves have a matte surface, it makes it easier to see if you’ve missed any spots when lubing up, which will make the whole experience easier and more pleasurable for your partner.

Gloves are also a great addition to solo play. To shake things up a little, pop on a pair of gloves before you begin touching yourself. Putting a barrier between your hands and your bits varies the sensation and tricks your brain into thinking that someone else is doing the touching. Gloves are also a great addition if you want to try playing with your own butt, but feel a little bit squicked out at the thought of accidentally coming into contact with feces (which is fairly unlikely, and I’ve written a post about it here).

Sex barriers are a really important part of having a safer sex life, particularly if you’re queer, polyamorous or kinky. It can be so empowering to experiment with a bunch of different barriers, learn how to use them and have a supply on hand for all your sexy adventures. Barrier methods are a great way to protect yourself and your partners, while enhancing your sexual experience and giving you freedom to explore and express yourself.

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