Condoms are one of the most effective and most common forms of practicing safe sex because they work as barriers. They are the only form of birth control that prevents pregnancy AND protects against STIs. But, they can still be a little confusing and maybe even intimidating. To help, here’s a rundown on the what, why, and how of condoms:
What are condoms?
A male condom is a thin tube that covers the penis during sexual intercourse. A female condom is a flat version, usually rectangular, that can be placed over the vulva and/or anus during sex. Most condoms are made of rubber latex (which is how they earned their nickname “rubbers”), but non-latex condoms are available and needed by people with latex allergies. Condoms act as a barrier between two bodies. Male condoms catch ejaculated semen in a pouch at the tip, so that sperm doesn’t enter the vagina. This is why they’re a popular form of contraception used for preventing pregnancy. Female condoms prevent the exchange of bodily fluids also by creating a barrier.
Why use condoms?
When used correctly, condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy and the spread of STIs! In fact, condoms are the only form of contraception that can protect you and your partner from STIs. They are usually easy to find since they’re sold at most pharmacies, convenience stores, and supermarkets, but you may also be able to get free condoms through your local healthcare center, school clinic, or Planned Parenthood.
How to use condoms?
Male condoms can be used during vaginal, anal, and oral sex, and are suggested for all three forms to prevent the spread of STIs. They come in different sizes, so it’s important to pick one that fits tight enough around the penis to stay on during intercourse and prevent any semen from spilling out. Female condoms come in one size, but they don’t fit tightly and so they do a poor job of containing semen. Their best use is to prevent the exchange of other fluids – like mucus and microscopic blood – that can contain viruses or bacteria.
A male condom will typically come wrapped in a square foil with ridged edges. You can use your fingers to gently tear the wrapper open in the corner or along one of the sides. Some condom wrappers will even have a small line or indication of where to do this. When you pull the condom out, it will look like a disk. Once the penis is erect, place the circular edge of the condom at the head of the penis. Gently pinching the tip of the condom with one hand (this keeps a space for the semen to deposit) use the other to roll the condom all the way down to the base of the penis.
After male ejaculation, hold the condom at the base of the penis (nearest the belly and furthest from the tip of the penis) while pulling out of the vagina to ensure it doesn’t slip off. Then, carefully remove the condom and dispose of it into a trashcan.
For a step by step guide with line drawings diagrams, check out this informational guide. These aren’t super sexualized images, but are a good product explainer for how to put on and take off a condom.
Here are some common condom myths debunked:
- You should double up on condoms: NO! Never use more than one condom during sexual intercourse as this can actually decrease protection against pregnancy and STIs. The friction between the two condoms can lead to breaking or tearing. This is the same reason why it’s not a good idea to keep a condom in a wallet or pocket for extended periods of time, since the bending, folding, heat, and friction can cause it to wear out and rip.
- Condoms don’t expire: WRONG! Condoms absolutely expire. They lose effectiveness past the expiration date, increasing the risk of pregnancy and/or STIs. Always check the expiration date of condoms before using, and make sure to store them away in a cool, dry, place away from sharp objects.
- If you’re on birth control you don’t need to use a condom: THINK AGAIN! While birth control does have a high effectiveness rate against pregnancy, it still is not 100%. Birth control also does not protect you against STIs, which is why it’s still important to use a condom.
- Safe sex is 100% effective: Unfortunately, no. It’s always important to practice safe sex, using things such as condoms, birth control, or other forms of contraception. However, even with these precautions there is always still a risk associated with having sex. The only way to completely avoid STIs or pregnancy is to not have sex. Choosing to have sex is not at all shameful, but keep in mind that abstinence is the only prevention method with 100% effectiveness.