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Safer Sex

It's easy to have sex safely without sacrificing a good time. Here are our tips for staying healthy while having fun.

General Guidelines

  • Use condoms for intercourse (vaginal and anal).

  • Use a latex or polyurethane barrier during all types of oral sex.

  • Use latex or polyurethane gloves or finger cots for hand or finger penetration of the vagina or anus.

  • Use condoms on sex toys used by more than one person for any type of penetration (change the condom for each person) or on toys that go from anus to vagina, changing the condoms between insertions.

  • Use only water-based or silicone-based lubricants with latex products. Oil of any kind, Vaseline and hand lotion included, destroys latex. Steer clear of so-called "water-soluble" lubes, which frequently contain oil.

  • Although lubricants containing spermicides like nonoxynol-9 have been said to provide extra protection against viruses and bacteria, we recommend avoiding it. Some people are sensitive to it, and some studies have shown that nonoxynol-9 actually increases the chances of bacterial infection or contracting a virus from your partner.

  • Store latex products in a cool, dry place.

  • Never re-use latex products. Avoid using them after the expiration date (or five years after the manufacture date).

  • If you or your partner are allergic or sensitive to latex products, do not touch them. Instead, add or use non-latex alternatives: polyurethane condoms; non-latex dental dams and non-latex gloves.


  • Use only latex or polyurethane condoms. Natural skin (lamb intestine) condoms are not effective barriers to viruses.

  • When putting condoms on, pinch the air from the reservoir tip and roll onto the penis or toy. (A trapped air bubble can cause the condom to break.) Uncircumcised men should pull their foreskins back to help prevent the condom from slipping. A drop of lube inside the tip of the condom can enhance sensation for the wearer.

  • The actual variation in condom size is slight, but features vary from brand to brand -- experiment to see which you like best!

  • Most condoms are lubricated with either a "wet" gel or a "dry" silicone powder. Can't stand the taste of the lubricant? Try a non-lubricated brand, or a flavored brand. You may also want to try using a water-based flavored gel or lube.

  • Add lubricant when using a condom during intercourse to reduce friction and the chance of breakage.

Dental Dams

  • Dental dams are pieces of latex or polyurethane originally designed for dentists to use during dental procedures (hence the name). However, many sex educators find them useful as barriers during oral/vaginal or oral/anal sex. A cut-open condom or glove works, too.

  • Add lubricant to the lickee's side to help increase sensation. To avoid accidentally reversing the dam, keep track of which side of the dam is whose (a mark with a pen can help).

  • If you find dams too small, use long sheets of kitchen plastic wrap. No studies have yet shown the effectiveness of plastic wrap as a barrier to viruses and bacteria, but many health educators believe it is effective -- it's at least much safer than going without!

  • For more information about dams, see FAQ: Dental Dams below.

FAQ: Dental Dams

What are these little squares of latex and what am I going to do with them?

Please realize that dental dams were not originally designed for what you have in mind. Dentists use them to isolate a tooth from the tongue, other teeth and gums during dental procedures. However, some sensual individual (perhaps a creative dental hygienist), thought of using dams for cunnilingus (oral contact with female genitals) and analingus (oral/anal contact). And so, a new method of playful, safer sex was born.

How do I use them?

Hold the dam against your partner's genitals while you lick, kiss or suck the covered area. Either of you can hold the dam in place during these activities. This may sound easier than it actually is, since it's sometimes difficult to hold the dam firmly in place once the juices start flowing. But with a sense of humor, and a little patience, you can have a lot of fun practicing.

What if the dam slips off?

Because dams tend to become slippery and slide around, we recommend that you have several dams nearby and ready for use. Mark the dams on one side with a pen, so that if the dam gets set aside during passionate foreplay, you'll know which side is for the licker and which for the lickee. Better yet, use a fresh dam and avoid the possibility of exchanging body fluids. We strongly advise that you throw the dam away after one use.

Now the real challenge: How can I get my partner to use the dams? I'm not so sure about them myself.

Practice alone first. Put the whole dam in your mouth. Lick it. How does it taste? Better you should make that funny face now than when your face is between your lover's legs. If the dam's flavor bothers you, wash it with a mild soap and rinse it thoroughly.

