Condoms are available in a wide variety of colours, flavours, styles and sizes. Most condoms are made of latex or polyurethane. Latex condoms are the most common and inexpensive of the two types. Polyurethane condoms are an alternative for those allergic to latex.
Condoms, if used correctly and consistently, can reduce your risk of contracting HIV and STIs by up to 85%. Condoms can protect you during oral and anal sex.
Using lube makes sex smoother (because it decreases friction) and gives you added protection. Lube should be put on the outside of the condom (after it is on the penis of course). Using a water-based lube on the outside of the condom reduces friction and decreases the chances of breakage. A drop inside the tip of the condom can also greatly increase sensation. However, make sure it is only a drop as too much can cause the condom to slip off during sex. Lube should also be used around the anus (if planning on fucking) and can be re-applied during sex.
Only water-based lubricants should be used with latex condoms. These include KY Jelly and Assegai and an assortment of other brand names. Alternatively, you could use plain white low fat yoghurt. Oil-based lubricants such as butter, baby oil, Vaseline, Dawn or Aqueous Cream will break the latex down and make it fall apart – it will lose 70 percent effectiveness in 30 seconds!
Use un-lubricated condoms or flavoured condoms for oral sex – usual lubricant does not taste that good!
Why should I use condoms?
There are various reasons for you to use condoms. These include the following:
- Condoms prevent the spread of STIs and HIV, when used correctly and consistently.
- Condoms are available in various shapes, colours, flavours, textures and sizes – to increase the fun during sex. With practice they can also add to the enjoyment of sex.
- Condoms make sex less messy.
- Condoms can be part of foreplay and arousal.
- Condoms give the message "I care about myself, about you and about the gay community."
Practical information on condoms:
Condoms can greatly reduce the risk of HIV and other STIs if you use them correctly and consistently. It is important that you remember the following:
- To keep condoms fresh, store them away from too much heat, cold, or friction.
- Always check the expiry date on the package. Do not use expired condoms.
- Do not open a condom package with your teeth.
- Be careful that your fingernails or jewellery do not tear the condom. Body jewellery in or around your penis may also tear a condom.
- Use a new condom every time you have anal or oral sex. Never use the same condom more than once, never ejaculate more than once in the same condom, or use a condom that has been used by someone else.
- Do not "double bag" (use two condoms at once) as friction between the condoms increases the chance of breakage.
- Throw used condoms away by wrapping them in paper – do not flush down the toilet as they can cause plumbing problems.
Using a condom:
- Check the packaging and expiry date on the condom. Open the package carefully.
- Make sure your (or your partner's) penis is erect before attempting to put the condom on. Remember no penetration (oral or anal) until the condom is on. Many people start using a condom too late, after some initial penetration that may involve some pre-cum.
- If you are uncircumcised (uncut), pull back your foreskin before putting the condom on as this will allow your foreskin to move without breaking the condom.
- If you want, put a drop of water-based lubricant inside the tip of the condom. Be careful not to use too much as this may cause the condom to slip off during sex.
- Now gently squeeze the tip of the condom (to get rid of the trapped air) and place onto the tip of the penis.
- Start unrolling the condom now. Remember that a condom is like a sock – there is a right side and a wrong side. You can tell if you are on the right side if you are able to roll the condom down the penis with ease.
- If the condom is on the right way, proceed to roll the condom down the penis, all the way to the base of the penis.
- Put water-based lube on the outside of the condom and/or in your partner's anus after the condom has been put on.
- Begin penetration. Check the condom during sex, especially if it feels strange. Make sure it is still in place and unbroken. Add more lube if necessary.
- After orgasm, hold the base of the condom and pull off before your penis gets soft. Remember to hold the condom tightly so as not to spill any semen. Only remove the condom after penetration is over.
- Tie your condom into a knot so as to ensure that not semen leaks out. Wrap the condom in paper and throw away. Don't try and flush it as it may cause plumbing problems.
