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As originally published in the Coyote Chronicle on March 1, 2020.

Everyone deserves a healthy, safe, and fun sex life with consenting partners. Using condoms is a good way to lower stress around sex, increase pleasure, and show your partner that you care about your health and theirs. 

Condoms and other barrier methods are an effective way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. But many people are still confused about condoms and how they work. Because February is National Condom Awareness Month, we at Planned Parenthood of Orange & San Bernardino Counties are here to clear up that confusion. 

1. Condom 101

Condoms are thin, stretchy pouches worn on the penis (or inside the vagina, in the case of internal condoms, also known as female condoms). They prevent pregnancy by keeping sperm from getting into a partner’s vagina and meeting with an egg. Additionally, most types of condoms prevent STIs by preventing direct skin-to-skin contact and providing a barrier against bacteria and viruses that can cause disease. There are many different sizes and textures of condoms; they are easy to find, relatively inexpensive to buy, and you can purchase them at any age. 

Water or silicone-based lubes are always safe to use with condoms but do not use any lubricants that have oil, in them, such as baby oil, Vaseline, lotion, or coconut oil, as they can damage latex condoms. 

2. Examine your stockpile and learn how to use it

Always read the package before using a condom, and check the expiration date. If they are stored properly, condoms have a healthy shelf life of a few years. Don’t store condoms in your pocket, wallet, or glove compartment, because heat and friction can damage them. 

Always be sure to pinch the tip before putting a condom on the penis. This is to leave enough space for semen to collect after ejaculation. If there is no space for the semen to collect, it could cause the condom to break, or the semen could be forced out of the open end of the condom—in both situations, the effectiveness of the condom is greatly reduced.

Condoms are designed to be used on their own, so doubling up, or “double bagging,” won’t guarantee extra protection. You also shouldn’t use a condom worn on the penis together with an internal condom. 

Never reuse a condom, and if you accidentally put one on inside-out, throw it out and put on a new one. Check out this easy-to-read, step-by-step guide from Planned Parenthood on how to put on a condom correctlyThe CDC also has some good tips. Practice putting them on yourself before having sex with a partner, or even practice rolling them onto a banana or bottle. 

3. Talk about condoms (even if it feels awkward)

If you find it difficult to bring up the subject of condoms with a partner, consider discussing the consequences of becoming pregnant or getting an STI. Talking about condoms is much easier. If a person is not comfortable talking about condoms or other forms of protection with their partner, especially if their partner wants to use them, that could be a sign that perhaps they might not be ready for sex. Being open and honest with a sexual partner is an important part of a healthy relationship, whether it’s long-term or casual. 

Condoms are the only birth control method that also protects against STIs. Using condoms consistently provides the best protection against STIs, and they can be 98% effective in preventing pregnancies if used correctly every single time. But people aren’t perfect, so in reality, condoms are about 85% effective at preventing pregnancy. If you want even more protection from pregnancy, consider using condoms with another form of birth control such as the pillIUD, or shot. For those with a high risk of contracting HIV or AIDS if a condom breaks, it may also be worthwhile to talk to your doctor about a daily medicine known as PrEP

Remember: the best part of using condoms is knowing you’re protecting yourself and your partner from pregnancy and STIs. And there’s nothing sexier than that.

Planned Parenthood of Orange & San Bernardino Counties is here to answer any questions you may have about sexual and reproductive health. We have free condoms available, too! Call to set up an appointment with one of our healthcare providers in Orange County (714-922-4100) or San Bernardino County (909-890-5511), and learn more at www.pposbc.org.