Illustration by Christa Jarrold
I recently bought vaginal contraceptive film—dissolving pieces of film containing spermicide—to add an additional layer of pregnancy prevention on top of my usual condoms + withdrawal + fertility tracking. When I put it in, I let my partner know it required 15 minutes to take effect and asked him to finger me while we waited… which turned out to be a great way to get an orgasm in before we had sex. Knowing we had that much time just to devote to foreplay helped me to relax and get turned on, so I could feel everything more intensely.
Advice on the finer points of having great sex.
Unless you have a banana fetish, what’s typically taught about safer sex in sex ed isn’t usually super hot. That's a shame because according to a 2022 meta-analysis of studies on the relationship between safer sex and pleasure, published in PLOS One, incorporating pleasure into sexual health interventions increases their usage.“Safer sex is hotter sex,” said Kristen Mark, a professor in Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota. “By making sure you're prioritizing safety with sex, you're showing that you respect the health of yourself and your partner. Research has shown that when people are alleviated from the fear of unintended consequences of sex (e.g., unintended pregnancy, STIs, etc.), they free up space for experiencing more pleasurable sex.” The key is to “make the safer sex device a sexy part of the sexual interaction, rather than something that detracts from it,” said Mark. “It may mean making the safer sex tool you're using part of the main event by incorporating dirty talk about it, or making it sexy through how you apply it.” Here are a few ways to make safer sex even hotter, broken down by method.
Putting a condom (an 85 percent effective birth control method) on a partner can easily become a sex act in its own right, said sex educator Erica Smith. The trick is to blend it with a handjob: Stroke your partner’s penis or dildo before you put it on, then run your hands back over it afterward. A more advanced option is putting a condom on a penis or dildo with your mouth. “By placing the reservoir tip between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, and the rolled-out edge between your teeth and lips, you can gracefully slide that condom on,” said Marla Renee Stewart, sexologist and co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Seduction and Foreplay.To facilitate spontaneous hot encounters, keep condoms in different rooms of your home. “I believe in operating with condoms the same way Robert J. Woodruff of the Coca-Cola Company spoke about his Coke distribution strategy: There should always be one within an arm's reach of desire,” said Cindy Gallop, founder of the social sex platform MakeLoveNotPorn. “If we start getting into it on the living room couch, I only have to reach for the decorative box on the coffee table to grab a condom.”Some condoms make for a hotter experience than others. “Most condoms come pre-lubricated, and the manufacturer is not required to list what the condom is lubricated with,” said Karyn Eilber, urologist and associate professor of urology and OB/GYN at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. “Chemicals like nonoxynol-9 can be irritating, and resultant vaginal inflammation can increase susceptibility to infections.” To make sure condoms feel good as they go on, she suggested buying unlubricated condoms and applying lube yourself—which can also become a lead-in to a handjob. “It's best to use a water-based lubricant, as oil can break down latex,” she said. “It can be a fun team effort as part of foreplay to lubricate and put the condom on together.”
While all that’s going on, incorporate dirty talk. A few lines you can use, according to certified sex therapist Heather Shannon: "Get on your knees and roll the condom onto Daddy's thick cock," or, "I'll ride your cock until you almost cum—get a condom so you're ready!" A more vanilla line might be, “I can’t wait to have you inside me. I’m going to put a condom on you so you can fuck me,” said sex educator Kenneth Play, author of Beyond Satisfied: A Sex Hacker’s Guide to Endless Orgasms, Mind-Blowing Connection, and Lasting Confidence.You can also make a sensual experience out of putting on internal condoms, which go inside the vagina or anus, preventing STIs and protecting against pregnancy with 79 percent effectiveness. Mark suggested “putting the internal condom onto your fingers and making the insertion of it part of fingering.” It’s best to do most of the fingering before you put it in, though, as fingering someone while an internal condom is in could break it—especially if you have sharp nails.
Dental dams—latex sheets you put over the vulva or anus to more safely give or get head—can be used to stimulate a partner. Mark suggested “using the dental dam on other parts of the body—nipples, thigh, armpit, etc.—before using it as it’s intended for safer sex” in order to “spice up the sensation.” Dental dams also come in different flavors that can make licking one extra appealing.Sarah Riccio, a 32-year-old sex educator in New York City, enjoys fingering partners through a dental dam—and also likes the visuals involved. “To me, there’s something uniquely sexy about stretching a thin piece of latex over my partner’s vulva and seeing the precise outline of her labia,” she said. “I also like to explore sensation play by pressing the dental dam into her vulva and moving it in circular motions; the slick, smooth texture of latex can feel really good on the clitoris.” Because her partner is super sensitive to touch, the dental dam actually helps her to please her without it becoming overwhelming, she added.
