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Matt & Andrej Koymasky
Added on         
January 31st, 1998

Safer Sex 3

4. Materials

4.1. Latex

This is the most popular material for barriers. Latex condoms, gloves, and oral barriers have been shown to protect against the transmission of HIV and other STD's. Latex barriers are inexpensive and commonly available in a wide variety of different styles.

Any barrier made from latex should not be exposed to anything with oil in it as oils will cause the latex to disintegrate. Thus, water based lubes should be used exclusively. Latex can also be damaged by excessive exposure to air, sunlight, heat, or cold. The simplest storage solution is to keep latex condoms out of wallets/glove compartments and in their packages, and to keep latex oral barriers and latex gloves either in their boxes or in a plastic bag within one's toy bag. If latex appears sticky, marbled, discolored, brittle, or damaged, don't use it.

4.2. Lubricants

4.2.1. Purpose and Use

The use of lubricants can protect barriers against friction that might otherwise tear them; the use of sufficient lubricant thus increases the efficiency of many barriers, especially condoms and gloves. The use of sufficient lube on the outside of a condom can help prevent any chance of condom slippage, as long as it is reapplied when necessary.

The use of lubricants can make anal sex and masturbation more pleasurable and comfortable. Most experts recommend the use of lubricants for anal sex to avoid anal fissures, and almost everyone reports that masturbation feel better when lubricants are being used. The liberal use of lube is generally considered a basic principle of maximally pleasurable sex.

As most lubricants transmit thermal energy well, they can increase the sensation transmitted through a barrier. Lubricants can also cause the barrier to move in a stimulating way against the skin. These are the reasons for putting a small drop of lube inside a condom at the tip, on the genital/anal side of an oral barrier, or on one's fingertips before putting on a glove.

4.2.2. Common Lubricant Materials

  • Oil-Based Lubes

    No lube with oil in it should be used with latex barriers. Oil causes latex to degrade and tear; many of the reported failures of latex condoms occur because an oil-based lube was used as a lubricant. Note that many products such as hand and body lotions contain oils.

    Since most barriers available are latex based (nitrile and polyurethane are rare), you should assume that a barrier is latex, and hence shouldn't come into contact with anything bearing oil, unless you know otherwise.

  • Silicone-Based Lubes

    These are safe to use with latex, as well as with polyurethane and nitrile.

  • Water-Based Lubes

    These are safe to used with latex and any other types of barriers.

    Water-based lubes tend to dry out during prolonged use. One may either reapply them, or spray the area with water from a spray bottle to reconstitute the lube. It should be reapplied or reconstituted as necessary to yield the ordinary benefits of lube.

  • Water-Soluble Lubes

    These are different from water-based lubes. Water-based lubes are safe to use with latex, whereas water-soluble lubes are not.

4.3. Nonoxynol-9 as a Spermicide and an STD Preventative

Nonoxynol-9 (N-9) is a substance which is commonly used as a spermicide. There is evidence that it helps in STD prevention. N-9 can be chemically harsh to the sensitive linings of the anus, and urethra, and in some cases it may cause microtears that could increase the probability of pathogen transmission. If you are allergic to N-9 (evidenced by itching, burning, etc.) or experience any discomfort while using it which you do not experience when using comparable products without spermicides, then don't expose yourself to products containing N-9.

If one is allergic or sensitive specifically to Nonoxynol-9, an alternative might be using products with Nonoxynol-15 or Octoxinol. Barriers, spermicides, and lubricants with these alternative spermicides are not nearly as commonly available as those with Nonoxynol-9. None of these spermicidal products should be used in the mouth.

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