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Can You Have Safer Sex Without Latex Condoms?

By Rick Sowadsky

September 2006

When we talk about safer sex, the first thing that people often think about is using a latex condom. There is no doubt that latex condoms -- used every time and used correctly -- will significantly reduce the risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) during anal intercourse, vaginal intercourse and oral sex. But there is much more to safer sex than just latex condoms. In this article, I will review some ways to have safer sex (low risk sex) that do not involve latex condoms. I will also discuss some activities that are 100% safe (in other words, activities that have no risk for HIV and other STDs).


Using Non-Latex Condoms

What do you do if you are allergic to latex? Or if you don't like the smell of latex condoms, or the taste of latex condoms (during oral sex)? One solution to this is to use polyurethane (plastic) condoms. These condoms will protect against HIV and other STDs, as long as they are used correctly, and they do not break or fall off. In addition, unlike latex condoms, you can use any type of lubricant with polyurethane condoms, oil-based or water-based (you can only use water-based lubricants with latex condoms). Because they are not made out of latex, they have neither the smell or taste of latex that many people dislike. If you are not using condoms because you do not like the smell or taste of latex (or if you are allergic to latex), consider using polyurethane condoms. These condoms are not sold in many places, but they are more likely to be sold in drug stores, adult bookstores, and some supermarkets.


Using Saran Wrap and Plastic Wrap

If you are rimming a person (oral-anal sex) or if you are giving a woman oral sex, then you can use non-microwavable saran/plastic wrap as an effective barrier against infection with HIV, STDs, and other infectious diseases. You can easily see through saran/plastic wrap, it is inexpensive, not embarrassing to buy, and it is readily available at most supermarkets.


Safer Sex That Does Not Involve Intercourse or Oral Sex

What do you do if you want to have sex with someone and you do not have condoms available? Or what if you just hate using condoms? There are many sexual activities that do not involve intercourse or oral sex, which can be low risk for HIV and certain other STDs. When engaging in these activities (described below), if there is direct genital-to-genital contact (for example penis-to-penis or penis-to-vagina contact) or direct genital-to-anal contact (for example penis-to-rectum contact), even without intercourse, there may still be a chance of infection with certain STDs like herpes, syphilis, genital/anal warts, and others. Therefore, if you engage in any activity, and you see any type of unusual discharge, or any unusual growths or lesions (whether they hurt or not), do not come in contact with them. The following are some sexual activities that are generally low risk for HIV and certain other STDs.

Body massage: This activity can be very enjoyable for your partner, and the risks of HIV/STD transmission are generally very low.

Sexual activities involving saliva: This includes kissing, receiving oral sex, receiving oral-anal sex, and just about anything else involving saliva. Saliva poses a low risk for HIV and most other STDs.

Using sex toys: Sex toys can include anything from vibrators, to dildos, to just about any household item that can stimulate your partner. As long as the item is not contaminated with the blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or discharges from your partner, there is little (if any) risk for HIV and other STDs. If you share sex toys, wash it well with soap and water, which will significantly reduce the risks for these diseases.

Fingering/mutual masturbation/fisting: If your partner is masturbating you (for example, giving a man a "hand job"), this is also generally low risk for HIV and other STDs. If your partner is fingering or fisting you either anally or vaginally (in other words, they are putting their fingers or hands inside of you), this is low risk, as long as your partner does not have any blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or discharges on their hands. For the inserting partner, there may be a risk of infection IF they are exposed to blood, semen, or vaginal secretions AND they have fresh cuts or open sores on their hands. If there are no fresh cuts or open sores on the hands, then this activity is generally low risk for the inserting partner as well. However, if there is any potential risk of infection during these activities, the use of latex or vinyl gloves is highly recommended.

Food sex: Sometimes, people will use various food items as a part of their sexual activities. Food items can include whipped cream, jam, and just about anything else you will find in your kitchen. Food sex is low risk for HIV and other STDs, if care is taken not to come in contact with the semen, vaginal secretions, lesions, growths, etc. of your partner. In addition, if you are using latex condoms, care has to be taken so that oil-based foods (such as whipped cream) does not come in contact with latex. Oil-based foods and oil-based lubricants can damage a latex condom.

Sexual activities involving urine: Some people engage in this type of sexual activity (also known as "watersports" and "golden showers"). This type of activity is generally low risk for HIV and most other STDs.


Sexual Activities That Are 100% Safe (Safe Sex)

Is there such a thing? Yes! Examples of 100% safe sex are solo masturbation (sex by yourself), phone sex, computer/cyber sex, and sex with an uninfected person. In situations such as these, condoms (for disease prevention) and safer sex practices are unnecessary, since there would be no risk of infection at all.


Which Sexual Activities Should You Engage In?

This is always a personal choice. The activities I mentioned above are merely some options you have when latex condoms are not available, or options for people who do not want to use latex condoms. The most important point I want to make here is that there is much more to safer sex than just latex condoms. Other than the 100% safe sex activities mentioned above, the sexual activities mentioned in this article still have some element of risk to them. But if care is taken, the level of risk for HIV and other STDs is generally very low. Of course, not engaging in sex is always an option as well!


Do you want more information on AIDS, STDs or safer sex? In the U.S., contact the U.S. Centers for Disease Control AIDS hotline, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-800-CDC-INFO. Or visit The Body's Safe Sex and Prevention Forum.

Until next time . . . Work hard, play hard, play safe, stay sober!




This article was provided by Rick Sowadsky, M.S.P.H.. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:
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