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Birth control options: male condoms

Condoms are the best way to protect you and your partner against sexually transmitted infections when having intercourse. When a woman also uses a spermicide, condoms are 98 per cent effective at preventing pregnancy if used correctly.

Traditionally, male condoms were the only condoms available. More recently, female condoms have been developed, which are worn inside the vagina during intercourse.

The male condom

A male condom is a thin covering that can be put over a man’s penis to prevent sperm from being released into the vagina. Male condoms are more readily available than female condoms. Male condoms can be made from latex, polyurethane or lambskin, however only the first two types protect against sexually transmitted infections as well as pregnancy. Latex condoms are the most widely available, but polyurethane condoms are a good alternative for people with latex allergies. Condoms are 88 to 90 per cent effective when used alone but when combined with a spermicide used by the woman, a condom can be up to 98 per cent effective. When this method is used perfectly, the pregnancy rate is two out of 100. However, in typical use, the pregnancy rate is 18 out of 100.

Condoms come in different sizes and colours. A lubricant is often used to make sex more comfortable and to prevent the condom from tearing; some brands include a lubricant or spermicide or both.

How to use condoms

Condoms should be stored away from heat and light. Check the expiry date before you use a condom. A new condom should be used for each sex act.

  1. Wait until the penis is hard, then carefully open the condom package. Make sure you don’t rip the condom.
  2. Put a small drop of water-based lubricant (like K-Y, Wet or Astroglide) into the tip of the condom. Lubricant inside the condom will help your partner feel more during sex.
  3. Pinch the tip of the condom to squeeze out the air and place the condom on the tip of the erect penis. This leaves a space for the semen after your partner has ejaculated and prevents any air bubbles from being trapped. Friction against air bubbles is the most frequent cause of condom breaks.
  4. Roll the condom down over the penis as far as it will go.
  5. Add a water-based lubricant. Water-based lubricant makes the condom less likely to break. Oil-based substances break down the latex making tears more likely. Never use Vaseline, hand lotion, massage oil or vegetable oil as a lubricant with latex codoms.
  6. Check the base of the penis several times during sex to make sure the condom has stayed in place.
  7. After ejaculation, remove the condom while the penis is hard, carefully holding the condom at its base.

Advantages

  • protects against sexually transmitted infections as well as pregnancy
  • you don’t need a prescription
  • you only use it when you need to
  • condoms are available in drugs stores, grocery and corner stores
  • allows male partner to be involved in birth control decision-making
  • they are inexpensive and provided free at many clinics
  • it does not cause any hormonal changes in your body

 Disadvantages

  • sex is interrupted to put the condom on
  • condoms with spermicides may be irritating to the woman and often taste bad
    (Vaginal irritation can increase your risk of sexually transmitted infections like hepatitis and HIV.)
  • the man must pull out following ejaculation
  • some men feel condoms are tight or restrictive
  • allows male partner to be involved in birth control decision-making
  • condoms can break or slip off
  • people with latex allergies may be allergic to condoms

If a condom does break you may wish to contact your doctor or clinic for emergency contraception or to be tested for sexually transmitted infections.

This information is provided by Women’s College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: Oct. 29, 2014

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