External (male) condoms, are a barrier method that reduces the risk of an unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Most condoms are either made of latex or non-latex materials and come lubricated or non-lubricated. Applying additional lubricant can improve sensation and comfort. With latex condoms, only use water or silicone lubrication any other type of lubricant can cause the condom to break. There are all different sizes, shapes, thicknesses, and colors so it important to find the one that fits best for you. Internal (female) condoms are also available and are made of polyurethane (plastic) or nitrile (a synthetic rubber).
How effective are condoms?
When used properly, male condoms are about 85% effective in preventing pregnancy. When a condom breaks it is likely due to improper storage, not enough lubricant, the condom is expired, improper fit (too small or too large), or not knowing how to properly use the product. There is also no evidence that adding spermicide to a condom further reduces the risk of pregnancy. However, spermicides can increase risk of HIV transmission, and are not recommended.
When latex condoms are used correctly and consistently, they can reduce the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomonas, and HIV. Condoms are not 100% effective in preventing STIs. Polyurethane and nitrile condoms are as effective as latex condoms in preventing pregnancy and STIs and are alternative options for people with latex allergies. “Natural skin” condoms prevent pregnancy but do not reduce the risk for STIs because the natural pores in “natural skin” condoms still allow for viruses and bacteria to pass through, as opposed to sperm due to larger sized-pores.
How do I talk to my partner about condoms?
It is important to talk to your partners about using condoms before you have sex. Be honest and direct about your feelings. Let your partner know that you are concerned about both of you. It’s easier to have this talk before you are about to have sex.