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Here’s What Queer People With Vaginas Need To Know About Condoms And STI Protection

When you read the word “condom,” you likely imagine a thin sleeve that’s designed to cover a penis. But condoms come in several different forms, designed for different types of bodies and different sex acts.

Florida may jokingly be called “the penis of the United States” because of its peninsula geography, but thousands of students in the Sunshine State don’t learn about condoms at all. There are 74 school districts in Florida. As of last year, 15 districts in the state had adopted new sex education guidelines. These guidelines allow for schools to teach about both contraception and abstinence. In the schools that do teach about contraception, students often learn that heterosexual couples can use condoms to prevent pregnancy. These lessons leave out important insight about how LGBTQ+ people can have safe sex.

People who do not have penetrative, vaginal-penile sex may believe that they don’t need to use condoms. In 2017, a study in American Family Physician found that lesbian youths are half as likely to use condoms as heterosexual women. The researchers elaborate, “The common assumption that WSW [women who have sex with women] are at lower risk of STIs may stem in part from safer sex outreach programs that focus on condom use, inadvertently giving the message that female-female sex is safer than heterosexual or male-male sex with condom.”

Despite these assumptions, people with vaginas may still encounter health complications when they have unprotected sex. Although LGBTQ+ people like bisexual and lesbian women may not be at risk for pregnancy in a relationship, they can still contract STIs or develop fungal infections.

LGBTQ+ people with vaginas have several options to protect themselves.

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External condoms and gloves

An external condom is used to cover a penis or sex toy. Corinne Werder, the resident sex educator at GO Magazine, has written about how external condoms can be helpful for numerous kinds of sex acts: “It’s as though people think that STIs only come from penises and that lesbian, queer and bisexual women don’t ever have penises.” But Werder reminds readers that “It’s also important to remember that lesbian, queer and bisexual women sometimes have penises. Or sometimes we use dildos during sex. And for both a dildo and a penis, condoms can be used as a barrier method to lower the chances of STIs being passed.”

LGBTQ+ people with vaginas can use condoms in a variety of situations including the following:

  • Penetrative anal or vaginal sex with a penis
  • Penetrative anal or vaginal sex with a sex toy
  • Sharing sex toys between partners

Disposable gloves also provide protection during sex acts. Gloves can be an affordable, safe option when a person is using their hand or fingers on or inside their partner.

One benefit to external condoms is that they may be widely available in pharmacies, public vending machines, or other public locations. In comparison, internal condoms and dental dams are more difficult to find outside of websites or specialty sex shops.

Internal condoms

Internal condoms are inserted inside a person’s body. While internal condoms were originally designed to be used in a vagina, the FDA has also approved them for anal sex.

A person may use an internal condom during the same situations they might use an external condom.

Some partners may prefer internal condoms to external ones. A person can insert an internal condom for up to eight hours before they have sex, which can help a person prepare their protection beforehand. These condoms also feature thick rings to help the device stay in place. The rings can provide extra stimulation. Nonetheless, the advocacy organization SRHR states, “Despite these benefits, internal condoms are not as widely used as they could be. While internal condoms are available in more than 140 countries worldwide, many people don’t know where to find them or how to use them.”

Cost remains a barrier in obtaining these sexual health tools. An external condom may cost $1 in comparison to a $4 internal condom. Additionally, few sex ed courses or public health campaigns teach people about how to use internal condoms. But when these internal condoms are made more accessible, they can help improve the rates of safe sex. In 2008, a study in American Journal of Public Health analyzed how sexual partners would choose (or not choose) to protect themselves if they had access to both internal and external condoms. Couples who had internal condoms engaged in more instances of safe sex overall than did people who exclusively used internal condoms.

Dental dams

Dental dams are thin sheets of latex or polyurethane. These small squares or rectangles help prevent the spread of STIs during oral sex. Someone can hold the material against their partner’s genitals to block direct skin-to-skin contact.

Dams have a long history as sexual wellness tools. Clive Woodworth directs a condom-manufacturing company. According to journalist Anna Elizabeth in an article in The Guardian, Woodworth “claims he invented the modern dental dam in 1993 after lesbians asked him for their own safe-sex product.” Woodworth remembers that LGBTQ+ women “didn’t understand why companies like mine were selling sexual-health products for everyone but lesbians. They were tired of cutting up condoms and saran wrap because they didn’t like the idea of fluid being transmitted without a barrier.”

Many LGBTQ+ couples engage in cunnilingus or analingus. Some of the most common STIs that can spread through oral sex include gonorrhoea, genital herpes, and syphilis. Dental dams can help reduce the risk of contracting these conditions or other STIs.

Like internal condoms, dental dams can be more expensive than external condoms. However, many people report that dental dams are effective, quick to apply, and easy to use.


If you need help obtaining condoms, gloves, or dental dams, you may consider consulting your local health department or nearby LGBTQ+ health centers for assistance.

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