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Sexual Health, Birth Control, and Condoms

How Is the Male Condom Used?

Take caution when opening the wrapper to avoid tearing the condom with your teeth, fingernails, or rings. Gently pinch the air out of the tip of the condom before putting it on. The condom is rolled over the erect penis before sexual activity begins. If the condom does not have a built-in nipple, leave about 1/2-inch of the condom free at the tip of the penis so that semen has a place to collect.

A new condom must be used each time you have sex. The condom must be in place before the penis gets near the vagina. If you use lubricants with a condom, be sure to only use water-based lubricants, such as K-Y Jelly. Oil-based lubricants, such as Vaseline, massage oils, and body lotions can cause condoms to leak or break. Certain vaginal medications used to treat yeast infections can also weaken condoms.

Initially it was felt that condoms lubricated with spermicidal agents offered more protection against STDs. Newer studies show that the use of condoms containing spermicides offers no additional protection and may actually increase the risk of HIV and other STDs by irritating the vagina and penis. Spermicidal products do, however, remain useful for pregnancy prevention.

What Causes Male Condoms to Break?

There are several reasons why a condom would break:

  • Too old. Modern condom wrappers have a date after which the condom should not be used.
  • Improper storage. Heat damages latex condoms, so they should not be kept in a hot place, such as a car glove compartment or wallet.
  • Not enough lubrication. Additional lubrication is always needed for rectal sex. It may also be needed for vaginal sex. The lubricant should be water-soluble, such as KY jelly.
  • The wrong kind of lubricant. Lubricants that contain oil -- such as Vaseline, baby oils, and vegetable oils -- should not be used with latex condoms since they weaken the rubber.
  • Too small. Try a larger size.
  • Partner too tight. Use an extra strength condom and more lubricant.

What Causes Condoms to Come Off During Sex?

A condom may come off during sex because:

  • It's too large. Try a snug condom.
  • Loss of erection. Remove your penis, holding on to the rolled edge of the condom, as soon as you begin to lose your erection.

Where Can I Get Male Condoms?

Condoms can be purchased at most drug stores. Condoms also are sold in some vending machines in public restrooms.

How Effective Are Male Condoms for Birth Control?

Condoms are about 82% effective for birth control. With careful use, they are even more effective. Keep in mind that the best way to avoid getting pregnant is to not have sex (abstinence).

How Do Male Condoms Prevent STDs?

Latex condoms provide protection from sexually transmitted diseases by preventing the infected area from coming into contact with the partner. Polyurethane condoms provide some protection, although not as much as latex. Natural or lambskin condoms do not protect against STDs because they have larger holes or "pores" that allow the small particles that can cause some STDs to pass through. Many STDs -- including HSV, which causes herpes, and HPV or the human papillomavirus, which is the most common sexually transmitted infection -- can be transmitted from areas not covered by a condom.

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