Condoms are a barrier method of contraception. There are male condoms and female condoms:
The male condom, sometimes called a "rubber" or "prophylactic," is far more commonly used.
Condoms work by keeping semen (the fluid that contains sperm) from entering the vagina. The male condom is placed on a guy's penis when it becomes erect (and before any sexual contact). It is unrolled all the way to the base of the penis while holding the tip of the condom to leave some extra room at the end. This creates a space for semen after ejaculation and makes it less likely that the condom will break.
After the guy ejaculates, he should hold the condom at the base of the penis as he pulls out of the vagina. He must do this while the penis is still erect to prevent the condom from slipping off when he gets soft. If this happens, sperm could enter the vagina.
The female condom is inserted into the vagina using the closed-end ring. The other ring creates the open end of the condom. The sheath then lines the walls of the vagina, creating a barrier between the sperm and the cervix. The female condom can be inserted up to 8 hours prior to intercourse. It should be removed immediately after sex.
The male and female condoms should not be used at the same time because they can get stuck together and cause one or the other to slip during intercourse, making them ineffective.
Once a condom is used, it cannot be reused. A new condom should be used each time you have sex — and it must be used from start to finish every time you have sex to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Never use oil-based lubricants such as mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or baby oil with condoms because these substances can break down the rubber. A used condom should be thrown in the garbage, not down the toilet.
And if a condom ever seems dry, sticky, or stiff when it comes out of the package, or if it is past its expiration date, throw it away and use a new one. It's a good idea to have several condoms on hand in case there is a problem with one. It's best to store unused condoms in a cool, dry place.
Over the course of a year, 18 out of 100 typical couples who rely on male condoms alone to prevent pregnancy will have an accidental pregnancy. The use of the female condom is a little less reliable and 21 out of 100 couples will have an unintended pregnancy.
Of course, these are average figures and the chance of getting pregnant depends on whether you use condoms correctly every time you have sex.
The most common reason that condoms "fail" is that the couple fails to use one at all. Still, it is possible for a condom to break or slip during intercourse. Condoms can also be damaged by things like fingernails and body piercings.
Using spermicide with condoms will make condoms more effective at preventing pregnancy. However, spermicide, especially if used frequently, can cause irritation, which may increase the risk of getting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
In general, how well each type of birth control method works depends on a lot of things. One factor is whether the method chosen is convenient — and whether the person remembers to use it correctly all the time.
Most male condoms are made of latex. Those made of lambskin may offer less protection against some STDs, including HIV/AIDS, so use of latex condoms is recommended. For people who may have an allergic skin reaction to latex, both male and female condoms made of polyurethane are available.
When properly used, latex and polyurethane condoms are effective against most STDs. Condoms do not protect against infections spread from sores on the skin not covered by a condom (such as the base of the penis or scrotum). For those having sex, condoms must always be used to protect against STDs even when using another method of birth control.
Abstinence (not having sex) is the only method that always prevents pregnancy and STDs.
Most men and women have no problems using condoms. Side effects that can occasionally occur include:
Couples who are responsible enough to stop and put a condom on each time before sex and people who want protection against STDs use condoms. Because condoms are the only method of birth control currently available for men, they allow the guy to take responsibility for birth control and STD protection. Condoms are also a good choice for people who do not have a lot of money to spend on birth control.
Condoms are available without a prescription and are sold in drugstores, supermarkets, and even vending machines (in some stores, they're in the "Family Planning" aisle). Condoms come in different sizes, textures, and colors.
Condoms are the least expensive and most available method of birth control — other than abstinence, of course. Male condoms cost about $0.50 to $1 each and are less expensive when they are bought in boxes that contain several condoms.
In addition, many health centers and family planning clinics (such as Planned Parenthood) and some schools distribute them free of charge. Female condoms are a little more expensive and cost about $2 to $4 per condom.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013
|Planned Parenthood Info for Teens This site from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America has information on relationships and sexual health for teens.|
|American Sexual Health Association This nonprofit organization is dedicated to preventing sexually transmitted diseases and offers hotlines for prevention and control of STDs.|
|Planned Parenthood Federation of America Planned Parenthood offers information on sexually transmitted diseases, birth control methods, and other issues of sexual health.|
|American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) This site offers information on numerous health issues. The women's health section includes readings on pregnancy, labor, delivery, postpartum care, breast health, menopause, contraception, and more.|
|Go Ask Alice! Go Ask Alice! is Columbia University's health question and answer service. It offers open and frank discussions of sensitive topics.|
|GYT - Get Yourself Talking and Get Yourself Tested This media campaign designed to get young people to talk with their health care providers and partners about the importance of getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases.|
|Male Reproductive System What makes up a guy's reproductive system and how does it develop? Can anything go wrong? Find the answers to these questions and more in this article.|
|Talking to Your Partner About STDs You know you should talk about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) before the action starts, but if you're like most people the thought of having "the talk" makes you completely nervous. Welcome to STD Chat 101.|
|Abstinence Abstinence is the only form of birth control that is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy. Abstinence also protects people against STDs.|
|About Birth Control Before you consider having sex, you need to know how to protect yourself. Read this article to get the basics on birth control.|
|Talking to Your Partner About Condoms Some people - even those who are having sex - are embarrassed by the topic of condoms. Here are some tips for talking about condoms with your partner.|
|Birth Control Methods: How Well Do They Work? Some birth control methods work better than others. This chart compares how well different birth control methods work.|
|5 Myths About STDs There's lots of misinformation out there about STDs. We set the record straight on 5 of the most common myths.|
|About Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) You've probably heard lots of discouraging news about sexually transmitted diseases. The good news is that STDs can be prevented. Find out how to protect yourself.|
|How Can We Avoid Pregnancy if a Condom Breaks? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Do Condoms Really Work? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|How Can You Tell if a Condom Has Expired? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Are Condoms 100% Effective? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Female Reproductive System Why do girls get periods? What goes on when a woman gets pregnant? What can go wrong with the female reproductive system? Find the answers to these questions and more in this article for teens.|
|Gyn Checkups Girls should get their first gynecological checkup between ages 13 and 15. Find out what happens during a yearly gyn visit -- and why most girls don't get internal exams.|
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