Ladies and Gentlemen: Use Your Condom Sense
Condoms—men and women of all ages and from all walks of life are using them for birth control and/or protection from sexually transmitted infections.
A condom (also known as a rubber) is a sheath worn over the penis. It is made of latex, animal tissue, or polyurethane. A condom is used to catch semen before, during, and after a man ejaculates. When used during vaginal sex, it helps protect against pregnancy. When used during vaginal, anal, and oral sex, it also helps protect against certain sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Condoms and Pregnancy Prevention
During sexual intercourse, a condom prevents sperm from entering the vagina.
According to Planned Parenthood, about 15 out of 100 women will become pregnant during the first year of "typical" condom use, meaning inconsistent and at times incorrect condom use. Condoms, though, have a 98% efficacy; the term "efficacy" refers to perfect condom use that is consistent and always correct, while "effectiveness" refers to "typical" use.
Contraceptive foams, creams, jellies, films, and suppositories can also be used to provide additional protection against pregnancy, since they can kill sperm if the condom breaks. Some condoms are coated with a spermicide.
Latex Condoms and the Prevention of STDs
When used consistently and correctly, a latex condom helps protect against many STDs because it blocks the exchange of body fluids that might carry infection.
A study published in a 1993 issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes looked at the results of condom use in couples in which one partner had human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)—the virus that causes AIDS. During a four-year period, 123 couples who consistently used condoms did not transmit HIV. In 122 couples who did not consistently use condoms during the four-year period, 12 partners became infected with HIV.
Latex condoms help protect against the following STDs:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) (usually caused by gonorrhea or chlamydia)
- Vaginitis resulting from infections such as trichomoniasis (Condoms can also offer protection against vaginitis caused by changes in the Ph balance of the vagina, which can be triggered by semen—usually bacterial vaginosis.)
Latex condoms offer significant protection against:
Types of Condoms
Condoms come in various sizes, shapes, and materials. Here are some things to consider when buying condoms:
- Size—Condoms come in standard size (which fit most men), extra-large, and snug size.
- Shape—Some condoms have a rounded tip; others have a nipple (reservoir) at the end to hold the semen.
- Thickness—Extra-strength condoms are best for men who have anal sex or who tend to break condoms. Extra-thin condoms may allow more sensation, but they may break more easily.
- Lubrication—Many condoms are lubricated with spermicide, which helps to kill sperm and certain disease-causing germs. Lubricated condoms should not be used for oral sex.
- Color—Condoms come in many colors. However, this does not influence the effectiveness of the condom.
- Flavored—Flavored condoms have a mild, often mint flavor, and are worn when receiving oral sex.
- Texture—Some condoms have ripples or studs for extra sensation.
- Material—Most condoms are made of latex. If you or your partner has a latex allergy, options include animal tissue (usually sterilized sheep intestine) or synthetic polyurethane.
When to Use a Condom
A man should use a condom any time he has vaginal, anal, or oral sex, if there is even the slightest risk that either person has a STD. The condom should be put on before any contact and removed and thrown away immediately after ejaculation.
If you are embarrassed to talk to your partner about using condoms, practice talking before you are in a sexual situation. And have your talk well before you are in the heat of passion.
How to Use a Male Condom
Putting on a Condom
Both partners should know how to put on and use a condom.
- Handle condoms gently and store them in a cool, dry place so they don’t become breakable.
- Do not continually keep condoms in your back pocket, wallet, or car.
- Do not use a condom that is too small or too large for you.
- Pay attention to the expiration date.
- Be careful not to tear the condom while unwrapping it.
- Put the condom on the erect penis before sexual activity begins.
- Unless the condom has a built-in nipple, leave a ½-inch space at the tip to collect semen.
- Be sure to pinch air out of the tip with one hand.
- Unroll the condom over the penis with the other hand, and roll it all the way down to the base of the penis.
- Smooth out any air bubbles.
- Lubricate the outside of the condom. Do not use lubricants that contain oil, such as Vaseline, baby oils, or vegetable oils, because they can weaken the rubber. Use a water-based lubricant, such as KY Jelly or Silk-e.
Taking off a Condom
- Pull out before your penis becomes soft.
- To avoid spilling semen, hold the condom against the base of the penis while you pull out.
- Throw the condom away.
- Wash your penis with soap and water before embracing again.
If the Condom Breaks During Sex
- Pull out quickly and replace the condom.
- If semen leaks out, wash it away with soap and water.
- If semen leaks into the vagina, you should immediately consider emergency contraception.
- If the woman takes Plan B within hours, the prevention effectiveness is above 95%. There is still effectiveness 72 hours after exposure, but it reduces as the hours go by. Men or women over the age 17 can purchase Plan B over-the-counter at any pharmacy. Women under 17 should contact a reproductive health clinician about a prescription for emergency contraception as soon as possible. For more information, call Emergency Contraception Hotline at 1-888-NOT-2-LATE (1-888-668-2528).
Benefits and Disadvantages of Male Condoms
The male condom:
- Helps prevent pregnancy and STDs
- Is inexpensive and easy to get
- Does not require a prescription
- May help a man stay erect longer
- Usually has no side effects.
- However, people who are allergic to latex should try polyurethane condoms. Condoms without spermicidal lubricant should be used for those who are sensitive to spermicides.
Some drawbacks include that the condom:
- May dull sensation
- Can interfere with spontaneity
Additionally, some men are self-conscious about using condoms.
Benefits and Disadvantages of Female Condoms
The female condom is a thin, soft, loose-fitting, lubricated pouch made of polyurethane that fits inside the vagina and also covers the vulva. An inner ring at the closed end is used to insert the device inside the vagina. The outer ring remains outside the vagina and covers the vulva. It can be used with any type of lubricant. The female condom is about 75% effective in preventing pregnancy.
Before engaging in sexual activity, the woman inserts the female condom into her vagina. The closed end of the tube should cover the cervix and the other end should slightly cover the vulva. The female condom should be discarded after use.
- The woman controls use.
- The female version is more comfortable for men and causes less decrease in sensation.
- It may offer greater protection from STDs to the external genitals compared to male condoms.
- This version is more convenient and allows for greater spontaneity because it can be inserted well in advance of intercourse.
- They are easy to get and don’t require a prescription.
The drawbacks to the female condom include that it is:
- Less effective in preventing pregnancy and STDs than the male condom
- Not aesthetically pleasing
- Difficult to insert or remove
- Relatively expensive
Another disadvantage is that, at times, the penis may slip between the device and the woman’s body.
Condoms can be used enjoyably and effectively for preventing pregnancy and many STDs. However, no protective method is 100% effective. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the surest way to avoid transmission is to abstain from vaginal, anal, and oral sex, or to be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you know is uninfected.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Male latex condoms and sexually transmitted diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/pubs/facts/condoms.htm. Accessed January 10, 2003.
Planned Parenthood website. Available at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/bc/condom.htm. Accessed January 9, 2003.
Saracco A, et al. Man-to-woman transmission of HIV: longitudinal study of 343 steady partners of infected men. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 1993;6:497-502.
Women's contraception collection. Journal of the American Medical Association website. Available at: http://pubs.ama-assn.org/cgi/collection/womens_contraception. Accessed January 10, 2003.
Last reviewed July 2007 by Jeff Andrews, MD, FRCSC, FACOG
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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