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According to the CDC, sexually transmittied disease (STD) rates in America are at a record high for the fourth year in a row. The CDC recommends an emphasis on testing for STDs as well as practicing safe sex by use of condoms. Some of us may have never learned about the basics. With college students starting to head back to campus, are some tips and advice from Jeffrey Albaugh, PhD, APRN, CUCNS, Director of NorthShore’s William D. and Pamela Hutul Ross Clinic for Sexual Health, about the use of condoms.
Why are condoms important?
Latex condoms are important because if you are having sex they are the safest way to protect your future sexual health. Consistent and correct use of latex condoms helps prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infection (STI) and pregnancy.
What should people consider when using a condom?
A key factor is correct and consistent use. The condoms have to be used from the beginning of sex until completion and they must be used properly. For more information, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides excellent information on correct use.
Most condoms have a reservoir at the tip to collect and catch the fluids and that is important; if there is not a space for the fluids at the tip they could move across the condom to overflow out and onto a partner. The tip can be pinched to create a space, but that space will likely disappear as the friction and movement of sex continue. You want a good reliable latex condom with a reservoir tip that fits snugly so it doesn't fall off during sex.
Are all condoms alike? What should buyers look for?
There are many varieties of condoms in various sizes, colors and flavors. They are relatively inexpensive (about $1 each) and can be obtained for free from some clinics or groups. Latex condoms (if allergic - polyurethane is the best option) have the best statistics behind them to prevent the above. A lubricated condom should already have the correct water-soluble lubricant.
What are some mistakes people make when using them?
Several common mistakes are not putting it on from the beginning of sex to catch the pre-ejaculate fluids, which may also transmit infection, and keeping it on throughout sex. It’s important to make sure the condom remains on, rolled across the penis throughout sex until orgasm (a man can reach down and make sure it is still in place at various points during sex).
Using the condom can be fun and incorporated into love play with a partner. Your partner can help you put it on (just make sure it is on properly… the CDC has great information on proper application). Also, you can only use water-soluble lubricant with them; oil-based lubricants can damage the latex which reduces efficacy.
Anything else young people should consider when thinking about using condoms?
The rest of your life is likely a long time and you want to make sure you protect your future. Research shows it is more likely that people will participate in risky behaviors when under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, recreational drugs or in any way cognitively impaired to make judgments about safe sex. Be prepared ahead of time with barriers and condoms. Check the expiration dates and use reliable latex condoms. Don't reuse condoms (condoms are one-time use only), both your own or from another person (this seems like common sense, but it is sometimes done).
There is a vaccine for HPV (covers certain strains) and that is something to consider as well since even a long-term partner may be asymptomatic (absent of symptoms), but a carrier. A condom is still your best protection against various STIs, but talk to providers about the HPV vaccine as well. There is also a vaccine for certain strains of Hepatitis, which can also be transmitted sexually and other ways.