Posted in sexual health, Uncategorized

Protection

We sometimes think of protection – things that make it less likely to pass infections from person to person during sex- as synonymous with contraception – things that stop people from getting pregnant.

But when we think about it, we know that not all types of sex can lead to pregnancy…

Condoms are, of course, are both. They create a barrier between a penis and a vagina during penetrative PIV sex. This means that sperm can’t get in to the vagina, the uterus and ultimately can’t meet an egg. In this way, condoms that go over the penis can reduce the chance of pregnant.

Different shaped condoms. Image credit: Andy Hassall, via Flickr

In creating a barrier between one person’s body parts and another during sex, it also means that there’s less chance of passing infections from person to person too! That’s because there’s less direct contact, as well as less fluids (like semen, blood or mucus) from one person touching another. This greatly reduces the chance of an STI (sexually transmitted infection) from being transferred. So condoms are also protection.

When we think of condoms, we often think only of external condoms – ones that fit over the penis like the ones in the image above. But you can get internal condoms too. These are made of the same thin material, but are inserted into a vagina.

They act as contraception for penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex, preventing sperm from getting in to the vagina. But they can also be used as protection in PIV and other types of sex involving the vagina, creating a barrier between the vagina and fingers, mouths, tongues, sex toys used by another person, or anything else that might potentially transfer an STI from one person to another.

An internal condom. Image credit: James Mill via Flickr.

Similarly, external condoms are also a type of contraception, but can also be used as protection in other types of sex involving a penis – such as anal or oral sex.

Condoms are often made from latex, but some people have allergies to this material. So lots of brands make condoms that are latex-free. This includes condoms made from animal products – but it’s worth noting that although these act as contraception, they are known to be less effective as protection. That’s because they contain microscopic holes, too small for sperm to pass through, but not for some STIs to cross.

One type of protection that is not a form of contraception is a dental dam. This is a sheet of plastic, similar to that condoms are made of, that can be placed over a vulva for oral sex. Again, it’s creating a barrier between one person’s body parts and another’s during sex.

Dental dams. Image credit: inga via Flickr.

Dental dams can be a bit trickier than condoms to get hold of, at least in the UK. They tend not to be available in supermarkets and chemists like external condoms. They can sometimes be picked up at sexual health clinics, or ordered online. Because they can be harder to get hold of, sometimes people make their own using an external condom and cutting it to create one flat sheet.

Protection is designed around genitals because those are the bits of our bodies that are good at passing on STIs. Bits of our bodies like our hands are covered in relatively tough skin that makes a strong barrier against fluids. Some people use protection like plastic gloves or finger cots (‘finger condoms’) if there is a break in their skin from things like eczema though, or if they have cuts and they are using their hands in sex.

Finger cot. Image credit: Barbara Hastings-Asatourian via Flickr.

We can see that just as sex isn’t limited to PIV sex, protection isn’t just limited to condoms for penises!

Posted in sexual health

Alienation and lip gloss free with every issue.

My friend M and I were reminiscing about the ‘Just-17’ magazine era of our lives recently.   I say ‘reminiscing’, but ‘looking back with discomfort and some introspection’ might be more apt.  We had just attended a volunteer training day with the lovely people at Sexplain – an organisation that provides inclusive sex education.  As part of this, we had been asked to reflect on messages we had picked up about sex when we were younger.   M and I went to school together in the 90s.  This was when the likes of Bliss, Sugar and Cosmo-Girl were the height of sophistication for an adolescent girl.   Contained within their pages were a mixture of fashion, make-up tips, celebrity gossip and relationship advice – with the edgier ones including advice on ACTUAL SEX.  They often came with free lip gloss.

Ostensibly, sounds great – a place to get informal and confidential information on sex.  However sometimes the tone and implicit assumptions of these magazines were what I would now describe as ‘problematic’.   There was very much a dominant, heteronormative view of relationships.  There was an implicit assumption – within advice pieces on how to give a good blow-job, for example – that being anything other than straight just wasn’t an option.  Advice on how to deal with your boyfriend came in many guises, but never what to do if you might want a girlfriend, or something else.  Sex was defined very narrowly as penis-in-vagina penetrative sex.  In addition, the endless parade of smiling, white, stick-thin celebrities and models did nothing good for my self-esteem.  All of that said, before the unfettered internet access of today, this was one of the few places that talked about sex.  Every week.  With an opportunity to write in and ask anonymous questions.

I used to buy the magazine during my trips accompanying my Mum to the supermarket on a Saturday.  I  was interested in them from the ages of about 11 – 14 years (i.e. a fair while before I was going to have sex).  There was a real gap of sources of information for curious teenagers wanting to know more about sex and relationships.   Even if they didn’t do it as deftly as you might hope, they did fill a niche in a way other sources didn’t.  Sex Ed classes at school were too staid and delivered by a deeply out of reach authority figure.   My parents were well meaning, but I think honestly relieved to just get over ‘the talk’.   My friends generally knew as little as I did.

As I’ve said, I was reading the likes of Just-17, Bliss, Sugar, and Cosmo-girl well before I was actually having sex.  By thta time the internet had come along and I could rely on a dubious combination of the world wide web and rumours spread amongst my (now slightly more experienced) peers.  The magazines I remember are now defunct, having died along with much of print media.   Teen Vogue, established in 2003, seems to be the contemporary thing anything like the mags of my youth.  Thankfully, it is somewhat different in content as well as form (online only since 2017).  It contains a ‘news and politics’ section.  It is queer friendly and controversial with it – it first came to my attention during the furore over their publication of an anal sex guide.   I thought a guide to bra fittings was pretty revolutionary in my adolescence – this puts it in to a whole different perspective.  And in an age of sexting, online grooming and internet pornography ‘desensitising’, I see this as a hugely welcome step.   Technology it seems has opened the flood gates on some pretty scary things, but also allowed in a new perspective on sex and relationships.  And I never really liked the lip balm anyway…