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Learning About Birth Control: Condoms

Male condom method of birth control

What are condoms?

Condoms can be used to prevent pregnancy. They also help protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Condoms are called a barrier method of birth control. That's because they keep the sperm and eggs apart. The condom holds the sperm so the sperm can't get into the vagina.

You must use a new condom each time you have intercourse.

Male condoms are made of latex (rubber), polyurethane, or sheep intestine. They are placed over a hard (erect) penis before intercourse. Male condoms are also called "rubbers," "sheaths," or "skins."

There are many different kinds of male condoms. Some condoms are lubricated. Some are ribbed. Most have a tip for holding the semen. You can also buy condoms of different sizes. Watch the video Using A Condom to learn how to put on a condom correctly.

Vaginal condoms are tubes of soft plastic with a closed end. Each end has a ring or rim. The ring at the closed end is put deep into the vagina over the cervix. This holds the tube in place. The ring at the open end stays outside the opening of the vagina. Female condoms have lubricant on the inside. Watch the video Using A Vaginal Condom to learn how to put in a condom correctly.

How well do they work?

In the first year of use:

  • When male condoms are used exactly as directed, 2 women out of 100 have an unplanned pregnancy. When they are not used exactly as directed, 18 women out of 100 have an unplanned pregnancy. Male condoms work best when you use another type of birth control, such as a diaphragm with spermicide or an IUD, along with them.
  • When vaginal condoms are used exactly as directed, 5 women out of 100 have an unplanned pregnancy. When they are not used exactly as directed, 21 women out of 100 have an unplanned pregnancy.

Be sure to tell your doctor about any health problems you have or medicines you take. He or she can help you choose the birth control method that is right for you.

What are the advantages of condoms?

  • Condoms may be available for free at family planning clinics. You can buy them without a prescription at clinics, in drugstores, online, and in some grocery stores.
  • Vaginal condoms and rubber and plastic male condoms help protect against STIs, such as herpes or HIV. Sheep intestine condoms don't protect against STIs.
  • Condoms don't use hormones. So you can use condoms if you don't want to take hormones or can't take hormones because you have certain health problems or concerns.
  • Condoms are safe to use while breastfeeding.
  • They cost less than hormonal types of birth control.
  • Vaginal condoms can be inserted up to 8 hours ahead of time. You don't have to interrupt sex.

What are the disadvantages of condoms?

  • Condoms don't prevent pregnancy as well as IUDs or hormonal forms of birth control.
  • Condoms prevent pregnancy only if you use them every time you have intercourse.
  • Condoms may break or leak.
  • You may have to interrupt sex to put on or insert the condom.
  • You must remove the condom right after intercourse.
  • You may have less sexual sensation when using a condom.

NOTE: If you think you used a condom incorrectly, you can use emergency contraception. One example is the morning-after pill (Plan B). You can use emergency contraception for up to 5 days after you had sex, but it works best if you take it right away.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.