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Sexual Health, Birth Control, and Condoms

Birth control is a way for men and women to prevent pregnancy. There are many different methods of birth control; some types also protect against sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs. Condoms are one type of birth control that -- in addition to preventing pregnancy -- also prevent the spread of STDs.

There are two types of condoms, the male condom and the female condom.

Did You Know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will provide free women’s preventive services, including mammograms, birth control and well-woman visits. Learn more.

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What Is a Male Condom?

The male condom, or "rubber," is a thin covering made of latex, plastic, or animal membrane that is rolled over an erect penis. The covering prevents semen, the fluid that contains sperm, from entering a woman's vagina.

What Are Male Condoms Made Of?

Most condoms are made of a type of rubber called "latex." Latex condoms are the most effective condom at preventing STDs. Recently, condoms made of polyurethane (a type of plastic) have become available. These are more expensive than latex condoms and seem to break more easily. They are mainly useful for people who are allergic to latex. There are also "natural" condoms, which are made of animal membranes (lambskin). These are expensive and although they are effective at preventing pregnancy they do not decrease the spread of many sexually transmitted diseases.

What Types of Latex Condoms Are There?

Condoms come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. Here are some characteristics to consider when buying condoms.

  • Size. The standard size will fit most men. Extra-large condoms are available, as well as "snug" sizes that are a little smaller and fit tighter than the standard size.
  • Shape. Some condoms come with a nipple in the end to hold the fluid when the man ejaculates. Others have a rounded end.
  • Thickness. Extra-strength condoms are available. These are stronger and are especially useful for rectal sex and for men who have problems with condom breakage. Extra thin condoms also are available, but these are not recommended because they may break more easily.
  • Lubrication. Many condoms come pre-lubricated. This lubrication can be a substance that kills sperm (spermicide) and many disease-causing germs. Lubrication may give some extra protection in preventing pregnancy, especially if the condom breaks. Lubricated condoms taste bad and are not recommended for oral sex.
  • Flavored. These condoms are meant for the male to wear when receiving oral sex. They are not lubricated and have a mild flavor (usually mint).
  • Color. Condoms come in many colors. The color of the condom doesn't make it any more or less effective.

When Should a Man Use a Condom?

A man should wear a condom any time he inserts his penis into the body of another person, if there is even the slightest risk that either person has a sexually transmitted disease. Men frequently become infected with STDs when receiving oral sex, so a condom should be worn then, too. The condom should be put on before there is any contact, and should be removed and thrown away promptly after the man has ejaculated.

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