Touch yourself with the dam brush it against your face, tickle and rub your genitals with it, snap it against your skin. We encourage you to play with the dams until you are embarrassed by how much you are enjoying them.

How can I start talking with my partner about using dams?

Dams are a great tool for starting a conversation about safer sex. Having them handy and being able to talk about using them shows a concern for yourself and others. When you feel the time is right -- we suggest a non-sexual setting, for instance during dinner -- tell your lover or potential lover about the fun you've been having with dental dams.

Have a dam handy so you can show the person what you're talking about. Spark curiosity -- offer to share your toy and be the safer sex coach. Ask this person's feelings about safer sex and listen to the response. Often just talking about your feelings, whether you're shy, embarrassed, intimidated or excited, can ease any tensions. Be prepared to negotiate around safer sex alternatives which are acceptable to both of you.

Explore and have fun!

Gloves and Finger Cots

  • Gloves are thin, resilient and transmit sensation and temperature beautifully. They make rough hands with jagged nails sleek and smooth -- especially important for anal play.

  • Gloves make washing up between anal and vaginal play unnecessary -- simply change your gloves.

  • Finger cots, which resemble mini-condoms, are convenient barriers when one finger is being used for penetration, or for small sex toys.

The “Female” Condom

The “female” condom is cylindrical with a soft ring at each end, and is worn by the receptive partner for vaginal or anal intercourse. It's polyurethane, so it is safe for those with latex allergies. The “Female” Condom has been quite the advancement in the area of safer sex. However, its appearance, instructions for use, and other practical considerations can be overwhelming. Here are a few points to consider:


  • A woman can take responsibility for its use -- especially good for those whose partners resist using male condoms or for those couples who want to share equally in all safer sex responsibilities.

  • It can be inserted before a sexual encounter begins.

  • It rests outside the vagina and may help protect the external genitalia from sexually transmitted conditions.

  • A male partner may find the loose fit of the female condom gives him increased sensation.

  • It is not made of latex, so can be used by those with a latex sensitivity and by those who wish to use oil-based lubricants.

  • Some women may like the feeling of the outer ring rubbing against the clitoris.


  • The outer ring may be irritating as it rubs against the labia, urethra and/or clitoris.

  • The inner ring must be placed carefully or the condom may twist.

  • It may require more lubrication for successful use. If the condom isn't lubricated sufficiently it can cling to the penis, twisting or even turning inside out.

  • It's made of a plastic material that may be noisy during intercourse.

  • You must be careful not to insert the penis or dildo between the condom and vaginal wall.

  • Ejaculate can leak out of the condom unless it is removed carefully.

  • The outer ring may need to be held in place to keep the condom from slipping into the vagina.

  • The inner ring is "one size fits most" and may cause discomfort for some people.

If you use the female condom for anal intercourse:

  • Take special care that the outer ring stays outside the body and doesn't slip into the anus.

  • The insertive partner may have to keep thrusts shallow; the condom isn't as long as the rectum. Thrusting too deeply will stress the condom (possibly resulting in breakage) or push it into the rectum.

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Sexuality Throughout the Lifespan

Each person is a sexual being with normal desires to be loved and touched. Although feelings about and experiences with sexuality may change as we age, all humans are sexual beings.

It is essential to know that sexuality involves a lot more than just sexual activity. A person is still a sexual being even if they are not sexually active. Sexuality encompasses:

  • our gender identity and orientation

  • feelings of attraction

  • the way(s) we choose to be intimate with others

  • our personal body image

  • our sense of right and wrong (i.e., values) and how this influences our behaviour(s)

Sexuality and Pregnancy

The body undergoes so many changes during pregnancy, and sexuality is no different. Here is a look at the physical and emotional changes that might occur in each trimester:

First Trimester

Emotional Changes:

  • You and your partner may find your desire for sex increased because for once you do not have to think about birth control.

  • You may find that you are conflicted about sex as your mental images of yourself changes to a more motherly view.

  • Some women find themselves preoccupied by the thought of sex, including dreams and strange fantasies.

Physical Changes:

  • Your breasts may be sensitive, causing your either increased pleasure or pain. The first trimester is when your breast undergoes the fastest changes.