For those who aren’t as into dental dams, an alternative is to use Lorals, latex underwear that can be worn during oral sex. “They are actually really cute—they come in two styles and provide a barrier between one partner's mouth and the other partner's anus and vulva,” said Smith, the sex educator. “They provide STI protection during oral sex while actually looking sexy.”
You can create your own makeshift oral sex underwear using plastic wrap—which Planned Parenthood recommends using if dental dams aren’t available, though there haven’t been any studies assessing its effectiveness. “Leave the part that will be on their vulva nice and loose to ensure that you will be able to tuck it in all their wonderful crevices,” Stewart said. “Hold it in place with additional plastic wrap around their thighs and waist so that their ‘underwear’ is nice and secure.” For an added twist, she suggested pouring honey or chocolate syrup over the plastic wrap and licking it off. Just make sure to clean yourself after incorporating food into sex, even over plastic wrap, to avoid bacteria hanging around.As another bonus, plastic wrap can be made into bondage gear, added Carol Queen, staff sexologist for the sex shop Good Vibrations. “You can take another piece or two, twist it into a kind of rope, and use it for tying their hands together—or their ankles to the bedposts.”
If one person is using hormonal birth control, get both partners involved. “If your partner is kind enough to take on the task of taking daily birth control pills, set your alarm as a reminder and then send them a fun, sexy, or thoughtful text as a reminder,” said Jessica O’Reilly, resident sexologist for Astroglide and co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Seduction and Foreplay. “It doesn’t have to read ‘take your pill,’ but you can get creative—e.g. ‘This is your daily reminder that I’m into you!’ ‘This is your daily reminder that I’m thinking of you.’ ‘This is your daily reminder that when I get home, I’m going to ravage you.’” If you’re in the same place, you can also bring your partner their daily pill with a snack or love note. (Obviously, first, ask if your partner wants you to do any of this—a daily birth control reminder text can quickly get annoying otherwise.)Another hormonal birth control method is the NuvaRing, which goes inside the vagina once a month and stays there to prevent pregnancy with an effectiveness rate of 91 percent. Brittany, a 29-year-old content creator in Seattle, had a partner who would insert her NuvaRing for her. “Every time I needed to put a new ring in, he would finger it into me until it was in place—which, if you’ve ever used a NuvaRing, you know means getting up close and personal with your G-spot,” she recalled. “Every time it came time for a new ring to be inserted, I knew I was going to have an orgasm, so it became a sort of Pavlov's dog scenario for birth control use… totally hot.”
Hormonal birth control
As I experienced firsthand, film and suppository spermicides take some time to activate before you can engage in penetration. Deciding what you’ll do while you’re waiting can become a fun way to add variety to sex and engage in incredible extended foreplay. Spermicides, which are 72-86 percent effective depending on what kind you get, can be used “as part of foreplay, such as massaging the spermicide into the vagina,” said clinical sexologist and relationship therapist Debra Laino. Still, she added, “Take note that using spermicide several times a day can pose some risks such as irritating the vagina, which can increase the risk of STIs.”
Withdrawal—taking a penis out of a vagina before ejaculation—is only 78 percent effective; you can still get pregnant from precum. However, it can be great to combine with another method… and, in my own experience, it can be super hot to make a game of deciding where you want your partner to cum. On your tits? On your face? In your mouth? A pearl necklace? The options are endless. “To spice it up, the person being penetrated can be the one to decide where the ejaculate should go,” said Queen, the sexologist. “And this is one of those times when dirty talk is a perfect match for the act: The partners can dirty-talk to decide together where the cum should land, or it can take a tone of dominance as the receiving partner orders it should go on a particular body part.”
You can also play with “ejaculation denial”—that is, not allowing someone to ejaculate until you say they can—to prevent them from ejaculating inside you, said O’Reilly.
Abstaining from penetration can make room for other fun activities like mutual masturbation. “You can lie next to each other side by side and watch each other, or you can be across from each other,” said psychotherapist and certified sex therapist Lee Phillips. “While you’re getting off, you can talk to each other, and this may include dirty talk and power play” (for instance, one person telling the other what to do).You can use abstinence as an opportunity to explore erogenous sounds outside the genitals with your hands, mouth, or toys. “All parts of the body can be sexual,” said Phillips. “You can massage the scalp or touch the back of the ears and the inner thighs [and] use lotions, toys, oils, or a feather.”Sex researcher Justin Lehmiller recommended a game called “outercourse roulette,” where you write down all the sexual acts you can come up with that don’t involve intercourse on slips of paper, throw them into a hat, then take turns picking. “This can be a fun way to try some new things, while also getting some contraceptive and STI-protective benefits,” he said.In short, pretty much any safer sex method can be made hot with a bit of playfulness, creativity, and communication—though nothing beats the arousal you’ll get from being able to let go of worries about pregnancy and STIs, or from knowing that you and your partner have got each other’s backs (or other body parts, as the case may be). Follow Suzannah Weiss on Twitter.