Making condoms less of a burden and more fun:
Some men feel that using a condom "ruins the mood". Many feel that condoms decrease pleasure and are a burden. While this may be true to some extent, the bottom line is that there is no other way to protect yourself from HIV and from STIs during sex. So, it is a trade-off but certainly the benefits of using a condom greatly outweigh the disadvantages.
You can try making condoms less of a burden by trying the following:
- Practice putting on a condom when you are on your own or while with a partner or friend? Practice makes perfect.
- You can also try different sizes, flavours and textures to see what you like, and what feels, the best.
- Try putting the lube on the inside and then masturbate with the condom on. See how it feels and what you like.
Availability of condoms:
Some men do not feel comfortable carrying condoms when they go out because they feel that they will be judged as being easy or looking to score. OUT's research showed that one of the main reasons that men do not use condoms is that they do not have them available when they need them. Therefore, it is best to be prepared. Carry condoms and keep condoms at hand (e.g., by your bed, in your pocket etc) so you are not in a situation where you need one and do not have one. Also keep lube handy – in a large tub by your bed so you do not have to fiddle with small packages. Keep an eye out for OUT's fun Safer Sex Packs (including condoms, strawberry lube, and funky messaging) the next time you are in a club or visiting the Prism Lifestyle Centre.
Remember, carrying a condom and being prepared does not mean that you are looking to score or that you are easy. What it does mean is that you are responsible and have thought about your health and the health of your potential sex partner. So, try developing the following attitude (and behaviour):
- Carrying condoms is positive;
- Carrying condoms means you are prepared;
- Carrying condoms means you are in control;
- Carrying condoms is part of your preparation for feeling sexy; and,
- Carrying condoms means you are prepared for when you meet that fabulous guy!
"But I've fucked without a condom already!?"
Even if you have already had risky sex, or are having it now, this does not mean that all is lost – it is never too late to start over. It is clear that some people may become HIV positive after one encounter but this is not always the case. You might still be HIV negative and this is worth finding out and protecting. Establish your HIV status by going for an HIV test (this should be done regularly, approximately every 6 months).
It is sometimes difficult to remain true to your contract with yourself on protected sex especially if you are caught up in the heat of the moment, if condoms are not accessible and/or if you are using alcohol and drugs. However, you can try to minimise these situations by:
- Making condoms and lube accessible
- having the discussion on condom use with your sex partner before you are caught up in the heat of the moment
- knowing your reaction when you are under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
What is clear is that an overriding determination always to have protected sex does not always translate into action but it is important to keep trying!
Communicating about condoms and lube
A guy might find it difficult to bring up the subject of condoms with his sexual partner(s). He may feel embarrassed or shy or worry about rejection. Or if he is already in a sexual relationship, he may worry that by bringing it up, his partner will assume that he has been unfaithful or is distrusting.
It is definitely easier to raise the issue of condom usage before you have sex for the first time. You can emphasise that this is your policy and that you always have sex with a condom to protect yourself and your partners. It may lead to some uncomfortable situations, such as rejection, but it is better to be safe than sorry. In most cases, if he is as concerned about his health as you are, he will have no problem with it.
It may be difficult, but it is not impossible, to discuss condom use any time during a sexual relationship. Emphasise that it is not only a question of trust, but precisely that you love him that you want to ensure that he is protected. The discussion may be undertaken in a larger context, if you are ready and willing, of negotiated safety. Thus it will include a discussion about going for an HIV test, what the results will mean for the relationship, and also issues about sex outside of your primary relationship.
In any case, do not wait until you are in bed or about to have sex to have the discussion about condom use. It might be helpful to have the conversation at a low-key moment, such as over dinner or over the phone. Tell him that it is not because you do not trust him, but that you are just concerned about health – yours and his.
It is important that you set ground rules for yourself with respect to condom use. Make it a practice to always use condoms, whoever you are having sex with – whether it is casual sex or a steady boyfriend, unless you have negotiated unprotected sex with your boyfriend.