  • Nausea and fatigue may diminish your sexual appetite.

  • Threatened miscarriage may limit the amount of intercourse or orgasms you may have.

  • Orgasms may seem to linger, causing a feeling of tension in your vagina and clitoris.

Second Trimester

Emotional Changes:

  • Many women feel sexy with their new figures, particularly if they are feeling less sickly than in the first trimester.

  • Dads may be fearful of hurting the baby, or of the baby "knowing" what is going on, particularly once the baby has started moving and he can feel the movements.

  • Some dads are jealous of the baby's closeness with the mother.

Physical Changes

  • The vagina is more lubricated and the clitoris and vagina are more engorged.

  • Many women will become orgasmic or multi-orgasmic for the first time during pregnancy because of this added engorgement.

Third Trimester

Emotional Changes:

  • Mom may be concerned that her body is repulsive to her partner, or that her figure may never return.

  • To the contrary, most men are actually aroused by their wife's blossoming figure. Communication is essential for a healthy sex life, at all points of life.

  • Mother is becoming more fatigued making timing difficult.

  • Positioning. Well, all I can say is be creative! Everyone has a different belly, so try different positions until you find one that works for you both. Remember mom shouldn't lie on her back; she needs to be at least tilted to one side. Woman on top positions are great for the end of pregnancy as are spooning or rear entry.

Physical Changes

  • Uterus will occasionally have spasms lasting upwards of one minute during orgasms, this is different from contractions.

  • Contractions may occur near your due date after sex for about half an hour.

  • Because of all the engorgement in the vagina and clitoris, orgasm may not relieve the sexual tension you feel.

  • If your baby's head is deep in the pelvis you may have pain or spotting during or after sex, this is normal. Try using shallow penetration (rear entry position offer this benefit).

  • Sex will not start labor if your cervix is not ripe, so the average woman does not have to worry about preterm labor.

Remember this special time in a woman’s life, and she should be able to enjoy herself fully during pregnancy. There are very few things a pregnant woman can't do sexually. If a woman and/or her spouse are having problems, their health care practitioner may advise to limit intercourse or orgasm. The one thing that should never be done is to blow air into the vagina, as it may cause a placental air embolism.

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Children and Sexuality

Within North American culture, childhood sexuality remains an area that has been largely avoided in parent education and unexplored by researchers. Childhood is widely seen as a period of asexual innocence. Strong taboos continue concerning childhood eroticism, and childhood sexual expression and learning are still divisive social issues. This general ambience of anxiety associated with the sexuality of children is probably understandable, given the general history of sexuality in North America, with its focus on heterosexual adult sex within committed intimate relationships, and its opposition to other sexual expressions.

Understanding one's sexuality is a lifelong process. There are, however, developmental markers for what children need to know about sexuality — from infancy through adolescence. These guideposts can help parents, caregivers, and educators decide when a discussion of a given subject is age-appropriate. They include information and concepts about sexuality and reproduction that children need to learn at different ages.

With the information and sets of skills outlined below, children are more likely to feel good about their sexuality and make the best possible choices for themselves, their partners, and their futures.

Early Childhood (birth – 3 years):

  • Learns about love and trust through touching and holding

  • Sucking (need for oral satisfaction)

  • Spontaneous reflexive responses

    • males: erections of penis

    • females: vaginal lubrication

  • Gender Identity develops (child knows “I am a boy” or “I am a girl”)

  • Sex role conditioning (boys and girls are treated differently)

  • Exploration of own body (hands, feet, genitals)

  • May enjoy nudity

  • Toilet training

  • Curiosity about differences between boys’ and girls’ bodies

  • Curiosity about parents’ bodies

Late Childhood (4 – 8 years):

  • Childhood sexual play (e.g. Doctor)

  • Sex role learning: how to behave like a girl or boy

  • Learns sex words: “bathroom vocabulary”

  • Asks question about pregnancy and birth

  • Begins to distinguish acceptable and unacceptable behaviour

  • Possibility of masturbation

  • Becomes modest about own body

  • Media influences understanding about male/female family roles

Early Adolescence (9 – 11 years):

  • Puberty begins (growth of genitals, breast development, etc.)

