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The Hard Facts on Condoms

Condoms prevent pregnancies and STDs. They create a barrier that keeps semen and other body fluids out of the vagina, rectum, or the mouth.

There are condoms for men and for women -- but don't use both at the same time. One can stick to the other and pull it out of place or tear it.

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?

It's a fitted, thin plastic cover that a man wears on his penis during sex. There are a lot of different types.

Latex, plastic, or lambskin. Most people use condoms made of latex. If you’re sensitive or allergic to that material, you can use ones made of other types of plastic: polyurethane or polyisoprene. Plastic condoms can protect you from STDs, such as HIV, herpes, chlamydia, and gonorrhea, during any kind of sex -- vaginal, oral, and anal. “Natural” or “lambskin” condoms are made of material that comes from lamb intestines. They prevent pregnancy, but like human skin, they’re porous. That means they don’t protect you from STDs.

Lubrication, or lube, is a thin coating of liquid on the condom. It can prevent pain and irritation during sex, and it can help keep the condom from breaking. If you buy one that’s not already pre-coated, you’ll probably want to add some lube to make sex more comfortable. Make sure you use a water-based product that’s meant for sex. Oil-based lubricants like petroleum jelly can damage the condom and keep it from working.

Spermicide is a substance that kills sperm, and some condoms come pre-coated with it. When you use both together, you can lower the risk of pregnancy, but the amount of spermicide that comes with a condom is probably not enough to make a difference. If you want the extra protection, consider getting a separate sperm-killing product. Look for one that has octoxynol-9. Another common spermicide, nonoxynol-9, can irritate the genitals, which may increase the risk of HIV.

Textured condoms, including ribbed and studded ones, are intended to boost the pleasure for you or your partner. But how it makes you feel could be different from what someone else enjoys. If a condom keeps you or your partner from enjoying sex, try textured ones to see if they feel better. You can also make putting on the condom part of foreplay.

You might also find glow-in-the-dark or other novelty condoms, too. But be careful: These kinds are typically not FDA-approved and are not proven to prevent pregnancies or STDs. Make sure the package clearly states that the product guards against both.

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