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 pregnancy and/or transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Condoms come in different shapes, sizes, and yes flavors. There are also a variety of materials used for condoms, including latex, lambskin, polyurethane, and polyisoprene.
Lambskin condoms, which are made from part of a lamb's intestine, prevent pregnancy, and are considered by many to enhance 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.
According to Planned Parenthood, latex condoms seldom break when used correctly. In one year 98% of women using condoms consistently and correctly will not get pregnant. However, since most couples do not always use condoms consistently or correctly, the actual 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. Also, incorrectly using condoms can lead to the condom breaking, slipping, or leaking and subsequent pregnancy. Correct use of condoms requires that they are used for the entire sex act, from the start of sexual contact until after ejaculation.
Use only water-based lubricants, since all oil- or mineral-based lubricants quickly weaken latex.
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 or not cover the entire penis. Condoms come in a range of sizes. Choose the one that best protects you and meets your needs.
Put a condom on only after the penis is erect. 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 sexual contact occurs. To avoid tearing, do not use any sharp objects to open the condom wrapper. Throw condoms away if they are past the expiration date.
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. However, the male latex condom is slightly more effective than the female condom at preventing pregnancy.
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. Be aware that those that do not meet industry standards are required by law to carry the warning, "For novelty use only."
Reproductive Facts—The American Society for Reproductive Medicine
Sex Information and Education Council of Canada
2015 Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/default.htm. Updated March 9, 2016. Accessed April 14, 2016.
Allergic to latex? You can still have safer sex. Planned Parenthood website. Available at: http://advocatesaz.org/2012/05/02/allergic-to-latex-you-can-still-have-safer-sex. Accessed April 14, 2016.
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Condom. Planned Parenthood website. Available at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-info/birth-control/condom. Accessed April 14, 2016
Condom fact sheet in brief. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/brief.html. Updated March 25, 2013. Accessed April 14, 2016.
Condoms—how to use a male condom. Avert website. Available at: http://www.avert.org/sex-stis/safer-sex-hiv/condoms. Updated May 1, 2015. Accessed April 14, 2016.
Fact sheet: Condoms & lubricants. Avert website. Available at: http://www.avert.org/learn-share/hiv-fact-sheets/condoms-lubricants. Updated March 1, 2016. Accessed April 14, 2016.
Female condom: A powerful tool for protection. United Nations Populations Fund website. Available at: http://www.unfpa.org/public/global/pid/376. Accessed April 14, 2016.
Female condoms—how to use a female condom. Avert website. Available at: http://www.avert.org/sex-stis/safer-sex-hiv/female-condoms. Updated May 1, 2015. Accessed April 14, 2016.
The Lambskin Condoms FAQ. Lambskin Condoms website. Available at: http://lambskincondoms.org. Accessed April 14, 2016.
Last reviewed April 2016 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 10/10/2017