Three Important Things You Should Know When Using a Condom
Choosing and using a condom wisely
Condoms are used widely for both birth control and to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Here are three important facts about condoms to use them correctly and safely.
1) Condoms Do Not Prevent All Sexually Transmitted Diseases
While condoms can prevent the transmission of diseases like HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis, they are not as effective against transmission of herpes, known as herpes simplex virus (HSV), and the human papilloma virus (HPV). Both herpes and HPV can be passed from skin to skin contact that is not blocked with condom use. The herpes virus comes in two forms known as HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 typically affects the oral cavity and HSV-2 typically affects the genitals, but this can be intermixed. It used to be thought that people would have active virus on their skin only when they have symptoms and active blisters. However, researchers have shown that people infected with HSV-1 can shed the virus without any symptoms. Those infected with HSV-2 in the genital area can also continue to shed the virus, although it occurs at much lower rates than those that have active infections. HPV is a virus that causes genital warts, penile cancers, and cervical cancer, but it can be transmitted from skin to skin contact in areas that the condom would not protect.
2) Some Condoms May Irritate the Skin
Condoms that are meant to prolong intercourse may have benzocaine, an anesthetic (numbing medication), which can cause a skin allergy.[3-5] Condoms that are made with spermicide coatings may contain nonoxynol-9, which can cause vaginal irritation. In those that are sensitive to latex, condoms are now available in several non-latex styles including polyurethane and polyisoprene. Other condom alternatives are those made from lambskin. While these condoms may be less irritating than latex and can prevent pregnancy, they do not provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases like HIV. To learn more, read "Can Condoms Cause Irritation."
Condoms are now advertised with stimulating components and in flavored and fragranced styles. Some flavors include sugars that may be irritating within the vagina and may allow for overgrowth of yeast in those that are susceptible.
3) The Wrong Lubricants Can Break Down a Condom
Condoms are sensitive to oil-based lubricants, as they can potentially cause the condom to fail. In particular, petroleum jelly can dissolve part of the condom. Stick to water-based lubricants.
How to Select the Right Condom
Here are a few tips in selecting the right type of condom:
- Select a condom that is the correct size, as ill-fitting condoms can lead to skin irritation and failure.
- Select a condom that does not have an anesthetic, spermicide, flavoring or scent added if these are irritating.
- Use water-based lubricants. Lipstick can have oil-based ingredients in them that can break down a condom if they come in contact.
- Select a condom that is not latex based. Choose polyurethane or polyisoprene. If one is trying to protect from STDs, lambskin is not a good option.
- Ramchandani M, Kong M, Tronstein E, et al. Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 Shedding in Tears and Nasal and Oral Mucosa of Healthy Adults. Sex Transm Dis.2016;43(12):756-760; PMID: 27835628 Link to research.
- Tronstein E, Johnston C, Huang ML, et al. Genital shedding of herpes simplex virus among symptomatic and asymptomatic persons with HSV-2 infection. JAMA.2011;305(14):1441-1449; PMID: 21486977 Link to research.
- Placucci F, Lorenzi S, La Placa M, et al. Sensitization to benzocaine on a condom. Contact Dermatitis.1996;34(4):293; PMID: 8730170 Link to research.
- Foti C, Bonamonte D, Antelmi A, et al. Allergic contact dermatitis to condoms: description of a clinical case and analytical review of current literature. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol.2004;26(3):481-485; PMID: 15518180 Link to research.
- Muratore L, Calogiuri G, Foti C, et al. Contact allergy to benzocaine in a condom. Contact Dermatitis.2008;59(3):173-174; PMID: 18759899 Link to research.
- Niruthisard S, Roddy RE, Chutivongse S. The effects of frequent nonoxynol-9 use on the vaginal and cervical mucosa. Sex Transm Dis.1991;18(3):176-179; PMID: 1658953 Link to research.