The Male Condom
The male condom is a latex rubber, plastic
or lambskin sheath placed over the erect penis before vaginal intercourse, preventing
pregnancy by blocking the passage of sperm. Condoms can be used only once.
Some have a spermicide (e.g. nonoxynol-9) added to kill sperm, but this has
not been proven to provide any additional contraceptive or STD protection over
the condom alone. Because it acts as a mechanical barrier, a condom prevents
direct contact with semen, infectious genital secretions, and genital lesions
and discharges thus providing contraception and STD protection.
Except for abstinence, latex condoms are the
most effective method to reduce the risk of infections causing AIDS, other HIV-related
illnesses, and other STDs, although they do not provide protection against all
STDs. For people who are allergic to latex, polyurethane condoms are a good
- Proper lubrication may reduce condom tearing.
If the vagina or the condom is not well lubricated and external lubrication
is desired, select a water-based lubricant, such as K-Y jelly. Oil-based
lubricants, such as petroleum jelly (Vaseline), lotions, or massage or baby
oil, should not be used because they can weaken the condom and cause it
to break. These lubricants are also not healthy for the vagina. Some condoms
are prelubricated. These lubricants do not increase birth control or STD
protection, just comfort.
- If you feel a condom break or slip, withdraw immediately
and consider using emergency contraception if pregnancy is an unacceptable
option. To use condoms properly, the penis should be removed from
the vagina immediately after ejaculation, taking care to secure the condom
while doing so.
- Of the different condoms, latex provides the best
protection against STDs. Plastic/polyurethane condoms have been shown
to protect against HIV as well, but they are recommended only as a second
choice for those with latex allergies, an increasingly common problem.
Plastic condoms may also slip off more easily than latex. Lambskin condoms
provide excellent contraception and comfort, but they do not protect against
HIV or other STDs as well as latex does.
- Condoms have expiration dates; inspect and respect
them! Beware of condoms that may have been in a man's wallet for a
while. Not only may they have passed their expiration, but they may
be dried out and therefore crack or break more easily. Also: be sure
you have a proper fit: if a condom is too tight, it is more likely
to break. If it is too loose, it's more likely to slip off.
- Avoid novelty condoms; these generally do not
protect against STDs.
- Vending machine condoms are fine to use if they
are made of latex, are marked "for disease prevention," and have
not been exposed to direct sunlight or excessive heat in the machine.
- Condoms marketed as "stronger" or more
"sensitive" do not offer more or less protection; thinner condoms
may be more prone to tearing.
- There is no difference in pregnancy or STD protection
in ribbed or unribbed condoms. Selection is simply a matter of personal
- Do not use condoms that are brittle, gummy or
- To be fully protected, use a condom during any
sexual activity, whether vaginal, oral or anal.
Condoms confer excellent protection against pregnancy and STDs, but
only when they are used carefully, consistently, and correctly. Condoms
are an effective, inexpensive form of birth control, although their actual usage
effectiveness rate is much worse than birth control pills. Of 100 women whose
partners use condoms inconsistently or imperfectly, 14 will become pregnant
in the first year of use. Only three will become pregnant if condoms are used
appropriately. Based upon these numbers, one group of researchers calculated
that if all women in the US who are currently using the Pill switched to condom
usage tomorrow, there would be up to 687,000 additional unintended pregnancies
within one year! Common excuses for not using condoms include that
it just doesn't feel as good as having sex without a condom. The
risks of not using a condom, however, may make you feel much worse-and
may wipe out your sex life altogether, whether it's an unwanted child to care
for or an unwanted disease. One person is infected with HIV every 13 minutes-other
common infections include gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, herpes and genital
Even though their main purpose is to prevent
unplanned pregnancy, condoms can also help protect fertility by preventing transmission
of STDs that cause infertility, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. Women whose
partners use condoms are at much lower risk of hospitalization for pelvic inflammatory
disease (PID) and infertility than those whose partners do not.
Click here for more information on birth control.
Created: 10/31/2001  - Donnica Moore, M.D.