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Are Condoms for Me?
All of us who need birth control want to find the method that is best for us. And everyone has different needs when choosing a method. Whether you’re thinking about using condoms, you’re using condoms, or you’re just someone who’s curious about them, you may have many questions.
There are two main kinds of condoms — latex condoms and female condoms. Male condoms are very different than female condoms. For information on the female condom, click here. Here are some of the most common questions we hear people ask about latex condoms. We hope the answers help you decide if they are right for you.
What Are Condoms?
Condoms are thin latex or plastic sheaths that are worn on the penis during intercourse. Sometimes they are called rubbers, safes, or jimmies. They prevent pregnancy and reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections.
Condoms are available in different styles and colors, and are available dry, lubricated, and with spermicide.
How Do Condoms Work?
Condoms prevent pregnancy by collecting pre-cum and semen when a man ejaculates. This keeps sperm from entering the vagina. Pregnancy cannot happen if sperm cannot join with an egg.
By covering the penis and keeping semen out of the vagina, anus, or mouth, condoms also reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections.
How Effective Are Condoms?
Effectiveness is an important and common concern when choosing a birth control method.
Like all birth control methods, condoms are more effective when you use them correctly.
- Each year, 2 out of 100 women whose partners use condoms will become pregnant if they always use condoms correctly.
- Each year, 15 out of 100 women whose partners use condoms will become pregnant if they don’t always use condoms correctly.
You can make condoms more effective if you
- use spermicide with them
- pull out before ejaculation.
The most commonly used spermicide in the U.S. is called nonoxynol-9. Nonoxynol-9 has certain risks. If it is used many times a day, if it is used by people at risk for HIV, or if it is used for anal sex, it may irritate tissue and increase the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Effectiveness is also a concern when it comes to safer sex. Condoms also protect both you and your partner from sexually transmitted infection. Condoms that are made of latex offer very good protection against HIV. Latex condoms also reduce the risk of other sexually transmitted infections, including
- hepatitis B
- pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Condoms can also prevent urinary tract infections in men who wear them.
Condoms and Oral Sex
Sexually transmitted infections can be passed from one person to another during oral sex. The risk of passing infections is lower during oral sex than during vaginal or anal intercourse. People who want to further reduce their risk can use condoms during oral sex.
How Safe Are Condoms?
Almost everyone can use a condom safely. Some people are allergic to latex. If you are allergic to latex, you can try using a condom that is made from plastic.
What Are the Benefits of Condoms?
Using condoms is safe, simple, and convenient. Women and men like condoms because they
- let men help prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections
- are inexpensive and easy to get
- are lightweight and disposable
- do not require a prescription
- can help relieve premature ejaculation
- may help a man stay erect longer
- can be put on as part of sex play
- can be used with all other birth control methods except the female condom to provide very effective pregnancy prevention and to reduce risk of sexually transmitted diseases
Many women and men say they have better sex when they use condoms. They are able to focus on their sexual pleasure without worrying about unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection. Some couples put the condom on as part of their foreplay.
Special Advantage for Teens and Pregnant Women
The way a woman’s internal sex organs are shaped makes them 10 to 20 times more likely than men to get sexually transmitted infections. And the cervix in pregnant women, young girls, and teen women is especially vulnerable to infection.
No matter how old you are, it is very important to use condoms with your other method of birth control — whenever you are at risk for getting a sexually transmitted infection.
What Are the Disadvantages of Condoms?
Many of us like to weigh the benefits against the risks of using a type of birth control. Now that you’re familiar with the benefits, let’s take a look at the possible disadvantages.
Most women and men can use condoms with no problem. Condoms have no side effects except for people who are allergic to latex. About 1 or 2 in 100 people have such allergies. If you are allergic to latex, you can use condoms or female condoms made of plastic instead.
Some men and women feel that the condom dulls sensation. Others become frustrated and lose some of their sexual excitement when they stop to put on a condom. Some men are self-conscious about using condoms. Others feel pressured to ejaculate. And some men feel pressured about having to maintain an erection to keep the condom on. (If this is a concern, maintaining an erection is not necessary when using the female condom.)
Many men overcome these pressures and learn to enjoy using condoms by using them during sex play before intercourse. It may also help to try different styles and sizes to find the condom that is most comfortable for you and your partner.
How Do I Use Condoms?
With a little practice, condoms are very easy to use.
Be sure to handle condoms properly. Keep in mind that certain types of lubricants can damage a latex condom. Use only water-based lubricants, such as K-Y jelly or AstroGlide, with latex condoms. Oil-based lubricants like petroleum jelly, cold cream, butter, or mineral and vegetable oils damage latex and will make the condom ineffective at preventing pregnancy and infection.
Putting on a Condom
Each package of condoms includes detailed instructions. Be sure to read and understand the instructions and check the expiration date before you use a condom.
- Put the condom on before the penis touches the vulva. Men leak fluids from their penises before and after ejaculation. This fluid can carry enough germs to pass sexually transmitted infections and possibly cause pregnancy.
- Use a condom only once. Use a fresh one for each erection (“hard-on”). Have a good supply on hand.
- Condoms usually come rolled into a ring shape. They are individually sealed in aluminum foil or plastic. Be careful — don’t tear the condom while unwrapping it. If it is torn, brittle, stiff, or sticky, throw it away and use another.
- Put a drop or two of lubricant inside the condom.
- Pull back the foreskin, unless circumcised, before rolling on the condom.
- Place the rolled condom over the tip of the hard penis.
- Leave a half-inch space at the tip to collect semen.
- Pinch the air out of the tip with one hand while placing it on the penis.
- Unroll the condom over the penis with the other hand.
- Roll it all the way down to the base of the penis.
- Smooth out any air bubbles. (Friction against air bubbles can cause condom breaks.)
- Lubricate the outside of the condom.