What are condoms?
There are two different types of condoms: male condoms, which cover the penis, and female condoms, which line the vaginal walls. Male condoms are much more popular, and come in three varieties: latex, polyurethane, and lambskin. They are thin pieces of material that cover the penis during vaginal, anal or oral sex, and are used to prevent pregnancy and STDs by catching semen and preventing it from entering the body. Female condoms are made of a thin plastic and are inserted into the body before vaginal or anal sex. They extend about an inch outside of the body and prevent skin-to-skin genital contact.
How effective are condoms?
Male condoms are about 82% effective, meaning that about 18 out of 100 women using male condoms as their primary birth control will get pregnant each year. Female condoms are slightly less effective, with about a 21 out of 100 women using them as primary birth control getting pregnant each year.
Male latex condoms prevent against most STDs, including HIV. However, they are not totally protective against herpes because skin-to-skin contact still occurs during intercourse with a male condom. To protect against herpes, it is best to use female condoms, because they reduce this direct skin-to-skin contact. Polyurethane condoms are also protective against STDs, but are slightly less reliable and are more prone to breakage. Lambskin condoms do not protect against STDs although they do protect against pregnancy, because their “pores”, or microscopic holes, are large enough to let viruses, but not sperm, to pass through.
What are myths associated with condoms?
1. Condoms are a good option for a primary birth control source.
Condoms are great. They are effective, inexpensive, and easily accessible. However, with an average of 18-21% of women using either male or female condoms as a primary birth control source getting pregnant each year, they are not the best available option for a primary birth control. For extra protection, it is best to use spermicide with the condom, which traps the sperm and prevents it from reaching the uterus. They can also be used with virtually every other form of hormonal and non-hormonal birth control for extra protection.
2. I’m allergic to latex, so I can’t use condoms.
About 6 out of 100 people have allergies to latex, and these individuals will likely experience discomfort when using latex condoms. This has led to the belief that people with such allergies cannot use condoms for protection. In reality, even people with latex allergies can use both male and female condoms. While latex male condoms are generally the most popular, it is easy to find non-latex alternatives. These include polyurethane and lambskin male condoms, as well as all female condoms, which are made of plastic.
3. Condoms can be reused.
Condoms can only be used once. Due to the thin and vulnerable material with which they are made, condoms can neither be rinsed out and reused nor used twice in one session. Handling a condom between uses increases the likeliness of damaging in, which can result in breakage. It can also create small holes in the condom that can let sperm or viruses through, rendering it ineffective in protecting against pregnancy and STDs. Using a condom twice even without rinsing makes it much more likely to break because there is already sperm inside the condom. This will increase the pressure in the condom and cause it to break.
4. It is more effective to use two condoms at once.
Common sense would lead us to believe that using two condoms would provide twice the protection, and this belief has become widespread in the modern day. However, simultaneously using two condoms actually increases the friction on both, which can cause them to wear down more quickly, and break or even slip off more easily. Most people don’t know that condoms are pretty fragile and are much more prone to breakage if they are not used properly. To ensure maximum protection, it is important to use only one, new condom during each sex act.
5. Condoms don’t really expire.
As condoms age, they naturally begin to lose their flexibility and strength, which makes them much more likely to break during use. The expiration date on condoms predicts when this process will have begun, and when the condom will have lost its effectiveness. However, expiration on a condom also has to do with the conditions in which it is stored and handled. Condoms kept in a cool, dark, dry place, like a bedroom drawer, will last longer than those stored in hot, damp places, including the bathroom, or than those kept in a wallet or pocket. This is because heat, light and air can all cause material breakdown. In fact, condoms kept in wallets will lose their effectiveness more quickly than any others because the pressure and heat from the wallet quickly causes microscopic holes that can let viruses through and make the material more prone to breakage.
What are disadvantages of condoms?
Aside from people with latex allergies, nearly every man and woman can use condoms safely. However, certain complaints still arise.
The most common complaint about condom use is that they somewhat decrease sensitivity for both men and women. Condoms create a barrier between the penis and vagina, making a dip in sensitivity understandable. However, condom material is getting increasingly thin which is helping to solve this issue. Most modern condom manufacturers are working to maintain durability while increasing sensitivity, so we can only expect this issue to decrease in the future.
Many people also complain that stopping to put on a condom can ruin the mood before sex, because they cannot be worn long before or after sexual intercourse. If you feel that condoms are ruining the mood during sex, you can try to integrate condom application into foreplay, which can include having your partner apply the condom.
Where can I get condoms?
Condoms can be found in nearly every drugstore and are usually available in family planning sections of grocery stores as well. At about $1 apiece for male condoms, and $2 to $4 for female condoms, condoms are a very affordable birth control option. Additionally, many health clinics provide male condoms, generally free of charge. Most high schools and universities also provide free condoms available to students.