Condoms and Spermicides: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Condom Questions

Why should you use a condom when you have sexual intercourse?

If you are going to have sex, using a condom is the best way to protect both partners against becoming infected with a sexually transmitted disease. They also protect against pregnancy.

Are condoms effective against HIV and other STDs?

Condoms are very effective at preventing HIV transmission, and will also help to prevent the transmission of any other infection that’s spread through semen or vaginal fluids. However, they are only effective if they’re used properly every time you have sex.

How do I use a condom?

Condoms are quite simple to use, but like anything, it can take a bit of practice to get it right.

What is a female condom?

A female condom is similar to a male condom, but is wider and longer and is worn inside a woman’s vagina rather than over the penis. It is also made of polyurethane rather than latex. The condom has two rings – the ring at the closed end of the female condom is pushed up inside the vagina, while the ring at the open end surrounds the entrance to the vagina. The man’s penis is guided into the condom through this ring.

How are condoms tested?

There are a range of tests performed by both regulatory agencies and the condom manufacturers to ensure that they’re safe and strong enough to use during sex. These include electronic testing, the water leak test, the air burst test and the strength test.

How can I check a condom is safe to use?

You need to check that they have not expired, that they carry a standards approval mark (either FDA, ISO, CE or the British Standard Kite Mark depending on where you are), and that they have been properly stored.

How often do condoms fail?

Studies have shown that where used properly, less than 2 in every 100 condoms fails.

Is it true that condoms have tiny holes in them?

Some people have claimed that condoms have tiny pores or holes in them through which sexually transmitted infections such as HIV can pass. This is not true. Many studies have shown that condoms do not have pores big enough for HIV to travel through, and even if such pores did exist, most latex condoms have walls that are approximately .05 mm thick – a virus such as HIV would therefore have to pass through a barrier around 500 times thicker than itself to reach the outside.

What are condoms made of?

Condoms are usually made of latex or polyurethane. Latex condoms are more widely available and cheaper, although some people can be allergic to them, in which case a polyurethane condom may be more appropriate. To understand more about these two types of condoms and the correct lubricant to use with them.

What is the history of the condom?

Condom use can be traced back several thousand years and were once simply strips of linen. Animal intestines have also provided an alternative to today’s more practical latex and polyurethane varieties.

How can I persuade my partner to use a condom?

It can be difficult to talk about using condoms, but you shouldn’t let embarrassment become a health risk. The person you are thinking about having sex with may not agree at first when you say that you want to try and use a condom when you have sex. These are some excuses that might be made and some answers that you could try:

Don’t you trust me? Trust isn’t the point, people can have infections without realising it
I can’t feel a thing when I wear a condom Maybe that way you’ll last even longer and that will make up for it
I don’t stay hard when I put on a condom I’ll help you put it on, that will help you keep it
I don’t have a condom with me I do
I’m on the pill, you don’t need a condom I’d like to use it anyway. It will help to protect us from infections we may not realise we have.
But I love you Then you’ll help us to protect ourselves.
Just this once Once is all it takes

How much protection do condoms give against pregnancy? If a condom breaks what are the risks of pregnancy?

When used properly (ie. the condom doesn’t split or burst) condoms can be very effective in preventing both pregnancy and STDs. If a condom breaks and no other from of contraception such as the birth control pill is being used then there is a risk that a woman may become pregnant.

Is it possible to get different sizes of condoms?

Condoms are made in different lengths and widths, and different manufacturers produce varying sizes. There is no standard length for condoms, though those made from natural rubber will in addition always stretch if necessary to fit the length of the man’s erect penis.

The width of a condom can also vary. Some condoms have a slightly smaller width to give a “closer” fit, whereas others will be slightly larger. Condom makers have realised that different lengths and widths are needed and are increasingly broadening their range of sizes.

The brand names will be different in each country, so you will need to do your own investigation of different names. There is no particular best brand of condom.

Is using two condoms better than one to avoid pregnancy?

Using two condoms at the same time – either two male condoms or a male and female condom – is not a good idea as the friction of them rubbing together may result in one or both of the condoms tearing. If you want to take extra precautions against pregnancy when having sex, and are concerned about the possibility of a condom breaking, it is better to use another form of contraception. For example, using the birth control pill as well as a condom will ensure that you have double protection against pregnancy as well as protection against STDs.

If I use a condom I seem to lose my erection…

It is a good idea to get some condoms before having sex and practice using them. That way you can get used to the feel of condoms and putting them on, which should help you feel more relaxed about using them when having sex and less likely to lose your erection.

Can you use a condom under water?

If you are going to use a condom under water it is important that you put the condom on before you get into the water. Also, if the water contains chemicals such as chlorine, or additives such as soap, bath oil or bubble bath then this may affect the latex.

What is the best way to get condoms?

It will depend on which country you are in, but in the most countries you can buy condoms from chemists and supermarkets. Condoms are often available from vending machines in public toilets. In some countries condoms are available free or at low-cost from clinics, and they can also be purchased from a variety of sites online.

Spermicide Questions

What are spermicides and how do they work?

Spermicides are chemical products that inactivate or kill sperm to prevent pregnancy. They are available in a variety of formats such as a cream, jelly, foam or foaming tablet that is inserted into the vagina before having sex. Some condoms also come lubricated with spermicide.

The most common spermicide is Nonoxynol 9. Recent research on Nonoxynol 9 has found that it does NOT protect against STDs or HIV as previously thought. So spermicides or condoms containing spermicide should only be used by HIV negative women who are sure that their partner is HIV negative as well.

Where can you get spermicides from? Do you need a prescription?

Spermicides can be bought over the counter at the chemists or you can get them from clinics. You do not need a prescription to get them.