Condom

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on July 24, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Patricia Geraghty MSN, WHNP, FNP-BC on July 24, 2014

Birth Control: Condoms

Common and convenient, condoms are one of the most popular methods of birth control. With an average price of $1 each, condoms are inexpensive and readily available at:

  • convenience stores
  • supermarkets
  • pharmacies
  • vending machines

They are also frequently distributed for free in some health clinics, as well as at bars and other venues where people meet.

Male and female condoms are the only forms of contraception that can prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In addition, male condoms are the only male-controlled form of contraception other than vasectomy.

What Is a Condom?

A condom is a sheath that covers the penis during intercourse. They are made out of:

  • latex
  • polyurethane
  • polyisoprene (synthetic latex)

Condoms come in many varieties. Variations include different:

  • textures
  • sizes
  • styles
  • colors
  • flavors

Condoms come in both lubricated and unlubricated varieties. Lubricated condoms may or may not contain spermicide, a substance that often contains the chemical nonoxynol-9, which kills sperm.

How Do Condoms Work?

Condoms prevent pregnancy by physically containing semen. They keep sperm from entering the vagina during intercourse. Condoms also prevent the spread of STIs, including HIV/AIDs.

How Do I Use a Condom?

Condoms are relatively easy to use. However, it may help to practice. To use a condom:

  1. Wait for the man to become fully erect.
  2. Check the expiration date on the condom packet, and then check the freshness of the pack by feeling for the air bubble.
  3. Carefully tear open the condom package.
  4. Unroll  the condom about one half inch.
  5. Pinching the tip to get the air out, place the condom on the penis. Leave the room at the tip. The lip of the rim should be facing up, so that you can easily roll the condom down onto the penis.
  6. Roll the condom all the way down the penis.
  7. Smooth out any air bubbles
  8. Apply condom-safe lubricant to the outside of the condom. Oil-based lubricants should not be used with latex condoms, as they can damage latex and cause the condom to break.  Lubricant is a good idea, even if the condom is pre-lubricated.

To remove the condom after sex:  

  1. Hold the base of the condom as you withdraw your penis.
  2. Remove the condom and throw it away, being careful not to spill any semen. Do not flush a condom down the toilet.

The penis should be removed from the vagina while still erect. Otherwise, there is a risk of the condom slipping off during withdrawal.

Condoms cannot be reused. Also, they should be put on before the penis touches the vulva.

Condom Effectiveness

Condoms are a very effective form of birth control when used properly. According to Planned Parenthood, the contraceptive failure rate is two percent for women whose partners always use condoms properly, and 18 percent for women whose partners don’t always use condoms properly.

Further pregnancy protection can be achieved by combining condoms with spermicides or another form of birth control—such as hormonal contraception. However, spermicides that contain nonoxynol-9 (N-9) should be used with caution. Used frequently, N-9 may increase the risk of HIV.

Condom Benefits

The popularity of condoms as a birth control method is mostly due to convenience. The advantages include:

  • affordability
  • easy access
  • good efficacy, with proper use
  • ability to prevent STIs
  • lack of side effects
  • prevention of premature ejaculation in some men

Condom Disadvantages

Potential disadvantage of condoms include:

  • moderately high failure rate when used improperly or inconsistently
  • potential for diminished sensation
  • interruption of sex
  • irritation, for people with latex allergies

If you have latex allergies and want to use condoms, don’t fret. There are now two alternatives to latex condoms—polyurethane and polyisoprene. Polyurethane condoms are made of plastic. They are highly effective, although they feel different than latex condoms. Polyisoprene condom are made out of synthetic latex. However, they are safe for most people with latex allergies. Latex allergies are usually due to natural contaminants rather than the rubber itself. Polyisoprene condoms feel more like latex condoms. 

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