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What Is a Condom?

IMAGE A condom is a thin sheath that fits snugly over a man's erect penis during sexual contact. Its purpose is to prevent bodily fluids from passing between sexual partners, and thus prevent impregnation and/or transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Various Types

Condoms come in different shapes, flavors, and sizes. There are also a variety of materials used for condoms, including latex, lambskin, polyurethane, and polyisoprene.

Which Type Is Best?

Only latex condoms are proven to help prevent both pregnancy and the transmission of STDs such as herpes and HIV. When used consistently and properly, they are the condom of choice.

Lambskin condoms, which are made from part of a lamb's intestine, prevent pregnancy, and are considered by many to enhance sensation during sex. But, they have a major drawback. The tiny holes inherent to lamb intestine allow STDs to pass between partners.

Polyurethane condoms are thinner, so like lambskin condoms, they allow for enhanced sensation. And they provide a solution for people who are allergic to latex. Scientific data as to how effectively polyurethane condoms prevent the transmission of STDs are not nearly as well-documented as they are for latex condoms.

Polyisoprene condoms are another option for people with latex allergies. This type of condom is also designed to be comfortable.

Exactly How Effective Are Latex Condoms?

According to Planned Parenthood, latex condoms seldom break when used consistently and correctly. As a result, in one year, only 98% of women using condoms correctly will not get pregnant. However, since most couples do not always use condoms consistently or correctly, the failure rate for condoms in preventing pregnancy is around 18% over the course of a year.

Latex condoms are very protective against HIV, but only when used consistently and correctly. Inconsistent condom use can lead to HIV or other STDs. It only takes one unprotected sex act to acquire an infection. Incorrectly using condoms can lead to the condom breaking, slipping, or leaking. Correct use of condoms requires that they are used for the entire sex act, from the start of sexual contact until after ejaculation.

What About Pre-lubricated Condoms?

Use only water-based lubricants, since all oil- or mineral-based lubricants quickly weaken latex.

Does Condom Size Matter?

If a condom is too large (loose) it is more likely to slide off, and if it is too small (tight) it is more likely to break or not cover the entire penis. Condoms come in a range of sizes. Choose the one that best protects you and meets your needs.

Do's and Don'ts: Some Tips On Using Condoms

Put a condom on only after the penis is erect. Use a new one for every act of sexual intercourse. Place the tip of the rolled-up condom over the penis. If there is a reservoir tip, first squeeze out the air. If there is no tip, leave a half-inch space at the end for semen and squeeze the air out. Unroll the condom down the entire length of the penis. After ejaculation, but before the penis is soft, grasp the condom's rim and carefully withdraw from your partner. This discourages breakage or leakage.

Avoid carrying condoms in your wallet for longer than a few weeks at a time. Also avoid storing them in extreme temperatures, such as your glove compartment. Both environments weaken a condom and make it much less useful.

To avoid any risk of STDs or pregnancy, put a condom on before any sexual contact occurs. To avoid tearing, do not use any sharp objects to open the condom wrapper. Throw condoms away if they are past the expiration date.

The Female Condom

The female condom is a polyurethane condom that is inserted into the vagina. The benefits of the female condom is that the woman has the choice of protecting herself against pregnancy and STDs. But, the male latex condom is still the best way to protect yourself.

The Lighter Side

In addition to offering numerous types and sizes, many manufacturers also offer novelty condoms, like glow-in-the-dark ones and flavored varieties.

However, one serious note. While many novelty condoms pass all industry standards, some do not. Those that do not meet industry standards are required by law to carry the warning that they are "For novelty use only."

  • Planned Parenthood

    http://www.plannedparenthood.org

  • Smarter Sex

    http://www.smartersex.org

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Sex Information and Education Council of Canada

    http://www.sieccan.org

  • Allergic to latex? You can still have safer sex. Planned Parenthood website. Available at: http://advocatesaz.org/2012/05/02/allergic-to-latex-you-can-still-have-safer-sex/. Published May 2, 2012. Accessed July 8, 2014.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. MMWR 2010;59(No. RR-12):1-110.

  • Condom. Planned Parenthood website. Available at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-info/birth-control/condom. Accessed July 8, 2014

  • Condom fact sheet in brief. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/brief.html. Updated March 25, 2013. Accessed July 8, 2014.

  • Condom use, types, and sizes. Avert website. Available at: http://www.avert.org/condom-use-types-sizes.htm. Accessed July 8, 2014.

  • Female condom. Avert website. Available at: http://www.avert.org/female-condom.htm. Accessed July 8, 2014.

  • Female condom: a powerful tool for protection. United Nations Populations Fund website. Available at: http://www.unfpa.org/public/global/pid/376. Published 2006. Accessed July 8, 2014.

  • The Lambskin Condoms FAQ. LambskinCondoms.org website. Available at: http://lambskincondoms.org/. Accessed July 8, 2014.

  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STD). NYC.gov website. Available at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/living/std.shtm . Updated July 6, 2012. Accessed July 8, 2014.

  • What is a female condom? Avert website. Available at: http://www.avert.org/female-condom.htm. Updated March 11, 2010. Accessed June 15, 2010.