A condom (rubber, prophylactic) is a sheath worn over the penis. Condoms originally were designed to block the escape of sperm, but now have been shown to be effective in blocking entry and exit of bacteria and some viruses. Most condoms are made of latex but some, called "skin condoms," are made of sheep intestine. Only the latex condom should be used for disease protection because the AIDS virus, and possibly other disease agents, are able to penetrate the larger pores in the skin condom.
Used correctly, condoms are 90-96% effective, compared to 97% for diaphragm and 99+% for birth control pills and the IUD. For maximum effectiveness, you should use a spermicide (vaginal cream, foam or jelly) with the condom. This will increase effectiveness to 99%.
There are no conclusive studies to date. However, the best way to reduce your risk of infection is by abstaining or by having intercourse with only one infection-free partner who has intercourse with only you.
If a foreskin is present, it should be pulled back fully before unrolling the condom. Then, place the rolled condom over the tip of the erect penis, leaving about 1/2 inch free for the ejaculate, and unroll it completely. After ejaculation, withdraw the penis from the vagina before the penis softens to prevent the condom from accidentally slipping off. Grasp the ring of the condom firmly to prevent spillage while withdrawing. Check the condom for any tears or breaks and then dispose of it in the garbage (condoms may clog up plumbing so don't flush them down the toilet). Do not reuse a condom. Any body parts that may have been exposed to seminal fluid during the removal of the condom should be washed before having contact with the female genitalia. If a break in the condom is found, insert a spermicide into the vagina. In addition, you may see the Consulting Nurse in Women's Clinic for a discussion of alternatives to prevent pregnancy at that point. If you are interested in emergency contraception, you must be seen within 72 hours and preferably within 24 hours, of the unprotected intercourse.
Most people agree that condoms decrease sensation. However, some condom users view this as an advantage. With the decrease in sensation, frequently an erection will last longer, thereby increasing sexual pleasure for both the male and female. If you have used condoms in the past and feel that sensation is decreased too much, try a different brand of condom before choosing a different method. Or you may discuss your concerns with the family planning counselor.
One of the advantages of condoms is that there are no known medical risks associated with their use. Some men and women develop a rash on the genital area after the use of a condom, indicating a possible allergic reaction to latex or to spermicide. This is rare and can frequently be prevented simply by changing the brand of the condom that you are using. If you are allergic to latex, polyurethane condoms are available.
Condoms are also available at low cost without a prescription in the Hall Health Pharmacy and from any practitioner.
If you have any questions and are a UW student or established Hall Health patient, you may call one of our Consulting Nurses for further information.
Authored by: Hall Health Center Women's Health Clinic staff
Reviewed by: Hall Health Center Women's Health Clinic staff, January 2014