Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 2: Condoms

packets of individual condoms

Welcome to the second installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does.” In this series we will highlight Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl doesn’t know about.

It’s National Condom Week! So it’s only fitting that the second installment of our “Over 90 Percent” series honors the humble condom, that mainstay of anyone’s safer-sex arsenal. By providing a barrier between body parts and reducing skin-to-skin contact, condoms dramatically decrease risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease (STD). On top of all of that, their use during heterosexual intercourse can keep sperm from entering the vagina, making them essential components in family planning. Condoms can be used in a wide variety of sexual activities — they can be worn on penises or put onto sex toys, and with a couple of scissor snips they can be converted into dental dams. They are inexpensive and widely available without the need for a prescription. If you need to replenish your condom supply, or if you’re using them for the first time, you can walk into any Planned Parenthood health center to pick them up.

Are you aware of the finer points of condom use?

There are tons of contraceptive options for people with uteruses, from pills to IUDs, but condoms are one of the few options that people with penises have — although there is exciting research being done on expanding these options. If you are heterosexually active and capable of getting someone pregnant, using condoms consistently and correctly will allow you to take control of your reproductive future. In a given year, 2 out of 100 females whose male partners use condoms will become pregnant if they always use condoms correctly — with imperfect use, this number increases to 18 out of 100. Combining condom use with other birth control methods, like diaphragms, birth control pills, or IUDs, will dramatically boost the efficacy of your contraception.

In terms of STDs, condoms are relevant to sexually active individuals regardless of whether or not unintended pregnancies are a concern. Engaging in vaginal or anal intercourse without a condom dramatically increases risk for passing on sexually transmitted pathogens — including HIV, hepatitis B, herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, chancroid, trichomoniasis, pubic lice, and scabies. Most of these STDs can be transmitted orally as well, with a high risk for herpes, hepatitis B, CMV, gonorrhea, and syphilis — so condoms play an important role in a wide variety of sexual encounters.

Even sex toys can be made safer with the addition of a condom — when passed between partners, sex toys (like vibrators) can transmit pathogens. Changing condoms between uses will decrease this risk. Sex toys can also transmit pathogens from one part of your body to another, so even solo, it might be a good idea to change condoms if switching between openings. Even if you don’t have any STDs, you could, for example, introduce E. coli from the anus into your urethra, the makings for an irritating urinary tract infection.

But most of you know why condoms are so important in reducing the risk for STDs or unintended pregnancy. Unfortunately, especially given the prominence of abstinence-only sex education, a lot of people don’t know how to use a condom properly. Planned Parenthood’s website includes an informative instructional video (don’t worry, a plastic phallus is used in lieu of an actual penis for demonstration). Below are Planned Parenthood’s easy instructions for proper condom use — they are written with vaginal intercourse in mind, but regardless of what activities you plan to engage in, following these instructions will protect you and your partner from STDs, as well as unintended pregnancy if that is relevant to your situation.

  • Put the condom on before the penis touches the vulva. Men leak fluids from their penises before and after ejaculation. This fluid can carry enough germs to pass sexually transmitted diseases and possibly cause pregnancy.
  • Use a condom only once. Use a fresh one for each erection (“hard-on”). Have a good supply on hand.
  • Condoms usually come rolled into a ring shape. They are individually sealed in aluminum foil or plastic. Be careful — don’t tear the condom while unwrapping it. If it is torn, brittle, stiff, or sticky, throw it away and use another.
  • Put a drop or two of lubricant inside the condom.
  • Pull back the foreskin, unless circumcised, before rolling on the condom.
  • Place the rolled condom over the tip of the hard penis.
  • Leave a half-inch space at the tip to collect semen.
  • Pinch the air out of the tip with one hand while placing it on the penis.
  • Unroll the condom over the penis with the other hand.
  • Roll it all the way down to the base of the penis.
  • Smooth out any air bubbles. (Friction against air bubbles can cause condom breaks.)
  • Lubricate the outside of the condom.
  • When finished, pull out before the penis softens.
  • Don’t spill the semen — hold the condom against the base of the penis while you pull out.
  • Throw the condom away.
  • Wash the penis with soap and water before having sex play again.

You can also increase the efficacy of your condoms by storing them properly and using them correctly. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your condoms.

  • Store condoms in a cool, dry place. Wallets and glove compartments are not good long-term storage locations for condoms.
  • Check the expiration date before using a condom. If the expiration has passed, get thee to a drugstore for new ones!
  • Beware of novelty condoms. Read the label and make sure they are intended to protect against STDs and pregnancy.
  • When using a condom on a penis, pinch the air out of the tip while unrolling it onto the shaft of the penis, leaving a half inch of space above the tip. This will reduce the chances of the condom breaking upon ejaculation.
  • Use lubricant (“lube”) with your condoms — both inside and out. By making condoms more slippery, the chances that they’ll break are significantly reduced. Sensation is also enhanced because lubricant decreases friction. Never use oil-based products, such as Vaseline, with a latex or non-latex rubber condom. Use only water or silicone-based lube with latex and non-latex rubber condoms.
  • Do not reuse condoms. (I hope this is obvious!)

Planned Parenthood carries PROPER ATTIRE® condoms in their health centers. These condoms come in 15 different styles, and offer sexually active individuals a way to protect against STDs and unintended pregnancies. Condoms are available in Planned Parenthood health centers, as well as from some community health centers, drugstores, some supermarkets, and vending machines.