November 25, 2012

Barrier Methods of Birth Control: Condoms


Condoms -- sometimes referred to as "rubbers" -- are a barrier method of birth control. Usually made of latex (though alternatives do exist for those with latex allergies), a condom comes in a tin foil package, rolled up like the image above. To use, a partner must unroll the condom onto their erect penis (or you could do it for them!). Many people like this method of birth control because it's cheap (condoms are about $1 each and can often be obtained for free), it doesn't require a doctor's visit, there are no hormonal side-effects, and this is the ONLY birth control method that will also protect you from sexually transmitted infections. They often come pre-lubricated, but they're also available with no lube and with spermicidal lube.

Barrier methods of birth control prevent pregnancy by containing all pre-ejaculate and semen. If no semen gets into your vagina, pregnancy can't happen! The condom also protects you from sexually transmitted infections by covering the penis and keeping semen out of the vagina, anus, or mouth.
Condoms come in all sorts of colors!
Like all birth control methods, condoms must be used effectively to keep you safe. Each year, 2 out of 100 people whose partners use condoms will become pregnant if they always use condoms correctly. That's not bad at all! But, each year under typical use, 18 out of 100 people whose partners use condoms will become pregnant. The effectiveness rate of condoms drops dramatically based on whether or not you put it on correctly.

The only thing that's rather troubling about the condom is how often folks don't put it on correctly. Thanks to people in the public school system that think giving you proper sex ed will turn you into Satan-worshipping deviants, most of you won't/didn't get a health class putting-a-condom-on-a-banana demonstration. And even if you did, it never hurts to review. So let's try to learn something.

What's the right way to put on a condom?

Make sure you're not putting it on inside-out.
  • Open the package --  with your nails/fingers. Many people try to open condoms "sexily" by using their teeth, but don't do that. You run the risk of breaking the condom before you've even put it on! For this same reason, you should also avoid using scissors.
  • Make sure the rolled up ring is on the outside (see photo above). If you don't do this you may accidentally put your condom on inside-out! 
  • Place the condom onto the head of the penis while pinching the tip. Make sure you do this BEFORE the penis touches the vulva. During sexual excitement, the penis sometimes secretes something called pre-ejaculate (or "pre-cum") which sometimes contains sperm and can lead to pregnancy. Pre-cum can also put you at risk for STIs. 
  • While still pinching the tip of the condom with one hand, use the other to unroll the condom. The tip of the condom, also called a "reservoir tip", is designed to collect semen. Pinching it while you unroll the rest of the condom helps keep it gathered at the head of the penis so it can do its job. Pinching the tip also makes sure it doesn't get air in it -- if there's an air bubble in the condom, the friction of intercourse can cause them to burst and break the condom. 
  • Unroll the condom to the base of the penis.
  • Have fun!

How to safely remove a condom:
  • Pull out before the penis is soft. If you lose your erection while still penetrating your partner, the condom may come off inside their vagina/anus.
  • Make sure you don't spill the semen on/anywhere near your partner's genitals. Hold the condom to the base of your penis while pulling out to prevent this. 
  • Throw it away! People on television and in movies are often shown flushing the used condom down the toilet, but don't do that. It can clog the toilet. It's a better idea to tie the condom in a knot like a balloon so semen doesn't leak out, then wrap it in toilet paper and toss it into the trash. 

Important things to keep in mind:

  • Condoms can only be used with water-based lubricants! The bottle will usually state whether or not it is water-based. K-Y and Astroglide are often recommended. Anything oil-based can damage the latex in your condom and make it less effective! This also rules out using anything like vegetable oil, coconut oil, Crisco, or petroleum jelly.
  • If your condom breaks or slips off and pregnancy is a concern for you, take Emergency Contraception ASAP. If you were unsure of the STI status of your partner, you should also go to a health clinic to get tested. 
  • Even if you're on a hormonal method of birth control to protect you from pregnancy, you should still use a condom to protect you from STIs.
  • You can use spermicidal lubricant -- a type of lube with a chemical in it that kills sperm -- along with a condom to make it more effective in preventing pregnancy. However, it's recommended that you do this very sparingly, because spermicide has been known to irritate the skin of the vagina/penis,  occasionally causing sores inside the vagina, which then increase the likeliness of an STI. Spermicide also increases the likelihood of a urinary tract infection by contributing to bacterial growth in the vagina.
  • Condoms should also be used during oral sex to prevent the spread of STIs -- this is the purpose of flavored condoms. However, those cannot be used for vaginal intercourse
If STIs aren't a concern for you (ie; you're in a relationship where you know for a fact that everyone involved has been tested and is free of sexually transmitted infections, and you trust your partner(s) to be honest with you) and you don't want to stop in the heat of the moment to grab a condom, you may want to get a form of hormonal birth control to prevent pregnancy -- such as the Implant or the IUD.
Many people don't want to use condoms because they think it "ruins the sensation" of sex. While it does decrease sensitivity a little, there's no reason you can't turn that into an advantage -- for example, a decrease of sensitivity for the penis may help your partner last longer during sex. Some people argue that it "ruins the romance", but if you're really going to let a thin bit of latex between your bodies "ruin" it for you, even at the risk of your safety, maybe you're not mature enough to be having sex. Never ever let a partner bully or beg you into not using a condom after you've asked them to. If someone blatantly refuses to do something that keeps both of you safe, they're not a good partner and they're not worth having sex with.

And finally, don't let embarrassment stop you from buying condoms! I know it can be awkward, but many places are getting those nifty "self check-outs", eliminating the need to interact with a cashier. Even if the store you're purchasing from doesn't have those, there is nothing embarrassing about having safe sex -- in fact, you should be proud, because it means you're taking responsibility for your health. 


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