Safer sex is a major concern for parents and families, especially those with teenagers who are or might become sexually active. Ultimately, we can’t make our kids sexual health decisions for them but we can still support and encourage safer sex practices.
Talking with kids about ways to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancy is important. But even once they have the information, youth sometimes have specific challenges putting that information into practice. Here are some of the things that can be especially tough for teens who want to get their safer sex on:
Not knowing where to buy the stuff they need
Not having enough money to pay for the stuff they need
Not having access to transportation to get to a drug store or sexual health clinic
Being too young to shop at sex stores, which tend to offer a much a wider selection of safer sex products
Facing judgement, stigma or embarrassment from store clerks
Feeling too uncomfortable to ask staff if they can’t easily find what they need on the shelves
Putting together a starter kit at to home, gives youth easy access to safer sex products. Items such as condoms, lube, dental dams and more can be packaged discreetly (a non-see through plastic container or large pencil case works well) and stored in a place where teens have easy access if they need it.
Teens who are new to sex may not know exactly what they want to use. What will work best will depend on the type of sex they’re having and the body parts involved. Even once youth figure out what they’re doing and with whom, they don’t necessarily want to fill us in on those details. So if you are putting together a starter kit for your teen, it’s probably a good idea to include several different safer sex options to ensure they have what they need.
If your teen has a penis or is likely to be having sex with a partner who has a penis, condoms are a great way to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy and STIs during penetrative vaginal, anal or oral sex. Condoms are made from a variety of materials and come in a range of sizes, textures, colours and even flavours. Each body is different and finding the right condom can take a while. Include a mix of:
Sizes: Having a condom that fits properly is important. A condom that’s too large can slip off. A condom that’s too tight might tear. In addition to standard sizes, consider including a few larger and slimmer condoms too. Most brands offer large and sometimes extra large sizes. As LifeStyles offers a SnuggerFit condom for people who find the regular size a bit loose.
Thicknesses. Condoms can diminish the intensity of sensation during sex. Again some people really like that and other really don’t. Your basic Trojan, Durex and LifeStyles tend to be a little thicker. And while all three brands do offer thinner versions of their condoms, for my money no one does “thin” condoms better than Kimono and Crown.
Textures and colours (optional). Again, a matter of personal preference. In terms of protection, none of these elements make a condom any more or less safe. They’re just extra features that some people find fun. There’s no harm in throwing a few condoms that are ribbed or glow-in-the-dark, but it’s definitely not necessary. One caution. If your kid or their partner has a vagina, you may want to avoid flavoured condoms. Flavouring usually includes sugar. It isn’t a problem for everyone but it can promote excess yeast in the vagina with might lead to an infection.
Internal condoms provide similar risk reducing protection as external condoms (although statistically they’re slightly less effective). Internal condoms are sometimes called “female” condoms, because they can go inside the vagina. But they can also go inside an anus. And not all females have vaginas. A more accurate is an internal condoms The Reality Condom is the only brand of internal condom available in most parts of North America. They’re made of polyurethane plastic, which make them an option for teens who are allergic to latex.
Dental dams are sheets of latex that can be stretched out over the vulva or anus during oral sex. Most dental dams are flavoured, but since they aren’t designed to go inside the body, there’s less risk of yeast infections. Dental dams don’t reduce the risk of pregnancy, but they can reduce the risk of STIS, especially those that are more likely to be transmitted orally like herpes.
Lube reduces friction, which for a lot of people can make sex more pleasurable. Keeping friction to a minimum also makes penetrative sex safer. Less friction means less chance of creating microscopic cuts inside the vagina or anus. And if teens are using condoms, using lots of lube makes a tear a lot less likely.
The anus is not self-lubricating so lube is essential for anal penetration with fingers, toys, or a penis.
Only use water-based or silicone based lubes with condoms, gloves and dental dams. Oil or petroleum-based products can degrade latex. They also aren’t very body-friendly, especially inside a vagina where they can trigger infections.
If your teen or their partner has a vagina, you might want to avoid including lubes that contain sugar or glycerin. Again trying to avoid triggering yeast infections. For more info on my favourite types of lube check out this post.
You might also want to skip the novelty lubes. Anything warming, cooling, tingly or flavoured can be fun, but again those products contain ingredients that can cause irritation or even infections.
Hand jobs, mutual masturbation and the like carry no risk of unintended pregnancy and relatively low risk for STIs. Still, fingers can sometimes have cuts or hangnails. Keeping them covered not only provides a barrier against infection, it smooths out any rough bits on the hand that could injure vaginal or anal skin.
Gloves made of latex, polyurethane or nitrile provide the best protection for sex play
For folks who use lube during hand play, gloves work really well. Bare hands will absorb lube, which might mean uncomfortable friction or pausing to apply more lube. But latex and nitrile gloves are non-porous. They won’t absorb any lube, which means long-lasting slipperiness and lots of handsy fun
The following stores offer a great selection of safer sex products. If you aren’t able to shop in person, most offer online shopping.
Babeland: New York City, Seattle. International online shopping available
Condom Shack: Toronto. North American online shopping available
Good For Her: Toronto. North American online shopping available
Good Vibrations: Berkeley, Oakland, Palo Alto, Massachusetts,San Francisco. International online shopping available
Venus Envy: Halifax, Ottawa. North American online shopping available
Womyn’s Ware: Vancouver. Canadian online shopping available