The condom is the most popular birth control method around the world, and one of the easiest to use.
I was probably the first one you ever used, and you will find that it keeps being useful many times during your life.
But how do condoms work? What are they exactly? What do they protect us from? There are many questions to be answered about condoms, especially for the youngest – and we’re going to try to answer them all in the following lines.
How does a condom work?
A condom is a barrier method of contraception, which means that it prevents the sperm to reach the egg by setting a physical barrier. In the case of the condom, the barrier is a thin layer of latex (although you can find them in other materials as well) that is put around the man’s erect penis, and thus prevents the sperm from entering the vagina.
So how do condoms work? In order to use the condom correctly, it needs to be put when the penis is completely erect, and not before. After opening the packaging with your fingers, you need to place it with the tip up, at the tip of the penis, and carefully unroll it down to the base. To do it correctly, you need to keep holding the tip of the condom so no air remains in it, and there is still room to be filled: this is important because once the man ejaculates, it is necessary that there is space inside the condom to hold the sperm.
When should we put the condom exactly?
The condom needs to be put before there is any contact between the penis and the vagina, and right before penetration. This means you can have as much foreplay with your partner as you want, but that you need to make a little pause to put the condom before “doing the deal”. And why? Well, before the man ejaculates, there is a little something called pre-ejaculatory fluid, which can contain sperm – it is not impossible for you to get pregnant with just a little bit of it, even if it’s difficult.
What about next?
Once the fun is over and the man has ejaculated, it’s important that he pulls out of the vagina before the penis gets “soft”, and holding the condom: Otherwise, the penis could slip out of the condom and you wouldn’t be protected from an unwanted pregnancy. Once the condom isn’t sticking to the penis, the sperm could easily leak out of it and enter your vagina. You could get pregnant just with a little bit!
A condom is not reusable. You need to throw it out after one use, and even if you have sex twice in a row, you should be using two different condoms. If you fail to put it correctly, throw it out and use a new one instead.
Who can use it?
Condoms have no hormones or side effects, so pretty much everybody can use it. The only ones who may have problems with it are those people who are allergic to latex or spermicides, but there are other options in the market. If you have an allergy that prevents you from using a condom, don’t hesitate to ask your gynaecologist about what other materials you can find.
When should I be using the condom over another birth control method?
The condom protects you against STDs, whereas other birth control methods such as the contraceptive pill or the IUD, don’t. This means you always need to use a condom if you’re having sporadic relationships or if you don’t know whether your partner may have an STD or not. If you have a stable relationship, you’re not planning on sleeping with anybody else (and your partner isn’t, either!) and are thinking about using another type of contraceptive, it’s recommendable that you both get tested for STDs – just to avoid unwanted surprises later on. Whenever you sleep with someone other than your partner, whatever the reason, you should use a condom again, since nothing else will protect you from STDs.
What are its main advantages and disadvantages?
Protection against STDs is the main advantage of the condom. It is essential in the fight against HIV, since it protects against sexually transmitted diseases 95% of the times – and that percentage only lowers because there are some STDs that the condom can’t prevent, like scabies or genital warts. Another important advantages include the following:
- It is one of the most effective methods of contraception: It will prevent an unwanted pregnancy 97% of the times.
- It is easy to use, and it only needs to be used during sex.
- Since it’s a barrier birth control methods, there will be no side effects for either of you.
Of course, the condom also has some disadvantages. For instance, many couples don’t like to use it because they think it interrupts sex, but this has an easy solution: You can try to include putting the condom in the foreplay – it can turn from an uncomfortable process to a sensual one! Other disadvantages include that, if not used correctly, they may tear; and that they can get damaged by jewellery or sharp nails. Another disadvantage is that you can’t use oil-based lubricants with the condom, since they could damage it as well.
Is there a female condom?
Yes. The female condom is a sort of pouch with flexible rings at both ends, one closed and another one open. It has to be inserted in the vagina, leaving the open end in the outside – so it works like a male condom does. However, the male condom is easier to use.
Can I use the condom only for vaginal sex?
No. In fact, the condom can (and should!) be used also for anal sex and oral sex, in order to prevent STDs.
Do condoms work in the shower?
Yes, they do, but it has not been tested that they work under water or in hot tubs, for instance. However, if you use a condom in the shower, keep in mind that you will need to stay away from soap, oils and other components that may damage the condom, and that it will be easier for the condom to slip out, so you will have to be extra careful.
Can I use the condom after giving birth?
Of course, after your postpartum quarantine, whenever you are ready to have sex again. In fact, the condom is the preferred birth control method for recent mothers, since many are breastfeeding and don’t want to use the minipill – of course, the normal birth control pill is forbidden when breastfeeding.
Where should I keep my condoms?
Well, many people keep them in their wallets, their pockets or their cars, but that isn’t actually a good idea, since they could be spoiled by the pressure or the hot weather and lose their properties or rupture. Of course, if you think you may need one when you go out, you can keep them in your purse or your wallet (that is better than needing one and not having it!), but in the long term, it is better to keep them in a place that is dark and has a cool temperature – like your drawer, for instance!
If you need more information about the condom, write in our forums or ask in your gynaecologist or your nearest family planning office. They’ll be able to solve all your doubts!