Let’s start with the most basic form of contraception: condoms. Condoms are also referred to as prophylactics. The particular act of using a condom is also sometimes referred to as “The Barrier Method” of contraception.
There are two basic types of condoms: male and female. Male condoms are the most commonly available, but female condoms have all the same benefits as male condoms.
Effectiveness: STIs and Pregnancy
When used properly, condoms are 98% effective in preventing pregnancy. They are also the only form of birth control that offers any form of protection against STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections). The effectiveness varies against different STIs, but it ranges from 70% to 95%. For more information on the rates of effectiveness against specific STIs, go here: Latex Condom Effectiveness. They are the form of contraception that is easiest to obtain. One can find both male and female condoms at drugstores, convenience stores, grocery stores, and sex-specific stores.
How to Use
It is very important to use a condom properly. Improper use will dramatically reduce the effectiveness of the condom. Breakage and leaking are rare when the condom is used properly, but can occur. A water based lubricant can assist with the comfort of both types of condom. Silicone based lubricant will stay slick longer, but be sure that any lubricant used does not have any sort of an oil base (such as Vaseline). An oil-based lubricant will compromise the elasticity of the condom, and can cause breakage.
Male: Male condoms are packaged individually in small packets. They are rolled up for easier application. For the best fit and most comfort, condoms should only be applied to a fully erect penis. They should also be applied by hands that have not been touching any seminal fluid. Unless the condom has ribbing, there should be no difference in the feeling of a penis with or without a condom.
To apply, the rolled up condom should be placed on the head of the penis, and then unrolled over the shaft. Care should be taken to ensure that there is ample room at the head of the penis for the seminal fluid after ejaculation. For the most effective removal, holding the base of the condom during withdrawal and removing the condom immediately is essential. Male condoms are only good for one use.
Female: Female condoms are also packaged individually. They require a little more foresight and some practice to apply correctly. Female condoms have two individual rings, the smaller ring is placed on or near the cervix, and the other larger ring is placed near the outer lips of the vulva. Female condoms can also be successfully used for anal sex, with the smaller ring removed. Applying an additional form of lubricant is essential for this type of sex, as the anus does not produce any natural lubrication. As with the male condom, the female condom is one-use only, and should be removed immediately after sexual intercourse.
Condom Myths, and the Truth Revealed!
There are many myths related to condom usage. I’ll de-bunk a few here.
“Double bagging”, or using two condoms instead of just one, increases the effectiveness of the condoms. Using two condoms causes increased friction, and will often cause the condoms to tear, thus compromising the effectiveness for preventing both pregnancy and STI transmission.
“I can’t feel anything with a condom!” or “Condoms feel like a raincoat!” This is an excuse given frequently to avoid using a condom. Sex with a condom is not the same as sex without one, but I can promise that your and your partner will still feel pleasure during the sex act.
“Condoms are unsexy and will ‘ruin the moment’!”. If you’re worried about this, and you are the one wearing the condom, offer it to your partner to apply; if you are not the one wearing the condom, offer to apply it to your partner. There is nothing unsexy about sharing an intimate moment like this, and you’ll feel better afterward, knowing that you have dramatically reduced your chance of an unplanned pregnancy or an STI infection.
“Condoms never fit me!” Condoms come in a wide variety of sizes. If a particular condom size is too big or too small, there are other sizes to choose from. There are several videos online of people putting a condom on their heads (the one above the shoulders!), or sticking their entire fist and forearm into a condom. If there is no condom that is big enough for you or your partner to wear, then you may have other problems to worry about!
How to Choose a Condom
As you can see if you go to your local drug store, there are a lot of different types and brands of male condoms. There are big, medium, and small condoms. There are condoms that are regular, thin, and ultra thin. They may have ribbing on them. There are condoms with regular lubricant, spermicidal lubricant, warming lubricant, and lubricant that produces a numbing sensation to allow sex to last longer (please inform your partner if you are using a condom with either of the last two, as they can be an unpleasant surprise if your partner is not warned!). Female condoms may be a little more difficult to find, and I have personally only seen one brand. I encourage you to purchase a variety pack and experiment to find out which one you like the best.