Condoms: A Virtual Orgy of Sizes, Shapes, and Tastes

10 Tips for Getting the Best Use From Condoms

From the WebMD Archives

The condom wizard is helping me choose a condom.

"I am the condom wizard," he confidently declares, "and I shall help you find the condoms that are right for you."

I have to admit I'd feel easier getting the condom wizard's advice on the best condom for me if he weren't wearing one condom on his head and another on his nose. But, hey, whatever works for him.

First the condom wizard wants to know what characteristics are most important to me in a condom. Sensitivity? Texture? Size?

Well, size, I guess.

I have two choices, he tells me, politely describing them as "snugger fitting" and "roomier."

"Roomier."

"So, you're having trouble getting that puppy on, eh?" the wizard asks.

Well, ahem, maybe just a little.

"Where do you need more room?" he asks -- not one to beat around the bush. "More headroom? Top to bottom?"

All I can say is, I'm glad I'm online at Condomania, a mail order condom retailer, and not having this conversation about condoms with the young woman who works behind the pharmacy counter.

Casanova's Condom and Other Condom History Facts

The condom wizard is just the latest innovation in the long history of protective gear for the penis. Condoms have been the contraceptive of choice for thousands years. Ancient Egyptians wore them, although whether for decoration or protection isn't clear. As far back as the 16th century, physicians knew that wearing a sheath could protect against syphilis. Casanova garbed his infamous member in a linen one. Lesser mortals usually settled for condoms made of animal intestines. Historians of the condom debate whether the name comes from Colonel Cundum, an inventor, or the Roman word condon, for "receptacle." In 1843, another word for condoms entered the lexicon, with the introduction of vulcanized rubber and the mass production of latex condoms: rubbers. Condoms made of synthetic materials such as polyurethane began in the 1990s.

A Condom to Suit Your Taste

These days, condoms are available in a virtual orgy of shapes, sizes, textures, and even flavors. "So, you say the taste of latex got you down?" the condom wizard asks when I inquire. "Hungry for a savory, succulent love pop?" For those with a taste for such things, condoms now come in grape, cola, banana, and even cherry flavor.

Continued

There are condoms treated with spermicide and others with a lubricant that supposedly prolongs sexual pleasure and prevents premature ejaculation. There are extra-strength condoms, made of slightly thicker latex "for those rough and tumble moments," the wizard explains (wink, wink). Word has it a German company is even developing a spray condom. To don this puppy, apparently, you slip your erect penis into a sort of can, which sprays latex from all sides. No word on when spray condoms will be available.

How Effective Are Condoms?

Playfulness aside, using a condom if you're sexually active can be a matter of life and death. As part of safe sex, condoms have been shown to protect against HIV/AIDS, as well as a variety of other sexually transmitted diseases, including hepatitis B, gonorrhea, syphilis, and the virus that cause genital warts. They are also effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies, of course.

How effective? That's surprisingly hard to say, acknowledges Markus Steiner, PhD, MSPH, an epidemiologist at Family Health International and contributor of a chapter on condoms in the textbook Contraceptive Technology.

"Condoms only work if they are used consistently and correctly, and that's something that's very difficult to study in people," says Steiner. Studies estimate that of 100 couples using condoms consistently and correctly, 2% would become pregnant during the first year of use. In real life, however, people and condoms slip. The actual rate of unintended pregnancy among couples using condoms for contraception is closer to15%.

What about sexually transmitted diseases? Again, condoms only work if they are used properly and consistently. When they are, though, they can dramatically reduce the risk of serious infections. Health experts credit the widespread use of condoms for reining in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in many parts of the world. Some studies show that condoms are more than 90% effective at preventing HIV transmission.

10 Tips for the Best Condom Protection

Condoms would be even more effective if they were always used correctly. This is particularly an issue in teen condom use. What goes wrong? Dumb things, mostly. Not using a condom every time sexual intercourse occurs is the most common problem, according to Steiner. Another problem: failure to use condoms throughout intercourse. In recent surveys, some men admit to donning condoms well into intercourse or removing them prior to ejaculation. (How dumb is that?) The culprit most people blame --condom slippage or breakage -- is actually quite rare, according to Steiner, occurring only about 2%of the time.

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Counting on a condom to protect you from sexually transmitted diseases or preventing unwanted pregnancy? Here are 10 tips:

  • Store condoms in a cool and dry place out of sunlight. Your wallet's fine for the weekend, but don't depend on a rubber you tucked away a year ago.
  • Check the expiration date. (Yes, condoms usually do have expiration dates, marked "exp.") If yours has expired, toss it.
  • Don't reuse condoms. (Come on, guys, there are other ways to save money). Use a new condom if you switch from vaginal sex to anal sex, and vice versa.
  • For latex condoms, use only water-based lubricants (K-Y and Astroglide, for instance). Don't depend on natural skin or lambskin condoms to protect against STDs. They have small pores that may allow HIV, herpes simplex virus, and hepatitis B virus to pass through.
  • If you're sensitive or allergic to latex, try a synthetic condom (usually made of polyurethane). These typically have a longer shelf life and can be used with both water- and oil-based lubricants. The downside: The ability of synthetics to fully protect against STDs hasn't been proved.
  • Avoid condoms with spermicide. These are no more effective than plain condoms at preventing pregnancy, and they have a shorter shelf life. What's more, they can cause irritation that may actually facilitate transmission of STDs, including HIV. Make donning of a condom part of the pleasure of foreplay. That way you're less likely to lose your erection.
  • Over too soon? Try a brand of desensitizing condoms, which are lined with benzocaine to slightly dampen skin sensitivity and prevent premature ejaculation.

Whatever you choose, remember the old Boy Scout motto and be prepared. The worst condom failure is not having one when you really need one.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Sheldon Marks, MD on December 16, 2009

Sources

SOURCES: Condomania. Markus Steiner, PhD, senior epidemiologist, Family Health International; contributor, Contraceptive Technology, 18th Revised Edition, Ardent Media, 2004; Steiner, M. and Cates, W. New England Journal of Medicine, June 22, 2006; vol 354:25: pp 2, 642-2, 643.

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