How many times have you heard this? Use protection. Get tested. Use birth control. Take responsibility for your sexual health. While I fully support this rhetoric and echo it, what about the “how” piece of the conversation?

To help you to increase your sexual safety, I thought it’d be useful to provide a short guide to condoms, STD tests, and birth control options. I am NOT a doctor (read that again), but I do take the time to research anything that I tell you from reputable sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Planned Parenthood. That being said, I encourage any professionals working in public health to chime in on this list. I’m going to provide the basics, but I encourage each reader to have this conversation with a licensed medical professional.

Let’s start with male condoms. You can buy them online, and from any corner store or drug store. You also can get them for free at numerous clinics. Just to be sure that you’re aware; here are the basics to selecting a good male condom.

Choose a material: latex (the best, most common, and effective choice for preventing STDs ), lambskin, polyurethane, or polyisoprene.

Pick a size: there is no standard length to a condom and those made with natural rubber stretch. However, various condom brands support different penis widths. Some are made smaller for a closer fit while others are made for men with wider packages. With this in mind . . .

Select a brand: Trojan, Durex, b Condoms, Lifestyles, and the list goes on. As stated above, different brands work better for different men. I would recommend that you try a few different brands with your male partner to see which fits best. Don’t be scared, you can make it fun! Consider it like clothes shopping for your partner’s genitals. You’re dressing him up and protecting yourself simultaneously.

Watch the video below for a demonstration on how to use a condom. It’s slightly corny, but you’ll get the point!

Now, you may ask, “What about female condoms?” Yes, those are an option, too. In fact, they put you in stronger control of your protection. If you didn’t know, female condoms are a thin pouch that you can insert into the vagina or anus before intercourse. It helps to prevent pregnancy and reduces the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. **Side note, just because it’s called the “female” condom doesn’t mean its usage is restricted to women. Men sleeping with men sometimes use it for protection during anal sex, too. If your male partner is openly engaging in sex with men, you should drop him the same knowledge that I’m about to give you.**

There are two types of female condoms: The FC/FC2 female condom and The V.A. w.o.w. female condom (also known as VA for short). Don’t let the abbreviations intimidate you, I’m going to break down the differences.

The FC female condom is made of polyurethane. There is a silicone-based lubricant on the inside of the condom; however, additional lubricant can be used. This condom does not contain spermicide. There is a flexible ring at each end of the female condom. At the closed end, you use the ring to insert the condom into the vagina or anus. The FC2 condom is a newer version of the FC condom. It works the same way, except it is made of nitrile.

The V.A. w.o.w. female condom is made of latex, like most male condoms. When not stretched, it’s shorter than the FC female condom by approximately 3.5 inches. It has a rounded triangle on the open end and a sponge on the closed end. The VA also is lubricated and does not contain spermicide. However, oil-based lubricants should not be used with this condom, since they damage latex.

The V.A. w.o.w. female condom has yet to pass FDA approval in the United States. Thus, you can only get FC/FC2 female condoms, which are available at drugstores, clinics, and online. FC/FC2 female condoms cost approximately 2 to 4 dollars. That’s almost cheaper than lip-gloss, so get with it!

Check out the videos below to learn more information about the FC/FC2 female condom and how to insert it.

The last “how” that we’ll explore for the day is how to tested.

To start, every sexually active woman needs a doctor and preferably one that specializes in gynecology and women’s health. This should not be an “option.” There are plenty of free clinics that provide STD testing and medical assistance. Get a doctor, no more excuses.

Your doctor’s phone number should be on speed dial. Anytime something feels, looks, or smells wrong down there, make an appointment immediately to run some STD tests. Regardless, you should be doing regular STD tests every couple of months, even if everything seems normal and you have a “monogamous” partner. Many STDs are asymptomatic and undetectable to the human eye. Thus, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

It would take pages for me to list the various STD tests and methods, so I ask that you take 2 minutes and view the “STD Testing Quick Reference Guide” by scrolling down on the Planned Parent Hood website. In general terms, STD testing methods typically involve blood, urine, vaginal discharge, cell samples, and/or oral swabs. Even if needles, urinating in containers, and spreading your legs eagle-style, make you uncomfortable, it’s a necessary step to ensure your sexual health. You can do it and you’ll become more comfortable the more you do it. Trust me, I did.

Next week, we’ll explore various options for hormonal birth control, including the ring, patch, pill, shot, implanon and IUDs.

For now, perhaps you have something to share about your experience with various male condoms, the FC/FC2 female condoms, and STD testing. Before you vent, everyone should speak with a medical professional to get well-rounded and in depth research on these issues. Yet, it never hurts to discuss your experiences with sexual health practices amongst your girls, so long as we make ourselves informed with the facts.

All right, so let’s talk and feel free to ask questions. I’ll be reading and replying. Ready. Set. Go!

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