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If you’re looking for protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) without a prescription, condoms may be a good option to explore.

They’re discrete, relatively inexpensive, and don’t involve any synthetic hormones. Condoms are also readily available at your nearest convenience or drug store.

What are the safest condoms on the market? Here’s what you need to know.

A condom creates a barrier between you and your partner during sex. It prevents your skin and fluids from coming into contact with that of the other person. This means that they help to prevent pregnancy and protect against STIs as well.

Condoms can also be used in combination with other birth control methods, such as birth control pills or intrauterine devices (IUDs), to provide added protection.

There are two main types of condoms.

Male condoms

Male condoms are worn on the penis to provide protection during oral, vaginal, and anal sex. They’re typically made of latex or polyurethane. They’re available lubricated or non-lubricated, as well as with spermicide or without it.

Male condoms cost about $1, and there are countless options. They vary by factors such as:

  • size
  • shape
  • color
  • flavoring

When used correctly, male condoms protect against pregnancy 98 percent of the time, according to Planned Parenthood. As with any birth control method, the effectiveness is tied to usage. With typical usage, the effectiveness of male condoms drops to 85 percent, per Planned Parenthood.

Female condoms

Female condoms fit inside the vagina or anus. They’re typically made of polyurethane or nitrile. They’re generally more expensive than male condoms.

Female condoms costs about $4 each, although more modern options have come down in price. Compared to male condoms, there aren’t as many options for female condoms.

According to Planned Parenthood, female condoms are 95 percent effective if they’re used correctly. However, they are around 79 percent effective with typical usage.

Male condoms made from latex, polyisoprene, and polyurethane are your best protection against STIs spread by fluids. This means condoms can protect against:

Other STIs, such as herpes and genital warts, spread through skin-to-skin contact. Depending on the affected area, these may not be totally covered by condoms.

Female condoms provide some STI protection, but more research is needed to fully assess their effectiveness. The female condom isn’t as effective at preventing diseases as the male condom.

Although more than 80 percent of the condoms you’ll find at the store are made from either latex or polyurethane, there are more natural varieties.

It’s important to note that condoms made from lambskin or other natural materials protect against pregnancy, but they may not fully protect against all STIs. This is because these materials are porous and may allow for the transmission of fluids even with perfect usage.

If you have an allergy or other reason for not using the latex or plastic options, speak with your doctor about which birth control option may best suit your needs.

Because a condom’s effectiveness depends on the material it’s made of and its application, specific brands aren’t necessarily safer than others. Here’s a list of some of the top-rated condoms and their positives.

Trojan ENZ

The Trojan ENZ condom is a lubricated condom made from latex, and it’s an Amazon bestseller.

It boasts a classic design with a reservoir tip for added safety against spills and added pleasure. These condoms are a great, no-frills option if you’re looking for simple protection against pregnancy and STIs.

Durex extra sensitive

The Durex Extra Sensitive condom is ultrathin and coated in extra lube for ultimate sensitivity. Reviewers share that these condoms hold up well even over a long time. Others explain that these condoms fit well and provide superior protection.

LifeStyles SKYN

There are several varieties of the LifeStyles SKYN condoms, including original, extra lubricated, and intense feel.

The brand advertises that this condom is the “closest thing to wearing nothing” and that it’s the first high-quality condom made from polyisoprene. The “intense feel” condom features deep studs in a wave pattern to maximize pleasure.

Trojan her pleasure

The Trojan Her Pleasure Sensations latex condom is ribbed and contoured to enhance the female experience during sex. Reviewers share that they fit securely and feel natural. Others report that they have a snug fit and come with a good amount of lubricant.

FC2 female condom

The FC2 Female Condom is the most well-known female condom on the market. It’s made from polyurethane, which is great for anyone with a latex allergy.

Female reviewers share that when this condom is inserted correctly, it’s very comfortable and doesn’t slip. Male reviewers share that their sensation with this condom is similar to not wearing anything at all.

A condom’s effectiveness depends heavily on proper use, so it’s important to learn good technique.

Regardless of which type of condom you choose, condoms are devices for one-time use only. When you’ve finished using one, promptly throw it in the garbage. Use a new one whenever you have sex.

How to put on a male condom

Follow these steps to put on a male condom:

  1. Open the package carefully. Don’t use your teeth, as they might rip or tear the condom.
  2. Pinch the top of the condom with your fingers to leave room for the ejaculate.
  3. Place the condom atop the erect penis and slowly unroll it down the shaft with your other hand.
  4. Consider adding a water-based lubricant to protect against too much friction.
  5. After intercourse, hold the base of the condom as you remove it to prevent spills and slipping.

How to put on a female condom

Follow these steps to put on a female condom:

  1. Open the package carefully. Don’t use your teeth, because they may rip or tear the condom.
  2. Squeeze the first ring of the condom and insert it fully into the vagina as you would a tampon.
  3. Keep the second ring outside the vagina by about an inch. It will cover the vulva.
  4. After sex, squeeze the outer ring as you gently pull the condom out.

If the condom breaks, it’s important to remain calm. Talk to your partner about your potential next steps.

If you’re worried about pregnancy and aren’t on another type of birth control such as the pill, you can visit your local pharmacy and get emergency contraception like Plan B One-Step.

It’s available without a prescription, identification, or age restriction. It prevents around seven out of eight possible pregnancies. This pill should be taken within three days to be most effective.

You can also schedule an emergency appointment with your doctor to have an intrauterine device inserted (IUD). IUDs are over 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy when inserted up to five days after contraceptive failure.

Emergency contraception doesn’t protect against STIs, though. If you think you may have had contact with someone who is STI-positive, you should visit your doctor as soon as possible to get tested.

Many STIs don’t show any symptoms at first, so you may not know right away whether you’ve contracted one. Even if you don’t have symptoms, you could pass along an STI to other sexual partners.

The symptoms of chlamydia can include:

  • painful urination
  • abdominal pain
  • unusual discharge
  • spotting between periods in women
  • testicular pain in men

The symptoms of gonorrhea can include:

  • an unusual discharge
  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • pain with bowel movements
  • anal itching

The symptoms of trichomoniasis can include:

  • an unusual discharge
  • itching and irritation in and around genitals
  • pain during sex
  • pain when urinating

The symptoms of HIV can include:

  • a fever
  • a headache
  • a sore throat
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • fatigue

Contact your doctor today if you have any of these symptoms or have a reason for concern.

Condoms are inexpensive, readily available, and highly effective at preventing pregnancy and protecting against STIs.

Because natural materials like lambskin are porous, use latex or polyurethane options for better protection against STIs. Regardless of what brand or type you choose, always take the time to use them correctly.

Although using condoms is an excellent way for you to have safe sex, there are many other options available as well. Speak with your partner about what works for your relationship and lifestyle.

Some couples choose to use a backup method, such as birth control pills or IUDs, along with condoms for additional protection. From there, you can experiment with different types, styles, and sizes of condoms to find what feels and works best.