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  1. HIV Prevention

Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

It's important to use condoms to help reduce the spread of STI (sexually transmitted infections). These infections include HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, and syphilis. You can get an STI through having sex -- vaginal, anal, or oral.

Condom and packaging

Condoms reduce the risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections.

The most effective way to avoid getting an STI is to not have sex. Another way is to limit sex to one partner who also limits his or her sex in the same way. Condoms are not 100% safe, but if used properly, will reduce the risk of getting a STI.

Condoms are used for both birth control and reducing the risk of infections. That's why some people think that other forms of birth control -- such as the IUD, diaphragm, cervical cap or pill -- will protect them against diseases, too. But that's not true. So if you use any other form of birth control, you still need a condom in addition to reduce the risk of getting sexually transmitted infections.

A condom is especially important when an uninfected pregnant woman has sex, because it can also help protect her and her unborn baby from getting a sexually transmitted infection.

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Facts about Sexually Transmitted Infections
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) affect  millions of men and women in the United States each year.

  • Anyone can become infected through sexual intercourse with an infected person.

  • Changing sexual partners adds to the risk of becoming infected. 

  • Sometimes, early in the infection, there may be no symptoms, or symptoms may be easily confused with other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted diseases can cause:

  • Tubal pregnancies, sometimes fatal to the mother and always fatal to the unborn child

  • Death or severe damage to a baby born to an infected woman

  • Sterility (loss of ability to get pregnant)

  • Cancer of the cervix in women

  • Damage to other parts of the body, including the heart, kidneys, and brain

See a doctor if you have any of these symptoms of STDs:

  • Discharge from the vagina, penis, and/or rectum

  • Pain or burning during urination and/or intercourse

  • Pain in the abdomen (women), testicles (men), and buttocks and legs (both)

  • Blisters, open sores, warts, rash, and/or swelling in the genital area, sex organs, and/or mouth

  • Flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, aching muscles, and/or swollen glands

You can get more information about preventing sexually transmitted infection by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Condom Effectiveness web page.

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Will a condom guarantee I won't get a sexually transmitted infection?

When used consistently and correctly, condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV. They are also effective at preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that are transmitted through bodily fluids, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. However, they provide less protection against STDs spread through skin-to-skin contact like human papillomavirus (genital warts), genital herpes, and syphilis.

Although highly effective when used consistently and correctly, there is still a chance of getting HIV if you only use condoms, so adding other prevention methods can further reduce your risk.

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How can I get the most protection from condoms?
  • It is best to read the label on the packaging the condom came in before using the condom.

  • Choose the right kind of condoms to prevent disease.

  • Store them in a cool, dry place. Storing condoms near heat (your back pocket or glove compartment) can make them weaker and less effective.

  • Remember to use a new condom every time you have sex. 

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How does a condom protect against sexually transmitted infection?

A condom acts as a barrier or wall to keep blood, or semen, or vaginal fluids from passing from one person to the other during intercourse.

These fluids can harbor germs such as HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.  If no condom is used, the germs can pass from the infected partner to the uninfected partner.

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How do I choose the right kind of condoms to prevent disease?

Always read the label. Look for two things:

  1. The condoms should be made of latex, or polyurethane condoms for people sensitive or allergic to latex. Tests have shown that latex and polyurethane condoms (including the female condom) can prevent the passage of the HIV, hepatitis and herpes viruses. But natural (lambskin) condoms may not do this.

  2. The package should say that the condoms are to prevent disease. If the package doesn't say anything about preventing disease, the condoms may not provide the protection you want, even though they may be the most expensive ones you can buy.

Novelty condoms will not say anything about either disease prevention or pregnancy prevention on the package. They are intended only for sexual stimulation, not protection.

Condoms which do not cover the entire penis are not labeled for disease prevention and should not be used for this purpose. For proper protection, a condom must unroll to cover the entire penis. This is another good reason to read the label carefully.

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What is the FDA doing about condom quality?

The FDA works with condom manufacturers to help ensure that the latex and polyurethane condoms you buy are not damaged.

Manufacturers "spot check" their condoms using a "water-leak" test. FDA inspectors do a similar test on sample condoms they take from warehouses. The condoms are filled with water and checked for leaks. An average of 996 of 1000 condoms must pass this test.

(Don't try the water-leak test on condoms you plan to use, because this kind of testing weakens condoms.)

Government testing cannot guarantee that condoms will always prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections. How well you are protected will also depend a great deal on which condoms you choose and how you store, handle and use them.

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Are condoms strong enough for anal intercourse?

Condoms may be more likely to break during anal intercourse than during other types of sex because of the greater amount of friction and other stresses involved.

