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Condoms can protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and they can be used to prevent pregnancy. A male condom is placed over a man's erect penis before sex. Condoms are also called "rubbers," "sheaths," or "skins."
Condoms are made of latex (rubber), polyurethane, or sheep intestine. While latex and polyurethane condoms help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV, sheep intestine condoms do not.
The male condom is a barrier method of birth control. Condoms are currently the only male method of birth control besides vasectomy. To more effectively prevent pregnancy, use a condom with a more effective birth control method such as hormonal contraception, an intrauterine device (IUD), a diaphragm with spermicide, or another female barrier method.
Condoms don't require a prescription or a visit to a health professional. Condoms are sold in drugstores, family planning clinics, and many other places, including vending machines in some restrooms. There are many different kinds of condoms. Some condoms are lubricated, some are ribbed, and some have a "reservoir tip" for holding the semen. You can also buy condoms of different sizes.
The male condom, if used without spermicide, has a user failure rate (typical use) of 15%. This means that, among all couples that use condoms, 15 out of 100 become pregnant in 1 year. Among couples who use condoms perfectly for 1 year, only 2 out of 100 will become pregnant.1
Condoms that are sold with a coating of spermicide are no more effective than condoms without it. The most common reason for failure, besides not using a condom every time, is that the condom breaks or partially or completely slips off the penis. Slippage occurs more often than breakage, usually when a condom is too large.
Use emergency contraception as a backup if a condom breaks or slips off.
Make sure to check the condom's expiration date, and do not use it if past that date.
Male condoms reduce the risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections, including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Condoms are often used to reduce the risk of STIs even when the couple is using another method of birth control (such as pills). For the best protection, use the condom during vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
"Natural" or sheep intestine condoms are as effective as latex or polyurethane condoms for preventing pregnancy, but they are not effective against STIs because the small openings in the animal tissue allow organisms to pass through.
Condoms are most effective if you follow these steps:
- Trussell J (2007). Choosing a contraceptive: Efficacy, safety, and personal considerations. In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 19th ed., pp. 19–47. New York: Ardent Media.
Other Works Consulted
- BCwiak C, Berga S (2009). Contraception. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 16, chap. 4. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
- Zieman M, et al. (2007). Condoms for men. In Managing Contraception for Your Pocket. 2007–2009 ed., pp. 56–62. Tiger, GA: Bridging the Gap Foundation.
- Zieman M, et al. (2007). Female-controlled barrier methods. In Managing Contraception for Your Pocket, 2007–2009 ed., pp. 63–67. Tiger, GA: Bridging the Gap Foundation.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Femi Olatunbosun, MB, FRCSC - Obstetrics and Gynecology|
|Last Revised||May 3, 2012|
Last Revised: May 3, 2012
Author: Healthwise Staff
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