Condoms are one type of birth control that not only prevents pregnancy, but also can help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). But, there are many facts about condoms that can cause confusion, potentially limiting their effectiveness.
What types of condoms are there?
There are two types of condoms, the male condom and the female condom.
Most condoms are made of a type of rubber called “latex.” Latex condoms are the most effective condom at preventing STDs. Recently, condoms made of polyurethane (a type of plastic) have become available. These are more expensive than latex condoms and seem to break more easily. They are mainly useful for people who are allergic to latex. There are also “natural” condoms, which are made of animal membranes (lambskin). These are expensive and although they are effective at preventing pregnancy, they do not decrease the spread of many sexually transmitted diseases.
The female condom is a lubricated polyurethane (plastic) tube that has a flexible ring at each end. One end of the tube is closed.
What are the most important things to consider when buying condoms?
Both male and female condoms can be purchased at most drug stores, in addition to being available at clinics, as well as other locations. When choosing a condom, here are some things to should keep in mind:
- Size. The standard size will fit most men. Extra-large condoms are available, as well as “snug” sizes that are a little smaller and fit tighter than the standard size.
- Shape. Some condoms come with a nipple in the end to hold the fluid when the man ejaculates. Others have a rounded end.
- Thickness. Extra-strength condoms are available. These are stronger and are especially useful for rectal sex and for men who have problems with condom breakage. Extra thin condoms also are available, but these are not recommended because they may break more easily.
- Lubrication. Many condoms come pre-lubricated. This lubrication can be a substance that kills sperm (spermicide) and many disease-causing germs. Lubrication may give some extra protection in preventing pregnancy, especially if the condom breaks. Lubricated condoms taste bad and are not recommended for oral sex.
What condom habits to I need to keep in mind?
Condoms should be used any time a man’s penis is inserted into the body of another person, particularly if there is even the slightest risk that either person has an STD. Men frequently become infected with STDs when receiving oral sex, so ideally, a condom should be worn then, too.
The condom should be put on before there is any contact, and should be removed and thrown away promptly after the man has ejaculated.
Other facts to keep in mind include:
- Be careful when opening the wrapper to avoid tearing the condom with your teeth, fingernails, or rings.
- Gently pinch the air out of the tip of the condom before putting it on.
- The condom is rolled over the erect penis before sexual activity begins, and must be in place before the penis gets near the vagina.
- If the condom does not have a built-in nipple, leave about 1/2-inch of the condom free at the tip of the penis so that semen has a place to collect.
- A new condom must be used each time you have sex.
- If you use lubricants with a condom, be sure to only use water-based lubricants, such as K-Y Jelly. Oil-based lubricants, such as Vaseline, massage oils, and body lotions can cause condoms to leak or break.
- Certain vaginal medications used to treat yeast infections can also weaken condoms.
How do you use female condoms?
Before sexual activity begins, the woman inserts the condom into her vagina so that the closed end of the tube covers the cervix, and the other end slightly covers the labia (lips on the outside of the vagina). The condom blocks sperm from entering the womb. Female condoms should be discarded after one use.