An external (male) condom, also known as a rubber, is a sheath of thin, strong material worn over the erect penis during intercourse to catch the ejaculated sperm. Condoms are made of latex, polyurethane or “natural skin” (made from an animal’s internal organ). Condoms are either pre-lubricated or non-lubricated; choosing one or the other is a personal preference. However, additional lubrication may be added to a condom so that intercourse will be more comfortable. With latex condoms, only use water or silicone lubrication. Condoms reduce the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Internal (female) condoms are also available and are made of polyurethane (plastic) or nitrile (a synthetic rubber).

How effective are condoms?

When perfectly used, women whose partners use male condoms reduce the risk of pregnancy by 98% while typical use of condoms increases the risk of pregnancy by reducing the effectiveness to 85%. Oftentimes due to user error and not getting the correct fit, condoms can break, slip off, or are used incorrectly before, during, or after intercourse. There is also no evidence that adding spermicide to a condom further reduces 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 infection like 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.

Free condoms are available at the Health Center.