As a choice for birth control, condoms provide many advantages. They are readily available, do not require a prescription, are very effective when used properly, and can help prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Condoms can be a good choice during breastfeeding, because there are no hormones or chemicals to enter the breast milk.
People who do not like birth control condoms complain of reduced sensation during sexual intercourse and the awkwardness of having to stop to put the condom on. Some people develop skin irritation from condoms, but choosing a different type or brand can help with this.
How Condoms Work
Condoms are a barrier method of birth control. Condoms prevent pregnancy by preventing a man's sperm from entering a woman's body.
They help protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) by preventing partners from contacting certain bodily fluids, like semen and vaginal secretions, which can carry infections. Covering infected skin can also help prevent transmission of infections.
Types of Birth Control Condoms
Most condoms are made of latex. Most people can use latex condoms without any problem. A small percentage of people are allergic to latex. They may develop skin irritation or more serious reactions. Latex condoms have a distinctive rubbery smell and taste. Latex condoms are the best studied in terms of preventing pregnancy and STD's.
Polyurethane condoms have no smell or taste and are often thinner than latex condoms, but they break more easily.
Lambskin condoms are made from the intestines of lambs. Some people feel they interfere the least with natural sensations. However, they do not protect against STD's.
Every brand of condom is a little different in size and shape. Many have a reservoir at the tip so there is room for the man's semen. Some have "extra head room"-a pouch to make the condom looser around the head of the penis.
Some condoms have ridges or bumps intended to increase the female partner's sensation. There are colored condoms and flavored condoms. Flavored condoms made with sugar can change the vaginal pH and make women more susceptible to infections.
Extra thick condoms are available for couples concerned about breakage.
Spermicide and Lubricant
Many condoms are pretreated with spermicide, but they don't actually contain enough to make a difference in preventing pregnancy.
Birth control condoms may be lubricated or unlubricated. If you choose the unlubricated kind you may want to use a lubricant of your own to make intercourse more comfortable and help prevent breakage.
Never use an oil-based lubricant with a latex condom. It will degrade the latex and can cause the condom to break or develop holes. There are many safe lubricants available at the drugstore or at stores specializing in adult items.
Birth Control and Condoms
When used correctly for birth control, condoms are 98% effective. That means that in one year, two out of 100 women will become pregnant. However, most couples fail to use condoms consistently and correctly. With typical use, 12 of 100 women will become pregnant within one year.
Using spermicidal foams, creams, gels, films, or suppositories along with condoms can increase their effectiveness for birth control.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Condoms
Latex condoms are very effective in preventing the spread of HIV, although they are not perfect. In one study of 171 women whose male partners had HIV and used latex condoms every time they had intercourse, only two women became infected. Polyurethane condoms protect against HIV very well, too.
Latex and polyurethane condoms also help protect against other STD's, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, and genital warts. If an area infected with herpes or warts is not covered by the condom, however, there is no protection.
Doctors used to think that the spermicide with which some condoms are treated, nonoxynol-9, helped to prevent the spread of HIV. This is because, in the laboratory, nonoxynyl-9 can kill the HIV virus. But it turns out that nonoxynyl-9 can irritate tissue, so it may actually make it easier for HIV to penetrate the skin.
How to Use a Condom
Once you've selected your condom and made sure the wrapper is intact, it's important to put it on correctly:
- Rip open the package. As tempting as it may be, don't use your teeth because you're likely to rip the condom as well.
- Remember, condoms are designed to be put on an erect penis.
- Put a drop or two of water soluble, non-oil-based lube inside the tip of the condom.
- Place the condom at the tip of the penis and begin rolling it up until the penis is covered. The condom should roll outwards.
- Leave a small reservoir at the end of the condom for ejaculate.
- Add some lube to the outside of the condom. The more lube you use, the better. Lube increases sexual pleasure for both participants and decreases the likelihood of condom breakage.
- Check the condom for rips. Do this right before insertion.
- After the male ejaculates, he should withdraw his penis while it is still erect. He will need to hold the condom on as he withdraws so the fluid doesn't spill.
- Condoms are designed to be used only once. Use a different condom f you are going to have intercourse again. Also, change condoms between vaginal and anal intercourse.
The condom must be put on over the man's erect penis before any sexual contact in order to help prevent pregnancy and STD's. Condoms cannot safely be re-used. Also, the man should put on a new condom before changing the location of intercourse, for example when switching from anal to vaginal sex.
About Female Condoms
Female condoms are another barrier method of birth control. Condoms for women are designed to be inserted into the vagina, with a flexible ring that remains outside the body and holds the condom in place. Female condoms are less effective for birth control than ordinary condoms. Even with perfect use, five of 100 women will become pregnant within one year. They are also less effective for preventing STD's.