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Three Important Things You Should Know When Using a Condom

Choosing and using a condom wisely ​

Published on 05/22/2017
Mind and BodySexual HealthSexualitySexually Transmitted DiseaseSafe SexSkin IrritationMale Sexual HealthFemale Sexual HealthWestern

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[6] 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.

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