When used properly, the best condoms can be upwards of 98% effective against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). However, many people are not as careful or informed about their condom use as they should be. This guide details the types of condoms available and tips for using them as effectively as possible.
Types of Condoms
1. Latex. Latex condoms are by far the most abundant on the market. They are relatively inexpensive, thin, flexible, and extremely effective against pregnancy and STDs including AIDS. The only drawbacks include possible allergies to latex and bad taste of the latex rubber. Oil based lubricants such as Vaseline and cold cream will break down latex rubber so be sure to use water based lubricant. Latex condoms cannot be used in chlorinated swimming pools either because chlorine also breaks down latex. Most all latex condoms are for men.
2. Polyurethane. This plastic-like material is now being used as an alternative to latex for making condoms. It is extremely thin, durable, has no taste or odor, causes no known allergic reactions, and can be used with both oil and water based lubricants. They cost a little more than latex condoms, and aren't quite as flexible as latex, but they make a great alternative. Because of their higher rigidity, be sure to use adequate lubrication. And if you do use polyurethane condoms, be sure to read any documentation provided with them for possible additional information. Right now these are sold under the brand name Durex Avanti for males. There's also a female version of the polyurethene condom available called Reality.
3. Natural or Sheepskin. Despite their name, "natural" or "sheepskin" condoms are in fact made from animal intestines. They are just as effective against pregnancy as polyurethane or latex, however they do not offer good protection against STDs. They cost two to three times as much as latex and are not as widely available. Oil and water based lubricants can be used with them. For couples merely seeking an alternative to latex and protection against pregnancy they are worth a mention.
4. Novelty. Specialty condoms which may be flavored, edible, or part of joke or gag sets are considered novelty and should not be used for serious protection. This often applies to condom gags found in adult bookstores. These types of condoms are usually marked on the package as "For novelty use only." Always check the labeling and directions if you are not sure. Never use a condom you are not sure about.
Wearing a male condom properly
1. Buy the condoms of your choice from a trusted source such as a pharmacy and note these three things: the expiration date, the size, and the lubrication used, if any. You might have to do some research before making a purchase so you can determine the best brand and size to try. Having the right size is very important.
2. Take care in opening the condom package not to damage the condom itself. Never use anything sharp to cut the wrapper open. Unroll the condom, fat part of the roll outside, down on an erect penis only, while squeezing the tip to prevent air from becoming trapped inside. The condom should roll down to the base of the penis and fit snugly but comfortably. If it is too loose or too tight or uncomfortable in any way, you may have to consider switching brands or styles.
3. If you will be applying any spermicide or lubricant, do so before intercourse takes place. Remember to use water based lubes only such as K-Y Jelly, Wet, or AstroGlide; no Vaseline, cold cream, or similar oil based products (including many foods such as whipped cream that could possibly be used in sex play for you adventurous types) because they break down latex rubber.
4. To maximize the effectiveness of the condom for prevention of both diseases and pregnancy, don't "double bag" condoms and hold the base of the condom when withdrawing from your partner being very careful not to spill any semen. To dispose of the condom, tie it in a knot and throw it away in the trash; do not flush it. They don't degrade like paper and can do horrible things to sewer and septic system lines. Never use any condom more than once and never use the same condom if switching between anal and vaginal intercourse.
5. Virgin birth alert! Be sure to wash your hands and your penis with soap and water if you plan to have any unprotected sexual contact after removing the used condom.
· Most condoms are manufactured 3-5 years before their expiration dates. Since latex degrades over time, the fresher the condoms are the better. Never use any condom that has expired, and be sure to store condoms in a cool dry place away from heat, cold, sunlight, or sharp objects.
· If the condom is not lubricated, apply at least a few drops of water based lubricant to the tip of the inside and outside of the condom right before intercourse, especially with polyurethane. This will decrease the possibility of the condom breaking due to excessive friction.
· Although condoms come in a vast array of colors, sizes, shapes, and textures, generally those from the same brand and of the same thickness share equal effectiveness.
· If a condom is too tight, it is more likely to break or cause pain. If it is too loose, it is more likely to slip off. Be sure you choose a size that works best for you. If you dislike using condoms now because they are uncomfortable, try switching sizes or brands. You may be in for a pleasant surprise!
For more information about contraceptives, see our Contraception Guide.
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