Male condoms are thin sheaths of latex (rubber), polyurethane (plastic), or animal tissue that are rolled onto an erect penis immediately prior to intercourse. They are commonly called "safes" or "rubbers." Female condoms are madeof polyurethane, and are inserted into the vaginal canal before sexual relations. The open end covers the outside of the vagina, and the closed ring fitsover the cervix (opening into the uterus). Both types of condoms collect themale semen at ejaculation (the release of semen during intercourse), and thusact as a barrier to fertilization. Condoms also perform as barriers to the exchange of bodily fluids between persons involved in a sexual act, whether male-to-male, male-to-female, or female-to-female contact.

Both male and female condoms are used to prevent pregnancy and to protect against acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), genital warts and other sexually transmitted diseases. To accomplish these goals, the condom must be applied and removed correctly.

Male and female condoms should not be used together as there is a risk that one of them may come off. The male condom should not be snug on the tip of thepenis. A space of about 1/2 inch should be left at the end to avoid the possibility of it breaking during sexual intercourse. The penis must be withdrawnquickly after ejaculation to prevent the condom from falling off as the penis softens. So the condom should always be removed while the penis is still erect to prevent the ejaculate (sperm) from spilling into the vagina.

Male condoms made from animal tissue and linen have been in use for centuries. Latex condoms were introduced in the late 1800s and gained immediate popularity because they were inexpensive and effective. At that time, they were primarily used to protect against sexually transmitted diseases. A common complaint made by many consumers is that condoms reduce penis sensitivity and impair orgasm. Both men and women may develop allergies to the latex. Consumer interest in female condoms has been slight.

Male condoms may be purchased lubricated, ribbed, or treated with spermicide(a chemical that kills sperm). To be effective, condoms must be removed carefully so as not to "spill" the contents into the vaginal canal. Condoms that leak or break do not provide protection against pregnancy or disease.

If used correctly, male condoms have an effectiveness rate of about 90%, butthis rate can be increased to about 99% if used with a spermicide. (Several types of spermicides are available; they can be purchased in the form of contraceptive creams and jellies, foams, or films.) Benefits associated with thistype of contraceptive device include easy availability (no prescription is required), convenience of use, and lack of serious side effects. The primary disadvantage is that sexual activity must be interrupted in order to put the condom on.

Female condoms have a lower effectiveness rate against pregnancy; but, when used correctly and at every intercourse, during the course of a year they prevented pregnancy in over 75% of the women surveyed.

Checking the expiration date on a condom and examining it for holes before use are additional ways of enhancing its effectiveness. Because petroleum jellies, such as Vaseline, and other oil-based lubricants can weaken latex, any lubricants used during intercourse should be water-soluble.

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