This article discusses a mature topic. Our 17-year-old and younger readers are encouraged to read this with an adult.
Condoms are the multi-taskers of contraceptive methods: second only to abstinence, condoms are the most effective way of preventing both sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy. Plus, they don’t require the commitment of an hormonal birth control method, are generally inexpensive, and can be found in your neighborhood drugstore (I promise that your shopping experience won’t be like this).
Today I’m going to answer some questions about condoms. If you have questions about sexual health that you’d like to see answered here, email me at AskElizabeth@pp-la.org.
How effective are condoms?
Condoms have been around for hundreds of years—but that doesn’t mean that women had Trojans tucked into their pantaloons and corsets! Originally, condoms were made of animal membrane (sheep intestines), and while lambskin condoms are still available, they aren’t considered to be an effective method of STD prevention. At the end of the 19th century, condoms began to be made from rubber (hence the term “rubbers”), but these early models were similar in thickness to a bicycle tire. Modern condoms are usually made of latex or plastic.
Condoms form a barrier between sexual fluids and the body, which is why they are effective for pregnancy and STD prevention. Condoms are 98% effective when they’re used correctly, but their effectiveness rate drops to about 85% for the typical user.
A few tips for using condoms effectively…
- Keep it Cool: Since most condoms are made out of latex, they begin to break down when exposed to heat (for example, in the back pocket of your jeans, your glove compartment, or on the stove).
- Lube it Up!: A lubricant will reduce friction during sex, which puts stress on a condom. Be sure to use water-based lubricant—oil-based lubricants can weaken latex, making the condom more likely to break.
- Fresh is Best: Check the wrapper of your condom to make sure that it hasn’t expired. Old condoms that have been lying in your dresser drawer for three years are not going to be as strong.
- Keep It On: Condoms are not only for the beginning or end of sexual activity—keep it on for the duration of your sexual encounter to minimize the risk of STD transmission or unintended pregnancy.
What is the best/safest brand of condom?
If I asked ten people this question, I’d get ten different responses. Find a brand that is labeled for disease prevention, which indicates that there are quality controls in place to ensure that it doesn’t have holes.
From there, it largely comes down to personal preference and fit. If you’re using a certain brand of condom and it’s breaking a lot, stop using it! It’s probably not because it’s defective—more than likely it doesn’t fit correctly, or it’s being used incorrectly.
Condoms come in different sizes, colors, shapes, and flavors. Try out a few different brands and when you find one that you like, stick with it. You might even want to try out Planned Parenthood’s brand of condoms, Proper Attire.
I want to use condoms, but I feel like it’s an awkward conversation to have with someone, and I don’t really know what to do if they don’t want to. What should I do?
Sex can be an awkward topic of conversation–but it is a super important talk to have!
Be clear about why it’s important to use condoms, and think of a few opening lines to start the conversation. Maybe even talk about those reasons with a friend, or practice in the mirror. If you believe that your partner may be reluctant or challenge you, prepare a few responses (here are a few examples that might help).
Choose your time for this conversation wisely. Between the soup and salad might not be the ideal time to blurt out “I want to use condoms,” but get the message out that you’re the type of gal who takes your health seriously. Don’t wait until the heat of the moment, or after the first time you’ve had sex. It only takes one sexual encounter to have an unintended pregnancy or contract a STD!