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The Truth About Latex Condoms

Condoms have been around for centuries and have long been used as contraceptives. According to the CDC, male condoms are 85-98% effective at preventing pregnancy.* But today, pregnancy is not the only worry. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are quite common, and the consequences can be severe and lifelong. Other than abstinence, condoms provide the only available protection against the spread of STIs. Whether or not you have sex with someone is a matter of personal choice. If you do, it's important to know the risks involved and how you can protect yourself. Making sexual intimacy as enjoyable and safe as possible means knowing what kinds of behaviors transmit various STIs. Protecting yourself means choosing only safer sex practices, using protection against STIs correctly and consistently, or not having sex.


Condoms are Effective in Preventing HIV and Other STIs

The correct and consistent use of latex condoms during sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, or oral) can greatly reduce a person's risk of acquiring or transmitting most STIs. They provide a physical barrier against the transmission of bacteria and viruses.

Always use condoms with non-spermicidal lubricant. The main ingredient in spermicide is nonoxynol-9 which does not make condoms any more effective in preventing pregnancy or infection. Use of nonoxynol-9 increases likelihood of HIV transmission.

Sexually transmitted infections, including HIV infections, are preventable. The effectiveness of responsible prevention strategies depends largely on the individual. Whatever strategy one chooses, its effectiveness depends on using it CORRECTLY and using it EVERY TIME.

How To Use Condoms Consistently and Correctly To Provide Maximum Protection

  • Use a new condom for each act of vaginal, anal or oral sex.
  • Use the condom throughout sex from start to finish.
  • Make sure the condom is LATEX or POLYURETHANE rather than natural skin condoms.
  • Store condoms in a cool place, out of direct sunlight (not in wallets or glove compartments).
  • Check the expiration date.
  • Carefully open the package -- teeth or fingernails can tear the condom. Put on the condom after the penis is erect and before it touches any part of a partner's body.
  • Make sure the condom is not on backwards. If the condom is on the penis and then you realize the condom is on backwards, discard and use a new condom.
  • Pinch the reservoir tip and unroll it all the way down the shaft of the penis from head to base. If the condom does not have a reservoir tip, pinch it to leave a half-inch space at the head of the penis for semen to collect after ejaculation.
  • Adequate lubrication is important to prevent condom breakage, but use only water based lubricants, such as glycerin or lubricating jellies. DO NOT use oil-based lubricants such as petroleum jelly, cold cream, hand lotion, or baby oil.
  • Withdraw the penis immediately after ejaculation. While the penis is still erect, grasp the rim of the condom between the fingers and slowly withdraw the penis (with the condom still on) so that no semen is spilled.
  • Discard the condom in the trash.

Additional Advantages to Using Condoms

  • With correct & consistent use, condoms are 98% effective for birth control.
  • Condoms are readily available at the University Health Center pharmacy, the Health Promotion Department, or other drug stores, and you don't need a prescription to buy them.
  • There are no side effects from using condoms. If an individual has an allergy to latex, polyurethane condoms may be used. Polyurethane condoms have been shown to be just as effective as latex condoms in providing a barrier against sperm and HIV. Polyurethane condoms are less elastic and tend to fit looser than latex condoms, therefore making it easier for them to slip off or break. Using lube may help to prevent this.
  • The pressure of the rolled rim of the condom can help maintain an erection and prolong sexual activity.
  • Correct use of condoms promotes a sense of security in having safer sex.

Myths About Condoms

Myth #1: Condoms frequently break. Latex condoms are highly effective for pregnancy prevention. Several studies show that condom breakage rates in the U.S. are less than 2%. Most of the breakage and slippage is due to incorrect use rather than poor condom quality. Using oil based lubricants can weaken latex, causing the condom to break. Not enough lubrication is also a factor. In addition, condoms can be weakened by exposure to heat, or by age, or teeth or fingernails can tear them.

Myth #2: HIV can pass through condoms. A commonly held misperception is that latex condoms contain "holes" that allow passage of HIV. Laboratory studies show that intact latex condoms provide a continuous barrier to microorganisms, including HIV, as well as sperm. It is important to store condoms in a cool place and check the expiration date.

Myth #3: Condoms decrease physical sensation. Condoms can actually increase physical sensation. The pressure of the rolled rim of the condom can help maintain an erection and prolong sexual activity. Many people find that using condoms can be part of the fun, it doesn't have to be an interruption. You don't have to stop being creative and playful to be careful. Most condoms cause very little loss of sensitivity.

Myth #4: Condoms are 100% effective. Condoms don't protect equally against all STIs. Consistent condom use is close to 100% protection against HIV. But some STIs, such as genital herpes and human papilloma virus (HPV - the virus that causes genital warts), can be spread through skin-to-skin contact. Because condoms do not cover the entire genital area, these STIs can be transmitted even with condom use. Still, condoms do offer some level of protection even against these other STIs, so it is VERY important to use them.

For more information, call the Health Promotion Department of the University Health Center, 706-542-8690.