  • Possibility of masturbation

  • Closeness of same sex friends

  • Possibility of body exploration with others


Adolescence is a time of tremendous opportunity and change. Becoming a sexually healthy adult is one of the most important developmental tasks of adolescence. However, one of the most sensitive issues associated with adolescence is this very topic. Due to this, adolescents receive inadequate education, guidance and services that help them make the transition to adulthood. Often, however, they are denied complete access to reproductive health information and services. With their limited knowledge about their bodies and their sexuality, adolescents may find themselves vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases and infections, including HIV/AIDS, as well as substance use, sexual exploitation, and violence.

Adolescence (12 – 18 years):

  • Puberty changes (physical and emotional) occur

  • Menstruation or sperm production begins

  • Possibility of masturbation

  • Pleasure from kissing and touching

  • Greater awareness of being sexually attracted to others

  • Possibility of sexual activity

  • Possibility of pregnancy or impregnating

  • Possibility of contraception and sex safety decisions

  • Strong need for independence

Sex Over 50

Sexuality and sensuality are an important part of the aging process. Most people want and need to be close to other people. We want to touch and be touched, both physically and emotionally. As we grow older, some of us become more attuned to our sensuality—our ability to be fully present in each moment and to notice the smells, textures, and sounds that enhance our lives. How sensual you are plays a key role in your overall ability to derive pleasure from life.

Physical closeness and companionship are important to most seniors. Just being physically near is important, but many of us also want to continue an active, satisfying sex life as we grow older.

As people age they often worry about their sexual performance. Some may feel that at a certain age sex is no longer appropriate—that sex is for the young. Others are embarrassed about their lack of sexual "performance" and begin to back away from regular sexual encounters. Sometimes illness or loss of a partner interferes with sexuality. Without appropriate information, and sometimes professional help, a temporary situation can often turn into a permanent one.

However, given good health and a willing partner, studies show that both men and women can enjoy sex for as long as they wish. All it takes is a willingness to learn and compensate for some of the normal changes of aging, and to ask for professional help when needed. With proper information and support, your midlife and later years can be an exciting time to explore the emotional and sensual aspects of your sexuality.

How Does Our Sexuality Change as we Age?

Young men and women often find that although the physical aspects of their sexuality are strong, they have difficulty with timing and frequency of desire. Research has shown that the typical young male sexual cycle builds quickly and climaxes quickly, while a women's sexual arousal tends to build more slowly. Additionally, young male sexuality tends to be more physically based, while women want more of an emotional connection during their lovemaking.

As we age, however, the relationship aspects of our sexuality often become a more important aspect of our sexual expression. As physical sexuality changes, couples can explore new ways to stimulate each other by being more intentional about creating a romantic atmosphere for lovemaking with candles, romantic music, sensual massages etc. They may wish to explore new aspects of their sexuality through erotic reading, sex toys, or videos. For couples with families, the later years provide the time and freedom to cultivate "love nests," something that might not have been possible in a house ruled by young children, carpools, sports schedules and the many other demands of raising a family.

Being informed about the normal changes of aging and the many options for supporting our sexuality is much easier than it was a generation ago. More information is available on the Internet, in books, and from the medical community. Also, more middle-aged and older adults feel freer to discuss sexuality with their friends and learn from and support each other. Openly discussing your sexual needs and desires, particularly with your spouse or partner, becomes even more important as you age. Several physiological changes of aging can affect your sexuality, as outlined below.


The major changes that women experience during midlife are related to diminishing hormonal production. This accounts for the symptoms of perimenopause (the time when monthly periods begin to change) and menopause (after monthly periods cease) experienced by many women. Common symptoms include:

  • Lower libido and/or slowing of sexual arousal

  • Hot flashes and/or night sweats

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Emotional changes such as irritability, mood swings or depression

  • Vaginal dryness and itching

  • Increased sensitivity to sounds

  • Dry skin

  • Weight gain and/or food cravings


Men often find that it takes them longer to have an erection as they get older. They also find that their erection doesn't last as long, and that it takes longer for them to have another erection once they climax. Men who do not know that this is normal become overly concerned, leading to even more "dysfunction" from the increased anxiety.


