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Introduction to Male Condoms

Birth control is a way for men and women to prevent pregnancy. There are many different methods of birth control; some types also protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Condoms are one type of birth control that in addition to preventing pregnancy also prevent the spread of STDs.

There are two types of condoms, the male condom and the female condom.

What Is a Male Condom?

The male condom, or "rubber," is a thin covering made of latex, plastic, or animal membrane that is rolled over an erect penis. The covering prevents semen, the fluid that contains sperm, from entering a woman's vagina.

What Are Male Condoms Made of?

Most condoms are made of a type of rubber called "latex." Latex condoms are the most effective condom at preventing STDs. Recently, condoms made of polyurethane (a type of plastic) have become available. These are more expensive than latex condoms and seem to break more easily. They are mainly useful for people who are allergic to latex. There are also "natural" condoms, which are made of animal membranes (lambskin). These are expensive and although they are effective at preventing pregnancy they do not decrease the spread of many sexually transmitted diseases.

What Types of Latex Condoms Are There?

Condoms come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. Here are some characteristics to consider when buying condoms.

  • Size. The standard size will fit most men. Extra-large condoms are available, as well as "snug" sizes that are a little smaller and fit tighter than the standard size.
  • Shape. Some condoms come with a nipple in the end to hold the fluid when the man ejaculates. Others have a rounded end.
  • Thickness. Extra-strength condoms are available. These are stronger and are especially useful for rectal sex and for men who have problems with condom breakage. Extra thin condoms also are available, but these are not recommended because they may break more easily.
  • Lubrication. Many condoms come pre-lubricated. This lubrication can be a substance that kills sperm (spermicide) and many disease-causing germs. Lubrication may give some extra protection in preventing pregnancy, especially if the condom breaks. Lubricated condoms taste bad and are not recommended for oral sex.
  • Flavored. These condoms are meant for the male to wear when receiving oral sex. They are not lubricated and have a mild flavor (usually mint).
  • Color. Condoms come in many colors. The color of the condom doesn't make it any more or less effective.

When Should a Man Use a Condom?

Take caution when opening the wrapper to avoid tearing the condom with your teeth, fingernails or rings. Gently pinch the air out of the tip of the condom before putting it on. The condom is rolled over the erect penis before sexual activity begins. If the condom does not have a built-in nipple, leave about 1/2-inch of the condom free at the tip of the penis so that semen has a place to collect.

A new condom must be used each time you have sex. The condom must be in place before the penis gets near the vagina. If you use lubricants with a condom, be sure to only use water-based lubricants, such as K-Y Jelly. Oil-based lubricants, such as Vaseline, massage oils and body lotions can cause condoms to leak or break. Certain vaginal medications used to treat yeast infections can also weaken condoms.

Initially it was felt that condoms lubricated with spermicidal agents offered more protection against STDs. Newer studies show that frequent use of condoms containing spermicides offers no additional protection and it may actually increase the risk of a href="http://www.medicinenet.com/human_immunodeficiency_virus_hiv/article.htm">HIV and other STDs by irritating the vagina and penis. Spermicidal products do however remain useful in pregnancy prevention.

How Is the Male Condom Used?

Take caution when opening the wrapper to avoid tearing the condom with your teeth, fingernails or rings. Gently pinch the air out of the tip of the condom before putting it on. The condom is rolled over the erect penis before sexual activity begins. If the condom does not have a built-in nipple, leave about 1/2-inch of the condom free at the tip of the penis so that semen has a place to collect.

A new condom must be used each time you have sex. The condom must be in place before the penis gets near the vagina. If you use lubricants with a condom, be sure to only use water-based lubricants, such as K-Y Jelly. Oil-based lubricants, such as Vaseline, massage oils and body lotions can cause condoms to leak or break. Certain vaginal medications used to treat yeast infections can also weaken condoms.

Initially it was felt that condoms lubricated with spermicidal agents offered more protection against STDs. Newer studies show that frequent use of condoms containing spermicides offers no additional protection and it may actually increase the risk of HIV and other STDs by irritating the vagina and penis. Spermicidal products do however remain useful in pregnancy prevention.

What Causes Male Condoms to Break?

There are several reasons why a condom would break:

  • Condoms too old. Modern condom wrappers have a date after which the condom should not be used.
  • Improper storage. Heat damages latex condoms, so they should not be kept in a hot place, such as a car glove compartment or wallet.
  • Not enough lubrication. Additional lubrication is always needed for rectal sex. It may also be needed for vaginal sex. The lubricant should be water-soluble, such as KY jelly.
  • The wrong kind of lubricant. Lubricants that contain oil -- such as Vaseline, baby oils and vegetable oils -- should not be used with latex condoms since they weaken the rubber.
  • Condom too small. Try a larger size.
  • Partner too tight. Use an extra strength condom and more lubricant.

What Causes Condoms to Come Off During Sex?

A condom may come off during sex because:

  • Condom too large. Try a snug condom.
  • Loss of erection. Remove your penis, holding on to the rolled edge of the condom, as soon as you begin to lose your erection.

Where Can I Get Male Condoms?

Condoms can be purchased at most drug stores. Condoms also are sold in some vending machines in public restrooms.

How Effective Are Male Condoms at Preventing Pregnancy?

Condoms are about 85 % effective. With careful use, they are even more effective. Keep in mind that the best way to avoid getting pregnant is to not have sex (abstinence).

How Do Male Condoms Prevent STDs?

Latex condoms provide protection from sexually transmitted diseases by preventing the infected area from coming into contact with the partner. Polyurethane condoms provide some protection, although not as much as latex. Natural or lambskin condoms do not protect against STDs because they have larger holes or "pores" that allow the small particles that can cause some STDs to pass through.

Should Foam be Used With Male Condoms?

Contraceptive foam can offer added protection against pregnancy in case a condom breaks. Frequent use of spermicides can irritate the genital tissues and may increase the risk of STDs, including HIV/AIDS.

How Effective Are Foam and Male Condoms?

When used together and properly, foam and condoms are about 97% effective in preventing pregnancy.

What Is a Female Condom?

The female condom is a lubricated polyurethane (plastic) tube that has a flexible ring at each end. One end of the tube is closed.

How Is the Female Condom Used?

Before sexual activity begins, the woman inserts the condom into her vagina so that the closed end of the tube covers the cervix, and the other end slightly covers the labia (lips on the outside of the vagina). The condom blocks sperm from entering the womb. Female condoms should be discarded after one use.

Where Can I Get Female Condoms?

Like the male condom, the female condom is available at drug stores without a prescription.

How Effective Is the Female Condom at Preventing Pregnancy?

The female condom is about 75% effective.

Do Female Condoms Protect Against STDs?

Female condoms provide some protection against sexually transmitted diseases, but the male condom provides the best protection if you have sex. Female condoms should not be used in combination with male condoms. The friction of the two could result in product failure.

WebMD Medical Reference

SOURCE:

American Social Health Association. The Female Health Company.

Reviewed by Tracy C. Shuman, MD

Edited by Stanley I Greenspan, MD on February 01, 2006

Last Editorial Review: 2/1/2006

Reviewed on 2/1/2006
References
SOURCE:

American Social Health Association. The Female Health Company.

Reviewed by Tracy C. Shuman, MD

Edited by Stanley I Greenspan, MD on February 01, 2006

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