Negotiating safety if already in a relationship:
OUT research has shown that it is very difficult for men in sexual relationships, to begin using condoms and practice safer sex, especially if they have not already done so. In this case, negotiated safety may be more practical. When negotiating safety, you should:
- Talk openly and honestly about your relationship. This includes talking about the state of your relationship as well as what each of you can expect from the other.
- Ascertain (through HIV testing) what your HIV status is. Don't just talk about going for a test, but actually do it. You might have to do some internet research on the advantages and disadvantages of testing, where the nearest gay-friendly HIV clinic is, and what treatment might involve should either of you be HIV positive. If you have friends who are living with HIV, ask them how hey coped with the test result, and about living positively. The process of testing together can be a challenge for your relationship – but it can also strengthen it. Most test sites will allow you to test as a couple because this gets around the challenge of disclosure of your HIV test result.
- Reintroduce safer sex into your relationship or agree that unprotected sex is limited to your relationship. Irrespective of your HIV status, you should agree on certain ground rules that will govern your relationship. In this negotiation, each of you should state clearly what each of you expect and agree upon. During this process you can choose to introduce (or reintroduce) safer sex into your relationship. You may at this point mention that despite your trust in him and the relationship, it is your growing understanding of HIV and STIs that makes you want to ensure that you are both safe. Reintroducing safer sex into your relationship becomes especially important when either or both of you tests HIV positive. However, you may feel that safer sex is not necessary for your relationship. If this is the case, it is important that you are both clear about the risk that this decision carries, and how best to deal with casual sexual encounters outside the relationship should they occur.
- Agree to use condoms if having casual sex outside your primary sexual relationship. You will need to discuss whether you are in an open or closed relationship. You should agree on what kinds of sex are or aren't allowed outside the relationship. You should agree that condoms are used in every casual encounter. You should also discuss whether or not it will be necessary for both of you to disclose your casual sexual encounter whether allowed or not.
- Agree to warn their steady (primary) partner in cases of non-compliance. This is another important area of discussion. Think about what might happen if either of you are not able to stick to what it is that you agreed upon. Will you disclose this to one another. Will you inform each other so as to protect each other.
- Re-evaluate the agreement. After a predetermined time, you can agree to sit down and honestly share how each of you feel about the arrangement. It may become clear that, no matter what rules you have agreed upon (e.g., not have casual sex outside the steady relationship, not have unprotected casual sex, or to warn each other about non-compliance), your agreement is not a viable option and that a new agreement needs to be made. Or you might find that the agreement needs to be reinforced, with only fine tuning here or there.
So, negotiated safety is a way to engage in safer sex and although it still carries some level of risk, it may be more practical for men already in a steady sexual relationship.
Negotiated safety if not in a relationship:
If you are not in a relationship it is a good time now to think about your limits and put it in practice for your next casual encounter or your next steady relationship. Decide how much risk you are willing to take. What is and is not acceptable to you. And consider how important it is that you know your status in order to protect yourself and your future casual or steady partner(s).
Now is the time for you to think about the following:
- When in a relationship, what would you feel comfortable with in terms of sex outside of the primary relationship?
- Will you want to know, or feel comfortable telling him, about sex outside of your primary relationship?
- How will you discuss this with your partner?
- What will you do if he wants to have unprotected sex with you?
Make a plan to go for regular HIV tests.
What is important is that you take the time to think about yourself – while you are not in a relationship – and your limits and requirements. What makes you feel good? What do you like to do and how? What risks are you willing to take? After that, you need to make an agreement with yourself that says that, no matter what, you will always try to honour your agreement.
At the beginning of your relationship, you need to have an open and honest discussion with your partner. As the relationship progresses, you may feel ready to have unprotected anal sex with him. If so, ensure that you both go for HIV tests and agree to the ground rules that you set for the relationship. Revisit this arrangement every so often.