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Should spermicides be used with condoms?

The active ingredient in all of the over-the-counter (OTC) vaginal contraceptive drug products (spermicides) available in the U.S. is nonoxynol 9 (N-9). N-9 vaginal contraceptive drug products are used alone to prevent pregnancy, or with barrier methods such as diaphragms or cervical caps. Some condoms include a spermicidal lubricant containing N-9.

Clinical studies have shown that N-9 spermicides do not prevent or reduce the risk of getting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from an infected partner, or against getting other STDs. Thus, N-9 spermicides should not be used for HIV/STD prevention or protection. Clinical studies also show that use of N-9 spermicides can cause vaginal and rectal irritation which could increase the risk of getting HIV/AIDS from an infected partner.

FDA still considers N-9 safe as a contraceptive for women at low risk for HIV and other STDs. However, FDA now requires warning statements and other labeling information for all over the counter (OTC) vaginal contraceptive drug product (also known as spermicides) containing nonoxynol 9 (N9). These warning statements advise consumers that vaginal contraceptives/spermicides containing N9 do not protect against infection from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), or against getting other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The warnings and labeling information also advise consumers that use of vaginal contraceptives and spermicides containing N9 can irritate the vagina and rectum and may increase the risk of getting the AIDS virus (HIV) from an infected partner.

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Should I use a lubricant with a condom?

Some condoms are already lubricated with dry silicone, jellies, or creams. If you buy condoms not already lubricated, it's a good idea to apply some yourself. Lubricants may help prevent condoms from breaking during use and may prevent irritation, which might increase the chance of infection.

If you use a separate lubricant, be sure to use one that's water-based and made for this purpose. If you're not sure which to choose, ask your pharmacist.

Never use a lubricant that contains oils, fats, or greases such as petroleum-based jelly (like Vaseline brand), baby oil or lotion, hand or body lotions, cooking shortenings, or oily cosmetics like cold cream. They can seriously weaken latex, causing a condom to tear easily.

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What do the dates mean on the package?

Some packages show "DATE MFG." This tells you when the condoms were made. It is not an expiration date.

Other packages may show an expiration date. The condoms should not be purchased or used after that date.

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Are condoms from vending machines safe to use?

It depends. Vending machine condoms may be safe to use, if:

  • you are getting a latex or polyurethane condom.

  • it is labeled for disease prevention.

  • the condoms do not contain nonoxynol 9 (N9) spermicide.

  • the machine is not exposed to extreme temperature and direct sunlight.

  • the date on the condom is not expired.

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How should condoms be stored?

You should store condoms in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight, perhaps in a drawer or closet. If you want to keep one with you, put it in a loose pocket, wallet, or purse for no more than a few hours at a time.

Extreme temperature -- especially heat -- can make latex brittle or gummy (like an old balloon). So don't keep these latex products in a hot place like a glove compartment

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How should condoms be handled?

Gently! When opening the packet, don't use your teeth, scissors or sharp nails. Make sure you can see what you're doing.

What defects should I look for?

If the condom material sticks to itself or is gummy, the condom is no good. Also check the condom tip for other damage that is obvious (brittleness, tears, and holes). Don't unroll the condom to check it because this could cause damage.

Never use a damaged condom

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How should I use a condom?
  • Keep male condoms in a cool, dry place. Don't keep them in your wallet or in your car. This can cause them to break or tear.

  • Check the wrapper for tears and for the expiration date, to make sure the condom is not too old to use. Carefully open the wrapper. Don't use your teeth or fingernails. Make sure the condom looks okay to use. Don't use a condom that is gummy, brittle, discolored, or has even a tiny hole.

  • Put on the condom as soon as the penis is erect, but before it touches the vagina, mouth, or anus.

  • If the condom does not have a reservoir tip, pinch the tip enough to leave a half-inch space for semen to collect. Holding the tip, unroll the condom all the way to the base of the erect penis.

  • Be sure to use adequate lubrication during vaginal and anal sex. Only use water-based or silicone-based lubricants. Don’t use oil-based lubricants (e.g., petroleum jelly, shortening, mineral oil, massage oils, body lotions, and cooking oil) with latex condoms because they can weaken latex and cause breakage. Put the lubricant on the outside of the condom.

  • After ejaculation and before the penis gets soft, grip the rim of the condom and carefully withdraw. Then gently pull the condom off the penis, making sure that semen doesn't spill out.

  • Wrap the condom in a tissue and throw it in the trash where others won't handle it.

  • If you feel the condom break at any point during sexual activity, stop immediately, withdraw, remove the broken condom, and put on a new condom.

  • Use a new condom if you want to have sex again or in a different way.

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