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Birth Control Overview (cont.)

What is the effectiveness of condoms, and what are the side effects of condoms?

Male condom: The male condom (also called a rubber) is a thin sheath placed over an erect penis. A man or his partner unrolls the condom over his penis before he places the penis in the woman's vagina. A male condom prevents pregnancy by acting as a physical barrier to the passage of semen into the vagina. A condom can be worn only once. It is one of the most popular methods of contraception. Condoms may be purchased at most drug and grocery stores. They are also sold from dispensers in many public restrooms. Condom use has increased among all women of reproductive age because of their concern about contracting HIV (the virus that leads to AIDS) and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Condoms made from latex are most effective in preventing unwanted pregnancy. They also serve to protect against sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS and gonorrhea. Condoms should not be used use condoms with petroleum jelly, lotions, or oils, as these may decrease its effectiveness. They can decrease the effectiveness. They can be used with lubricants that are not oil-based such as K-Y Jelly.

  • Effectiveness: The failure rate of condoms in couples that use them consistently and correctly during the first year of use is estimated to be about 3%. However, the true failure rate during that period is estimated to be approximately 14%. This marked difference in failure rates reflects errors in usage. Some couples fail to use condoms every time they have sexual intercourse. Condoms may fail (break or come off) if you use the wrong type of lubricant (for example, using an oil-based lubricant with a latex condom can cause it to disintegrate). The condom may not be placed properly on the penis. Also, the man may not use care when withdrawing.
  • Pros: Condoms are readily available and are generally low cost. A prescription is not necessary. This method involves the male partner in the contraceptive choice. They are the only type of birth control that is highly effective in preventing HIV disease.
  • Cons: Condoms may decrease the enjoyment of intercourse. Some users may have an allergy to latex. Condom breakage and slippage makes them less effective. Oil-based lubricants may damage the condom.
  • STDs and male condoms: Besides abstinence, latex condoms are the best protection against STDs.

Female condom: The female condom (brand name: Reality) is a polyurethane sheath intended for 1-time use, similar to the male condom. You can buy them at a drugstore without a prescription. The female condom prevents pregnancy by acting as a barrier to the passage of semen into the vagina. The male partner should not use a condom at the same time because they may adhere to each other, leading to slippage or displacement of either device. If you have to choose between the two methods, the male condom confers better protection.

  • Effectiveness: Early tests show a pregnancy rate of 15% within 6 months. In August, 2002, the FDA listed a higher failure rate of 21 pregnancies per 100 women per year. The proportion of women using this method of contraception in the United States is less than 1%.
  • Pros: The female condom provides some protection to the labia and the base of the penis during intercourse. Although it may provide limited protection, it is not as effective as a latex male condom in preventing STDs. The sheath is coated on the inside with a silicone-based lubricant. It does not deteriorate with oil-based lubricants. It can be inserted as long as 8 hours before intercourse.
  • Cons: The lubricant does not contain spermicide (a substance that kills sperm). The device is difficult to place in the vagina. The inner ring may cause discomfort. Some users consider the female condom awkward. The female condom may cause a urinary tract infection (UTI) if left in the vagina for a prolonged length of time.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/26/2016
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