Barrier methods have been around for centuries. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from the condoms made from lamb intestines and even tortoise shell that were used in the 1500s. Now, they’re commonly made of latex or polyurethane. Barrier methods, namely condoms and dental dams, serve as a literal barrier used during sex to prevent sperm from meeting an egg, and STIs from passing between partners. This makes them the only form of birth control that prevents against both pregnancy and STI transmission.
Even better, condoms and dental dams come in a ton of different varieties, and are available for free from Student Health Service, and in college housing.
External condoms: 82% effective;* these are applied over the penis or sex toy and come in latex and non-latex options. They’re easy to use and widely available, and you can find them with a huge range of flavors, colors, textures, and lubricants--some even glow in the dark!
Click here to watch a video on external condoms.
Internal condoms: 79% effective; internal condoms (sometimes called “female condoms”) are inserted into the vagina and are made of polyurethane, making them great for people with latex allergies. They provide a different feel than external condoms--and, some say, more sensation. They also partially cover the skin of the vulva, providing extra protection against STIs like herpes that can be transferred skin-to-skin.
Click here to watch a video on internal condoms.
Dental dams: Named after their use in dentist’s offices, dental dams are thin squares of latex or polyurethane that are used to prevent STI transmission during oral sex. Hold them over the vulva or anus of the partner receiving oral sex, and the material transfers sensation while keeping you both safe. They also come in a ton of different flavors, and you can even make one yourself using an external condom!
Click here to watch a video on dental dams.
|Withdrawal: 73% effective, withdrawal is colloquially known as “pulling out.” It’s not a barrier method per se--it relies on the penetrative partner to pull out before they ejaculate. While this method has the appeal of being totally free and easily accessible, it also depends on one partner exercising extreme control and withdrawing at the right moment every single time, and doesn’t provide protection against STIs.|
- Easy to use
- Easy to get
- Prevent pregnancy and STIs
- Come in all sorts of flavors, colors, etc.
- No prescription necessary
- No side effects
- Available for free on campus
- You need to remember to use one every time you have sex
- More prone to user error
- Can reduce sensation during sex
- Will I use them consistently?
- Do I or my partner have a latex allergy?
- What kind of fun varieties do I want to explore?
Using condoms properly:
Since barrier methods are more prone to user error than hormonal methods, it’s important to use them correctly every time.
Use a new condom every time you have sex, and throw them away afterwards.
Use the right kind of lube. Water-based lubes are safe for general use, but oil-based lubes like lotion or vaseline shouldn’t be used with latex condoms. Silicone-based lubes are also not safe for use with silicone sex toys.
Store them safely, avoiding places with extreme temperatures, high amounts of friction, or where they might get punctured easily.
Check the expiration date, located on the back of the packaging for external condoms, and the inside side flap of an internal condom package.
Open packaging with your hands, not your teeth or scissors, which might tear the condom.
Most importantly, always use a condom! Don’t accept excuses, and don’t give them.
* all efficacy rates refer to pregnancy prevention and are based on typical use