Safe Sex: How the Condom Works as Birth Control

8 of 12 in Series: The Essentials of Safe Sex

If you're at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD), then a condom is an absolute necessity for a healthy sex life. Condoms fall into the “barrier method” category of birth control: they fit over the penis, blocking the sperm from entering the vagina and causing an unintended pregnancy. While condoms aren't the most effective contraception, they are the best way to avoid STDs and are readily available.

How the condom works

The condom is a sheath that fits over the penis, blocking the sperm from being released into the vagina. When you purchase a condom, it comes rolled up in a package. You place the condom on the erect penis and roll it down along the shaft, leaving a small pocket at
the top to collect the semen.

Advantages of condoms

Of all the contraceptive methods, the condom provides the most protection against sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, polyurethane condoms, although more expensive than other condom materials, are thinner and stronger than latex condoms, nonporous and nonpermeable to all viruses (including HIV), hypoallergenic, safe to use with oil-based products, and heat conductive, which is supposed to make them transmit sensations between partners better.

Lambskin condoms have microscopic holes that, while small enough to stop the sperm in midbackstroke, are big enough to allow viruses safe passage into the vagina. These condoms, therefore, do not offer adequate protection against HIV.

Condoms are widely available at drugstores, at some supermarkets and convenience stores, and in dispensers in many public restrooms.

Some lubricated condoms include a spermicide for added protection.

Condoms are also available in a variety of sizes: Men with smaller penises can find brands that will not slip off during intercourse. Men with larger penises can find brands that aren't at risk of being split during intercourse.

Disadvantages of condoms

The trickiest part of using a condom can be removing it. If removed improperly, it can leak and release sperm into the vagina. This can be enough to allow an unintended pregnancy.

In fact, a condom is not the best of methods as far as offering protection from pregnancy. The most common reason for condom failure, however, is failure to use it in the first place. In other words, a couple may say that their method of birth control is the condom, but they only occasionally use condoms. Other problems are breakage during use or spilled semen during removal. Obviously, the more careful you're using a condom, the more protection it offers.

If you use a dry condom and decide to add a lubricant, make sure that the lubricant is a water-based one, like KY Jelly. Oil-based lubricants, like Vaseline, or other products made from mineral or vegetable oils, including Reddi Whip, can break down the latex and make the condom porous. This breakdown can happen very quickly, so don’t use any of these products with a condom.

Men often complain that wearing a condom during sex diminishes their sensations.

Although it is okay to carry a condom in your wallet for a short period of time, condoms do degrade with time. If you’ve had it in your wallet for several months, it’s a good idea to replace it—especially if you live in a hot region or if your wallet stays in your back pocket. A year is far too long, no matter where or who you're.

If you rely on condoms to protect against pregnancy or STDs, you must use them all the time.

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