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Talking With Your Partner About Condoms

January 27, 2017

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Using male or female condoms is an important and pleasurable part of having safer sex. Sex with condoms can be fun, exciting, and very enjoyable. And using them correctly and consistently -- every time you have sex -- can also reduce the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STIs or STDs), and prevent unwanted pregnancies. Choosing to use a condom shows that you care about the health of yourself and your sexual partner(s).

Condoms and HIV

Research has shown that using latex (nitrile), polyisoprene (synthetic rubber), or polyurethane (plastic) condoms is one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of HIV and other STIs. Some studies have shown that among couples in which one person is living with HIV (HIV+) and the other HIV-negative, condoms -- if used all the time -- can be up to 98 percent protective in helping the HIV-negative partner stay negative.

However, condoms are not only for the prevention of new HIV infections. For people living with HIV, using condoms is important because it can prevent infection with other sexually transmitted infections, which can be more challenging to treat when living with HIV. If both people are living with HIV, safer sex can also reduce the chances of getting a different strain of HIV that is resistant to the HIV drugs you are taking.


Benefits of Using Condoms

Sex with condoms can be fun, exciting, and very pleasurable. It can decrease your worry about getting or spreading STIs, HIV, and getting pregnant, which can in turn make your sex more relaxed and satisfying. It is also a great chance to add variety to your sex life and to build trust and intimacy with your partner by talking about each other's desires.

Whether you have a steady or casual sexual partner, using a condom is an important part of taking care of yourself and your health. Since you cannot tell if someone has an STI by his or her physical appearance, and since it is possible for someone to have an STI without even knowing it, it is important to protect yourself every time.

Condoms have come a long way and through research and innovation, condom companies have been designing condoms that can enhance the sexual experience through their design, material and texture. There is evidence that some condoms may even create more stimulation during sex than using no condoms at all. Condoms are now available in a multitude of flavors, colors, textures (e.g., studded, ribbed), and shapes. Some are even edible and glow in the dark!

Know What's Out There and How to Use It

There are two main types of condoms: male condoms and female condoms.

Male Condoms

Most male condoms are made of latex; some are made of polyurethane (a type of plastic), polyisoprene (a man made equivalent of natural rubber), or lambskin. Lambskin condoms can prevent pregnancy; however, they do NOT prevent the spread of HIV or other viral STIs like herpes, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Only latex, plastic, and polyisoprene condoms prevent the spread of HIV and viral STIs.

Male condoms come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, textures, and even tastes. They are generally inexpensive (about $1.00 each in the US) and can be found at pharmacies, grocery stores, sex stores, and many online locations. Sometimes they are available for free at certain health clinics and AIDS service organizations.

They are also quite small and easy to carry so that you can always be prepared to protect yourself. It is important to keep condoms away from heat and check the expiration date. Condoms that have been exposed to heat and are too old are more likely to break. That's why it is important not to store condoms in your car. Condoms can also tear fairly easily, so it's best not to store them in your wallet.

Female Condoms

Female condoms are made of polyurethane or nitrile (synthetic rubber) and can be put inside the vagina before you have sex. The female condom looks like a pouch, with a flexible ring at each end (click here to see examples). The ring at the closed end goes inside the vagina and covers the cervix (opening to the womb). The other ring sits outside the vaginal opening and partially covers the labia (lips). They usually cost a bit more than male condoms and are available at pharmacies, grocery stores, and sex stores. They are also available for free at certain health clinics and AIDS service organizations.

Female condoms can be an excellent choice for several reasons: you can insert them up to several hours before having sex, you are in control of putting it in and taking it out, and you can use one if your partner does not use a male condom (e.g., he refuses, he complains about sensation, or has trouble staying hard with a male condom). You can also use the female condom for anal sex by removing the inner (smaller) ring and inserting the condom with fingers (or another non-sharp object) such that the large outer ring lies outside the anal opening. It can also be placed on an erect penis and inserted into the anus.

Other Tips

To make sex even safer and more pleasurable, consider using lubricant ('lube'). Lube can prevent the condom from breaking and also helps prevent small cuts or tears in the vagina or the anus and on the penis during penetration. Lube is good whether or not the condom comes pre-lubricated; sometimes the lubrication on the condoms is not enough.

When using latex condoms, use only water- or silicone-based lube. Do not use oil-based lubes like Vaseline, Crisco, shea butter, or baby oil with latex condoms because they weaken the condom and make it more likely to break. Silicone-based lube will last longer than water-based lube. Lube can also make the condom feel better. There are several types and brands of lubes, with a variety of different feels and tastes. Some also contain substances that 'warm' or enhance sensation.

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.

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