June 21, 2012
A condom is a tube made of thin, flexible material. It is closed at one end. Condoms have been used for hundreds of years to prevent pregnancy by keeping a man's semen out of a woman's vagina. Condoms also help prevent diseases that are spread by semen or by contact with infected sores in the genital area, including HIV. Most condoms go over a man's penis. A new type of condom was designed to fit into a woman's vagina. The "female" condom can also be used to protect the rectum.
Condoms used to be made of natural skin (including lambskin) or of rubber. That's why they are called "rubbers." Most condoms today are latex or polyurethane. Lambskin condoms can prevent pregnancy. However, they have tiny holes (pores) that are large enough for HIV to get through. Lambskin condoms do not prevent the spread of HIV.
Latex is the most common material for condoms. Viruses cannot get through it. Latex is inexpensive and available in many styles. It has two drawbacks: oils make it fall apart, and some people are allergic to it.
Polyurethane is an option for people who are allergic to latex. One brand of female condom and one brand of male condom are made of polyurethane.
Condoms can protect you during contact between the penis, mouth, vagina, or rectum. Condoms won't protect you from HIV or other infections unless you use them correctly and consistently.
Nonoxynol-9 is a chemical that kills sperm (a spermicide). It can help prevent pregnancy when it is used in the vagina along with condoms or other birth control methods. Nonoxynol-9 should not be used in the mouth or rectum.
Because nonoxynol-9 kills HIV in the test tube, it was considered as a way to prevent HIV infection during sex. Unfortunately, many people are allergic to it. Their sex organs (penis, vagina, and rectum) can get irritated and develop small sores that actually make it easier for HIV infection to spread. Nonoxynol-9 should not be used as a way to prevent HIV infection.
Studies show condoms are 80% to 97% effective in preventing HIV transmission if they are used correctly every time you have sex.
"Condoms break a lot:" Less than 2% of condoms break when they are used correctly: no oils with latex condoms, no double condoms, no outdated condoms.
"HIV can get through condoms:" HIV cannot get through latex or polyurethane condoms. Don't use lambskin condoms.
When used correctly, condoms are the best way to prevent the spread of HIV during sexual activity. Condoms can protect the mouth, vagina or rectum from HIV-infected semen. They can protect the penis from HIV-infected vaginal fluids and blood in the mouth, vagina, or rectum. They also reduce the risk of spreading other sexually transmitted diseases.
Condoms must be stored, used and disposed of correctly. Male condoms are used on the penis. Female condoms can be used in the vagina or rectum.
For more information, see the FDA's condom brochure at www.fda.gov/oashi/aids/condom.html.