What Are Condoms? Condoms are thin pouches that keep sperm from getting into the vagina. There are male condoms and female condoms: A male condom is worn on the penis. It is usually made of latex, a type of rubber. But some are made of materials that are safe for people with latex allergies, such as polyurethane or polyisoprene. A female condom is inserted into the vagina. It has a flexible ring at either end. One end is closed and goes into the vagina; the other end is open and the ring sits outside the opening of the vagina. The female condoms now available are made from materials safe for people with latex allergies. How Do Condoms Work? Condoms work by keeping semen (the fluid that contains sperm) from entering the vagina. The male condom is placed on the penis when it becomes erect. It is unrolled all the way to the base of the penis while holding the tip of the condom to leave some extra room at the end. This creates a space for semen after ejaculation and makes it less likely that the condom will break. After the male ejaculates, he should hold the condom at the base of the penis as he pulls out of the vagina. He must do this while the penis is still erect. This prevents the condom from slipping off when he gets soft, which could let sperm enter the vagina. The female condom is inserted into the vagina using the closed-end ring. The other ring creates the open end of the condom. The condom then lines the walls of the vagina, creating a barrier between the sperm and the cervix. The female condom can be inserted up to 8 hours before intercourse. It should be removed immediately after sex and before standing up. The male and female condoms should not be used at the same time because friction can break them, make them stick together, or make one or the other slip out of place during intercourse. If a condom breaks or slips, semen can get through, making the condom less likely to prevent pregnancy or STDs. How Well Do Condoms Work? Over the course of a year: 15 out of 100 typical couples who use male condoms will have an accidental pregnancy. About 21 out of 100 couples who use female condoms will have an accidental pregnancy. For added protection, many couples use condoms along with another method of birth control, like birth control pills or an IUD. For condoms to have their best chance of working, they must be used every time a couple has sex. A condom cannot be reused. A new condom should be used each time a couple has sex and it must be used from start to finish to protect against pregnancy and STDs. Never use oil-based lubricants (such as mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or baby oil) with condoms because they can break down the rubber. Condoms also can be damaged by things like fingernails and body piercings. If a condom seems dry, sticky, or stiff when it comes out of the package, or is past its expiration date, throw it away and use a new one instead. It's helpful to have several condoms on hand in case there's a problem with one. It's best to store unused condoms in a cool, dry place. Do Condoms Help Protect Against STDs? Yes. Latex, polyurethane, and polyisoprene condoms can help prevent many STDs if they are used correctly. Condoms made of lambskin do not work well to prevent STDs, including HIV/AIDs. Condoms do not protect against infections spread from sores on the skin not covered by a condom (such as the base of the penis or scrotum). Couples having sex must always use condoms to protect against STDs even when using another method of birth control. Abstinence (not having sex) is the only method that always prevents pregnancy and STDs. Are There Any Problems With Condoms? Most men and women have no problems using condoms. Side effects that can sometimes happen include: an allergic reaction in someone with an allergy to latex condoms irritation of the penis or the vagina from spermicides or lubricants that some condoms are treated with Who Are Condoms Right for? Condoms may be a good option for couples who are responsible enough to stop and put a condom on each time before sex and people who want protection against STDs. Because condoms are the only method of birth control currently available for guys, they allow the male to take responsibility for birth control and STD protection. Where are Condoms Available? Condoms are easy to find in drugstores, supermarkets, and even vending machines. (In some stores, they're in the "Family Planning" aisle.) Condoms do not require a doctor's visit or a prescription. How Much Do Condoms Cost? Male condoms cost about $0.50 to $1 each and are less expensive when they are bought in boxes that contain several condoms. Many health centers and family planning clinics (such as Planned Parenthood) and some schools distribute them free of charge. Female condoms are a little more expensive and cost about $2 per condom. Some health centers and family planning clinics have female condoms available for free. When Should I Call the Doctor? A girl using condoms should call the doctor if: she might be pregnant a condom broke during sex there's a change in the smell or color of her vaginal discharge she has unexplained fever or chills she has belly or pelvic pain she has pain during sex Back to Articles Related Articles About Birth Control Before you consider having sex, you need to know how to protect yourself. Read this article to get the basics on birth control. Read More Birth Control Methods: How Well Do They Work? Some birth control methods work better than others. This chart compares how well different birth control methods work. Read More Talking to Your Partner About Condoms Some people - even those who are having sex - are embarrassed by the topic of condoms. Here are some tips for talking about condoms with your partner. Read More Are Condoms 100% Effective? Find out what the experts have to say. Read More How Can You Tell if a Condom Has Expired? Find out what the experts have to say. Read More Talking to Your Partner About STDs You know you should talk about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) before the action starts. But what if the thought of having "the talk" makes you nervous? These tips can help. Read More STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) You've probably heard lots of discouraging news about sexually transmitted diseases. The good news is that STDs can be prevented. Find out how to protect yourself. Read More What If the Condom Slipped Off During Sex? Find out what the experts have to say. Read More What if the Condom Breaks? Find out what the experts have to say. Read More Emergency Contraception Emergency contraception is a way to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex; for example, if a condom breaks or slips off during sex. It is also available to teens who are forced to have unprotected sex. Read More Abstinence Abstinence is the only form of birth control that is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy. Abstinence also protects people against STDs. Read More Female Reproductive System Why do girls get periods? What goes on when a woman gets pregnant? What can go wrong with the female reproductive system? Find the answers to these questions and more in this article for teens. Read More Male Reproductive System What makes up a guy's reproductive system and how does it develop? Find the answers to these questions and more. Read More Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. 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