Frequently Asked Questions about Condoms

Are condoms effective at preventing pregnancy?

Although condoms do provide protection against getting pregnant, they also carry a 15% failure rate. Depending on your age and how consistently you use condoms, the chances of becoming pregnant could be higher. To increase your protection against pregnancy, use condoms along with another form of birth control, like the sponge. It is important to note, though, that condoms containing spermicide have not been found to be any more effective at preventing pregnancy than non-spermicidal condoms.

Will condoms protect against sexually transmitted diseases?

Condoms made out of latex or polyurethane will help reduce your chances of contracting sexually transmitted diseases  (STDs) that are passed through bodily fluids, such as HIV and gonorrhea. They can also offer some protection against other STDs including herpes, trichomoniasis and Chlamydia, although not as effectively. Condoms do not offer much protection against STDs that can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, though, such as genital warts. Condoms made out of animal tissue do not offer any protection against STDs.

Are condoms a good way to avoid being infected with HIV?

Condoms can reduce your risk of contracting an HIV infection. However, if your partner has HIV or AIDS, there is still a chance that you could acquire the virus even if you use condoms. A 1993 study found that, of 171 women whose male partner had HIV, two of the women became infected with HIV despite consistently and properly using condoms when they had sex. However, of those women who did not use condoms consistently with their male partner who had HIV, 8 out of 10 women became infected with HIV. Abstinence from vaginal, anal and oral sex is the only way to completely avoid the risk of HIV infection.

Will using condoms with spermicide that contains nonoxynol-9 lower my chances of HIV infection?

Originally, nonoxynol-9 was believed to aid in reducing the risk of HIV infection along with infection of other STDs. However, recent studies have shown this to not be true. In fact, nonoxynol-9 may actually increase a person risk of contracting HIV, especially if it is used frequently. This is because the chemical can irritate the vaginal and rectal lining, thereby make a person more susceptible to infection. For this reason, spermicides are no longer recommended as protection against HIV and STDs. Additionally, more condom manufacturers are no longer producing spermicidal condoms while those who still do are using less spermicide.

Are condoms the best way to practice “safe sex”?

Although it was once a popular term, most experts nowadays recognize that there is no such thing as “safe sex”, only “safer sex.” While condoms can help to reduce your chances of pregnancy and STDs, they can also break and when they do, both you and your partner are put at risk even though you have done everything right.

To be truly “safe” from pregnancy and STDs, it is necessary to practice abstinence. Sex in a monogamous, long-term relationship with an uninfected partner is also consdiered to be “safe” from STDs, although you can still get pregnant. To be “safer” from pregnancy and STDs, it is necessary to use condoms as well as some other form of contraception each and every time you have sex.

How often do condoms break?

Of the three different condom types, latex condoms are the most durable. However, anywhere from 2% to 6% of condoms will fall off or break during sex.

If the condom breaks, what should I do?

Depending on when you notice the break, you have a few different options.

  • When you notice the breakage before ejaculation, quickly pull out, remove the broken condom and put a new one on.
  • If ejaculation has already occurred, then wash away any semen that has leaked out with soap and warm water. This may also help to reduce your chances of STD infection. If you have any spermicidal foam, insert two applications into the vagina. Do not douche.
  • Regardless of when you noticed the break, contact your health care provider or a pregnancy resource center to discuss the possibility of pregnancy, what your options are and to take an STD test.

I always use a condom and they have never broken. Could I still get pregnant?

Although pregnancy is unlikely, it is still possible. If you think you might be pregnant, take a pregnancy test.

Are there any side effects or health risks associated with condoms?

The most common complaint associated with condoms is irritation. This is usually caused by latex condoms and is due to a person having a latex allergy. Spermicidal condoms can also cause irritation and may worsen the allergenic properties of latex condoms. Spermicidal condoms may also increase a woman’s risk of urinary tract infection. However, condoms are a fairly safe method of birth control and have few side effects when compared to methods like the Pill and IUD.

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