Of the many birth control methods available, the use of condoms is probably one of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent both pregnancy and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). What makes condoms popular compared to other contraceptives, like the birth control pill, are their accessibility, inexpensiveness and few side effects, due in large part to the fact that they are a hormone free birth control.
What are Condoms?
A condom is a thin device made from latex or polyurethane, which is worn on the penis during sexual intercourse. Condoms collect the semen ejaculated from a man’s penis before, during and after intercourse, thereby preventing sperm from entering the female vagina and inhibiting pregnancy. Additionally, your risk of contracting an STD, including HIV, is reduced through condom use as the exchange of bodily fluids is hindered.
Latex condoms are by far the most popular and widely used variety available. These condoms have very good elastic properties and are suited to water based lubricants. Oil based lubricants, like Vaseline, may cause latex condoms to break. However, people with an allergy to latex may find this particular birth control uncomfortable to use.
Polyurethane condoms are thinner than latex ones and are preferred for the increased sensitivity they provide. They can also be stored for a longer duration, are better conductors of heat, and can be used by those with a latex allergy. However, they require more lubrication and are more expensive than the latex condoms. Condoms made out of other materials, such as lambskin, are available. However, these are not nearly as effective as latex polyurethane at preventing pregnancy or STDs transmission
Types of Condoms
There is no shortage of choice when it comes to condoms, making it very possible for a couple to have as much fun with their contraception as they would like. Condoms come in a variety of shapes, colours, sizes and flavours to suit everyone’s preferences. Some condoms are available with a special reservoir tip to store the ejaculated semen while others may have a wider circumference at the end. Some condoms have added ribs, bumps or elevated spots to help increase the sensation for both partners.
As for size, there are no standard measurements followed for condom sizing. However, the idea of one-size-fits-all doesn’t really apply here. Most manufacturers nowadays make condoms of different sizes, shapes and types that are suited to every individual’s needs. And the need for a good fit is important as an ill-fitting condom may fall off, leaving you vulnerable to pregnancy and STDs.
Spermicides and Condoms
Spermicide refers to a cream, jelly, foam or film that works to kill off sperm. To help make condoms more effective, most condom brands offer a line of condoms that contain a spermicidal lubricant. However, one of the main ingredients in almost all spermicides, nonoxynol-9 or N9, can irritate the skin on the penis, around the vulva and in the vagina. Additionally, N9 has been found to cause sores and/or stripping of the vaginal and rectal lining. As a result, the purported protection spermicides offer against STDs has been found to be incorrect.
Research on nonoxynol-9 done in the 1980s demonstrated that spermicides with N9 were capable of demobilizing strands of gonorrhoea, herpes, chlamydia, HIV, and trichomoniasis. While these findings were correct, they were not accurate as they were only done in laboratories and not on people.
The newest studies done examining the issue have found that spermicides, in fact, do not protect against STDs. In some cases, it may actually increase an individual’s risk as the sores the spermicide can cause in the vaginal and rectal lining only serve to facilitate an infection. Because of the greater risk of STD infection, using condoms with spermicide is generally not recommended and instead condoms without spermicide should be used.
Using a Condom
If you and your partner want to prevent pregnancy, it is best to use a condom every time you have sexual intercourse. A condom can only be used once and if it is damaged in anyway, you should replace it with a good one instantaneously. To use a condom:
- Tear open the package carefully without destroying the condom inside
- If the condom is not lubricated, put a drop or two of water-based lubricant on it
- If your partner is not circumcised, he will need to push his foreskin back before putting on the condom
- The condom is usually rolled in package, so place this on the tip of the erect penis
- If your condom does not have a reservoir tip, then leave about a half inch of space at the tip
- Pinch the tip of the condom to ensure no air gets in and roll the condom down over the penis with the other hand. This also helps remove air from inside the condom.
- If you would like, you can place some more lubricate on the outside of the condom
To remove the condom:
- Remove the condom before the penis becomes flacid
- Be careful not to spill any semen while removing it
- Start rolling the condom from the base to remove
- Dispose the used condom by wrapping it in a tissue paper and throwing in the bin
- Do not flush a condom
It is a good idea for both partners to know how to use a condom. Also, make sure you read the instructions that come in the condom pack and always check the expiry date of your condoms before you use them. Never use an expired condom.
If a condom breaks during intercourse, immediately put another one on. If you are concerned that a pregnancy may have occurred, then make an appointment with your health care provider.
Effectiveness of Condoms
When used properly, condoms are able to prevent pregnancy almost 85% of the time. The majority of pregnancies that do occur are usually the result of improper condom use, although condoms may spontaneously break. There is a common misbelieve that condoms should only be worn when you are having sex. In reality, pre-ejaculate may also contain sperm, making pregnancy a possibility. Furthermore, if there is skin-to-skin contact and/or exchanging of bodily fluids, it is possible to transmit an STD. Therefore, wearing a condom even before you have sex can be a good idea.
While the condom is not as effective at preventing pregnancy as other methods of birth control, such as the IUD and the birth control patch, it is the only contraceptive that is capable of protecting against STDs. Although the condom is effective at preventing the spread of HIV, syphilis and herpes, it cannot stop all sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HPV.
Benefits of using condoms include:
- Effective at protecting against pregnancy and many STDs
- Have very few side effects
- Come in different sizes, shapes, colours, etc., allowing you to choose that is best for you
- Widely available
- Does not reqire a doctor’s prescription to use one
- Easy to use and less messy
- Unlike some other contraceptive methods, condoms need to be used only when you are having intercourse.
Despite the advantageous, there are some drawbacks to condoms that should be considered:
- Some people complain that using a condom interrupts foreplay and the process is not that enjoyable. But with practice, the use of a condom can become very much a part of lovemaking and not an interruption.
- Using condoms may reduce the sensitivity of the skin as it is acting as a barrier. This can be overcome by applying lubricants and both partners participating in such a way that the sensations are greater.
- The risk of breakage may lead to unwanted pregnancy; therefore the couple may still need to use other contraceptive methods along with the use of condoms
- Possible allergic reaction to latex (affects about 1% to 2% of users)
Availability and Cost
Condoms are readily available in chemists, supermarkets and many fertility clinics, which may offer free condoms. There are also vending machines located in various public washrooms that sell individual condoms. Condoms usually come in packs of 6 to 12 and cost between £5 and £9 depending on the brand, type of condom and size of box you buy.
When you go to buy a condom, make sure you check the expiry date as all condoms have a shelf life. If you are new to the condom world, take the time to try out different sizes, shapes, and brands to find the style that suits you best. Condoms that have been properly tested carry the British kite mark and are usually ISO approved.
For more information on the safest form of birth control, check out our forum.