What can be done to adapt to these changes?


If you are experiencing any of the symptoms related to menopause, it is important to educate yourself. Sometimes women feel like they are the only ones "going crazy," or that they should be able to get through these things by themselves. Fortunately there is more information available to us today than there was a generation ago, and you can learn a lot from internet research, books, magazines, and open discussions with female friends.

Using a water-based lubricant during sex can usually help one of the most common sexual problems related to menopause, vaginal dryness. Additionally, hormone replacement therapy (HRT, available in pills, patches, creams or vaginal rings) can help many women decrease vaginal dryness and other menopause related symptoms. However, with the latest research showing HRT to be associated with higher risks of heart attack, stroke, breast cancer, and gall bladder problems; many women are reluctant to take estrogen. You may want to explore one or more of the many alternative or complementary health care supplements now available. Talk to your doctor about the best approach for your particular symptoms and feelings.

If you feel that your low libido may be related to stress, anxiety, depression, past traumas or other emotional issues, this may be a good time to see a mental health professional. Be sure to let the person know that you are dealing with sexual issues and ascertain whether they have expertise in this area of psychotherapy. You may also find that exploring other interests and activities, like taking a dance class, learning how to meditate, or doing yoga can have a positive effect on mood and help enhance your sexuality and sensuality. Some women have found that a medical provider who specializes in female sexual dysfunctions can be helpful.


As men age, they need more direct physical stimulation to get an erection. Often taking more time during lovemaking, exploring new ways of expressing love, and not focusing on "performance" are enough to break the cycle of tension and allow men to enjoy lovemaking again. Considering lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical exercise, eating a more nutritious, well-balanced diet, stopping smoking, decreasing alcohol intake, and reducing stress can enhance sexuality.

When more frequent problems arise, or when a man is unable to get or maintain an erection, medical intervention may be helpful. Men sometimes think the problem is their fault, or have been told that the problem is psychological. We now know that over 80% of the time impotence or erectile dysfunction (ED) is caused by a physical problem.

If you are having trouble maintaining your erection, you are not alone. It is estimated that 5% of 40-year-old men and 15-25% of 65-year-old-men are experiencing erectile dysfunction. To explore solutions, it is important to not only talk openly with your partner, but also to seek help from your health care provider. A physical exam and lab tests can help pinpoint the cause of your ED, and help determine the best way to help. The now very well known drug Viagra and other similar medications are helpful to 60-75% of the men who try them. Mechanical devices and surgeries are other options to discuss with your physician.

Sometimes illnesses and the drugs used to treat them can also interfere with sexual functioning. Open discussions with your physician can lead to changes in your medical regime that can mitigate these effects.

What medical conditions affect sexuality?

In addition to the normal changes of aging, illnesses and other conditions can contribute to sexual problems. These include:

  • Medications

  • Surgeries, especially ones that can effect how a person views himself or herself like hysterectomies, mastectomies, and prostatectomies.

  • Cancers, especially in the genital area such as prostate cancer

  • Illnesses effecting the vascular system, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke

  • Neurological conditions

  • Traumas

  • Chronic pain

In addition, women sometimes experience a loss of bladder control. It is important to discuss any physical condition with your medical provider if it is interfering with your sexuality. Many times these problems can be overcome by changing medications, or by effectively treating the medical problem.

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1Adapted from: “Safer Sex Guidelines” (http://www.goodvibes.com/Content--Safer-Sex-Guidelines--id-732).

2Adapted from “The Female Condom” (http://www.goodvibes.com/Content--The-Female-Condom--id-729).

3Source: “Dental Dams” (http://www.goodvibes.com/Content--How-to-Use-Dental-Dams--id-727).

4Adapted from “Beyond the Basics: A Sourcebook on Sexuality and Reproductive Health Education” published by Canadian Federation for Sexual Health (formerly Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada).

5Adapted from “Sexuality in Pregnancy”, retrieved from http://pregnancy.about.com/cs/sexuality/ a/aa082498.htm.

6Adapted from “Beyond the Basics: A Sourcebook on Sexuality and Reproductive Health Education” published by Canadian Federation for Sexual Health (formerly Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada).