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It's Your Health
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Using condoms greatly reduces the risk of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Used properly, condoms can greatly reduce the risk of pregnancy and STIs. By using them, you protect yourself and your partner and help prevent the spread of disease. However, as noted above, they are not foolproof . In about 10 percent of cases, a pregnancy can result, usually because of improper usage.
Follow these tips to receive maximum protection.
A condom protects by providing a barrier between a man's penis and his partner. A male condom covers the penis, while a female condom is a liner worn in the vagina. Condoms are made of different materials, and are available in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors and textures. They are sold in grocery stores, pharmacies, discount stores and vending machines. When used properly, male condoms have a leakage rate of under one per cent and a breakage rate of about one per cent.
There are a variety of condoms available for both men and women, each of which has advantages and disadvantages.
Natural rubber latex condoms, which have been available for years, are the most common and popular. They are now labelled with a size to give a better fit. The larger the width, the larger the size. If a condom is too large, it can slip off; and if it is too tight, the condom is more likely to break.
"Natural membrane," or "sheepskin," condoms are made from the intestinal lining of sheep. This is the oldest type of condom still being used today, but these products are specialty items and are not used by many. The natural membrane is somewhat porous, and is therefore not recommended for protection against certain viral diseases such as hepatitis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This type does, however, protect against pregnancy and bacterial STIs. Some users find these condoms to be more comfortable than those made of latex.
Synthetic polymer condoms, usually made of polyurethane, are similar to latex and are as effective in preventing pregnancy and STIs. This type of condom is a good option for people who are allergic to latex, and can also be used with lubricants that would destroy latex. Some users find them more comfortable than natural latex rubber condoms, but they are usually more expensive.
Spermicidally lubricated condoms are coated with a lubricant containing nonoxynol-9 (N-9), which may provide added protection against pregnancy. However, N-9 does not effectively protect against infection from HIV or other STIs. In fact, N-9 may even increase the risk of infection by irritating the tissue inside the vagina or rectum, making it easier for the infection to be transmitted. Nevertheless, for the prevention of STIs, including HIV, a condom lubricated with N-9 is better than no condom at all. Condoms lubricated with N-9 should be used only when the extra pregnancy protection is important. They should not be used for anal sex, nor when an additional birth control method, such as the pill, is already being used.
Female condoms are usually made of polyurethane or latex. They are not as effective against pregnancy and preventing sexually transmitted infections STIs as male condoms. These products are relatively new and are more expensive than male condoms. Many women who use them like the fact that they are the ones to decide when to use a condom. They should not be used for disease prevention.
Novelty items are similar to condoms and are sold through vending machines or in specialty stores. Novelty items should not be confused with condoms.
In Canada, condoms are considered medical devices and are therefore regulated by Health Canada. These regulations outline the conditions that condom manufacturers and importers must meet. Strict standards are set for latex condoms regarding tests for strength and leakage. Condoms made from other materials must be evaluated before being marketed to prove that they are effective against disease and sperm. The regulations also include packaging, labelling and other quality measures. Health Canada also maintains a database of medical devices listing condom brands licenced for sale in Canada.
For more information about condoms and STIs, talk to your doctor or pharmacist, or visit the following websites:
General information about consumer products, health and safety can be found at:
For additional articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health web section
You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-267-1245*
Updated: February 2010
Original: March 2002
ęHer Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2002