Condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are the only form of protection that can help stop the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and prevent pregnancy.
Condoms are very effective at preventing HIV transmission, and will also help to prevent the transmission of any other infection that's spread through semen or vaginal fluids. However, they are only effective if they're used properly every time you have sex.
Condoms are quite simple to use, but like anything, it can take a bit of practice to get it right.
A female condom is similar to a male condom, but is wider and is worn inside a woman's vagina rather than over the penis. The condom has two rings - the ring at the closed end of the female condom is pushed up inside the vagina, while the ring at the open end surrounds the entrance to the vagina. The man's penis is guided into the condom through the open ring.
There are a range of tests performed by both regulatory agencies and the condom manufacturers to ensure they're safe and strong enough to use during sex. These include electronic testing, the water leak test, the air burst test and the strength test.
You need to make sure the condom has not expired, it carries the standards approval mark (e.g SABS depending on where you are), and that it has been properly stored.
Studies have shown that when used properly, less than 2 in every 100 condoms fail.
Some people claim that condoms have tiny pores or holes in them through which sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV can pass. This is not true. Many studies show that condoms do not have pores big enough for HIV to travel through. Most latex condoms have walls that are approximately .05 mm thick – a virus such as HIV would therefore have to pass through a barrier around 500 times thicker than itself to reach the outside.
Condoms are usually made of latex or polyurethane. Latex condoms are more widely available and cheaper, although some people are allergic to them, in which case a polyurethane condom may be more appropriate.
It can be difficult to talk about using condoms, but you shouldn't let embarrassment become a health risk. The person you are thinking about having sex with may not agree at first when you say that you want to try and use a condom when you have sex.
These are some excuses that might be made and some answers that you could try:
|Don't you trust me?||Trust isn't the point, people can have infections without realising it.|
|I can't feel a thing when I wear a condom||Maybe that way you'll last even longer and that will make up for it.|
|I don't stay hard when I put on a condom||I'll help you put it on, that will help keep it hard.|
|I don't have a condom with me||I do.|
|I'm on the pill, you don't need a condom||I'd like to use it anyway. It will help to protect us from infections we may not realise we have.|
|But I love you||Then you'll help us to protect ourselves from STIs and unplanned pregnancy.|
|Just this once||Once is all it takes.|
When used properly (ie. the condom doesn't split or burst) condoms can be very effective in preventing both pregnancy and STIs. If a condom breaks and no other form of contraception such as the contraceptive pill is being used then there is a risk that a woman may become pregnant. In that case you can use emergency contraception to prevent falling pregnant.
Condoms are made in different lengths and widths, and different manufacturers produce varying sizes. There is no standard length for condoms, although those made from natural rubber will always stretch if necessary to fit the length of the man's erect penis.
The width of a condom can also vary. Some condoms have a slightly smaller width to give a 'closer' fit, whereas others will be slightly larger. Condom makers have realised that different lengths and widths are needed and have broadened their range of sizes.
The brand names will be different in each country, so you will need to do your own investigation of different names.
Using two condoms at the same time - either two male condoms or a male and female condom - is not a good idea as the friction of them rubbing together may result in one or both of the condoms tearing. If you want to take extra precautions against pregnancy when having sex, and are concerned about the possibility of a condom breaking, it is better to use another form of contraception. For example, using the contraceptive pill as well as a condom will provide extra protection against pregnancy and STIs.
It is a good idea to get some condoms before having sex and practice using them. That way you can get used to the feel of condoms and putting them on, which should help you feel more relaxed about using them when having sex and less likely to lose your erection.
If you are going to use a condom under water it is important that you put the condom on before you get into the water. Also, if the water contains chemicals such as chlorine or additives such as soap, bath oil or bubble bath then this may affect the latex.
It will depend on which country you are in, but in most countries you can buy condoms from chemists and supermarkets. Condoms are often available from vending machines in public toilets. In some countries condoms are available free or at low-cost from clinics. They can also be purchased from a variety of websites online.