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Conditions In Depth

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What Is a Condom? | Various Types | Which Type Is Best? | Exactly How Effective Are Latex Condoms? | What About Pre-lubricated Condoms? | Does Condom Size Matter? | Do's and Don'ts: Some Tips On Using Condoms | The Female Condom | The Lighter Side

What Is a Condom?

A condom is a thin sheath that fits snugly over a man's erect penis during sexual contact. Its purpose is to prevent bodily fluids from passing between sexual partners, and thus, prevent impregnation and/or transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Various Types

Condoms come in different shapes, flavors, and sizes. There are also a variety of materials used for condoms, including latex, lambskin, polyurethane, and polyisoprene.

Which Type Is Best?

Because only latex condoms are proven to help prevent both pregnancy and the transmission of STDs (including the herpes and HIV) when used consistently and properly, they are the condom of choice.

Lambskin condoms, which are actually made from part of a lamb's intestine, prevent pregnancy, and are considered by many to enhance (or, at least, not reduce) sensation during sex. But, they have a major drawback. The tiny holes inherent to lamb intestine allow STDs to pass between partners.

Polyurethane condoms are thinner, so like lambskin condoms, they allow for enhanced sensation. And they provide a solution for people who are allergic to latex. Scientific data as to how effectively polyurethane condoms prevent the transmission of STDs are not nearly as well-documented as they are for latex condoms.

Polyisoprene condoms are another option for people with latex allergies. This type of condom is also designed to be comfortable. Latex condoms, though, are still the recommend choice to prevent STDs.

Exactly How Effective Are Latex Condoms?

According to Planned Parenthood, latex condoms seldom break when used consistently and correctly. As a result, in one year, only 98% of women using condoms correctly will not get pregnant. However, since most couples do not always use condoms consistently or correctly, the "failure" rate for condoms in preventing pregnancy is around 18% over the course of a year.

Latex condoms are very protective against HIV, but only when used consistently and correctly. Inconsistent condom use can lead to HIV or other STDs. It only takes one unprotected sex act to acquire an infection. Incorrectly using condoms can lead to the condom breaking, slipping, or leaking. Correct use of condoms requires that they are used for the entire sex act, from the start of sexual contact until after ejaculation.

What About Pre-lubricated Condoms?

Use only water-based lubricants, since all oil- or mineral-based lubricants (eg, Vaseline) quickly weaken latex.

Does Condom Size Matter?

If a condom is too large (loose) it is more likely to slide off, and if it is too small (tight) it is more likely to break.

Do's and Don'ts: Some Tips On Using Condoms

Put a condom on only after the penis is erect, and use a new one for every act of sexual intercourse. Place the tip of the rolled-up condom over the penis. If there is a reservoir tip, first squeeze out the air. If there is no tip, leave a half-inch space at the end for semen and squeeze the air out. Unroll the condom down the entire length of the penis. After ejaculation, but before the penis is soft, grasp the condom's rim and carefully withdraw from your partner. This discourages breakage or leakage.

Avoid carrying condoms in your wallet for longer than a few weeks at a time. Also avoid storing them in extreme temperatures, such as your glove compartment. Both environments weaken a condom and make it much less useful.

To avoid any risk of STDs or pregnancy, put a condom on before any contact between your penis and your partner. To avoid tearing, do not use any sharp objects to open the condom wrapper. Throw them away if they are past the expiration or four years past the manufacturing date.

The Female Condom

The female condom is a polyurethane condom that is inserted into the vagina. The benefits of the female condom is that the woman has the choice of protecting herself against pregnancy and STDs. But, the male latex condom is still the best way to protect yourself.

The Lighter Side

In addition to offering numerous types and sizes, many manufacturers also offer novelty condoms, like glow-in-the-dark ones and flavored varieties.

However, one serious note. While many novelty condoms pass all industry standards, some do not. Those that do not meet industry standards are required by law to carry the warning that they are "For novelty use only."


Sex Information and Education Council of Canada



Avert. What is the female condom? Avert website. Available at: http://www.avert.org/female-condom.htm. Updated March 11, 2010. Accessed June 15, 2010.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. MMWR 2010;59(No. RR-12):1-110.

Condom. Planned Parenthood website. Available at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-control/condom-10187.htm. Accessed July 12, 2012.

Condom fact sheet in brief. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/brief.html. Updated April 2011. Accessed July 23, 2012.

Condoms. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/condoms/MY00654. Updated April 28, 2011. Accessed July 12, 2012.

Female condom: a powerful tool for protection. United Nations Populations Fund website. Available at: http://www.unfpa.org/public/global/pid/376. Published 2006. Accessed July 12, 2012.

Five kinds of condoms: a guide for consumers. Go Ask Alice, Columbia University website. Available at: http://www.goaskalice.columbia.edu/1835.html. Accessed July 12, 2012.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STD). NYC.gov website. Available at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/std/std4.shtml. Accessed July 12, 2012.

Last reviewed July 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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