A condom is a device, usually made of latex, that covers a man's penis during sexual intercourse to reduce the risk of pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted
diseases (STD) such as gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV. Condoms do not protect against
all forms of STDs. They are also known as prophylactics,
as well as a number of colloquial or slang terms, such as rubbers.
Folk etymology claims, without basis, that the word "condom" is
derived from a purported "Dr. Condom" or "Quondam", who made the
devices for King Charles II of England.
There is no evidence that any such "Dr. Condom" existed.
A condom made from animal hide around 1900
The first efforts at making condoms involved the use of woven fabrics. These were obviously not
effective. The earliest effective condoms were made of sheep gut
or other animal membrane. These are still available today because
of their greater ability to transmit body warmth and tactile sensation,
when compared to synthetic condoms, but they
are not as effective in preventing pregnancy and disease. Mass
production of condoms started in mid-19th century, shortly after
the invention of the rubber vulcanization process. Until
the 1930s, condoms were made from rubber; they were still quite
uncomfortable and expensive (though reusable) and thus only available
to small part of population. When latex condoms at last became available
in late 1930s, it was a leap forward in effectiveness and affordability.
However, before the middle of the 20th century, many places
outlawed the sale of condoms, and many subsequently allowed their
sale "only for the prevention of disease". During this ban, they
come under many aliases such as "rubber sponges". One of the early
condom brands was called "Merry Widows".
An unrolled latex condom
Latex condoms are packaged in a rolled-up form, and are designed
to be applied to the tip of the penis and then rolled over the
erect penis. They have a "right
side" and a "wrong side" when rolled up, and the first thing the
user must do is to determine which side is which before attempting
to apply them. Any touching of the penis to the "wrong side" of
the rolled-up condom before application potentially "contaminates"
the outside with bodily fluid, defeating the condom's purpose.
Early latex condoms were very similar, but later some came to
have reservoir tips to contain ejaculate. One relatively
early innovation, the 'short cap', only covered the head of the
penis. These were not useful condoms, as there was still contact
between the partners' genitals, and bodily fluids could easily
spill out of the cap.
Condoms in many colours
In recent decades, however, condom makers have diversified in
colours, sizes and shapes. Flavours or designs thought to have
stimulating properties are sometimes added. Such stimulating properties
include enlarged tips or pouches to more fit the glans penis better and textured
surfaces such as ribbing or studs (small bumps). Many condoms
have spermicidal lubricant added, but
it is not an effective substitute for separate spermicide use.
Condoms made from natural materials (such as those labeled "lambskin",
made from lamb intestines)
are not as effective at preventing disease. A few companies are
today also making condoms from polyethylene and polyurethane, expected to
be as effective as, but less tested than, latex. These condoms
have the advantage of being compatible with oil-based lubricants.
They can also be used by people who have a latex allergy.
As a method of contraception, condoms have
the advantage of being easy to use, having few side-effects, and
of offering protection against sexually transmitted diseases.
There is a paradox in contraceptive
use of condoms: their theoretical effectiveness is relatively
high, but their actual effectiveness is relatively low. This is
because many people fail to follow rigorously the proper procedures
for condom usage. Even touching the female genitalia with the
same (unwashed) hand that removed the condom can potentially cause
pregnancy. Furthermore, surveys have shown that many users do
not know how to put them on correctly, resulting in bursts and
Therefore, of themselves, condoms are only moderately reliable
as a contraceptive method, but when combined with a spermicide
their reliability is comparable to other methods. But even when
condom use is combined with another method of contraceptives (such
as spermicide or birth control pills),
pregnancy is still possible.
Among their disadvantages, people list that putting them on can
interrupt foreplay and lovemaking. (Others who have integrated
wearing a condom as part of the entire process for sexual activity,
however, do not consider this bothersome.) Because of an obvious
barrier of the skins, sensory stimulation is sacrificed (though
this effect can be largely overcome by properly applying lubricants
internally and externally), causing some people to dismiss condoms
as limiting their pleasure. However, a woman can partially solve
this problem by training her vaginal muscles, specifically the
Pubococcygeus. These drawbacks
of condoms, among others, are often cited as reasons by those
who decide not to use them.
Most condom failures are due to misuse. This has led some researchers
to suggest age-appropriate sex education that includes how to use
a condom properly. A 1994 FHI study showed that most condom users
rarely experience condom breakage and/or slippage. According
to the World Health Organization, condoms currently have a failure
rate of three percent at twelve months, when used properly and consistently.
Another possible, though rare, cause of condom failure is outright
motive is to have a child against a partner's wishes, known to
be done by men and women alike. Saboteurs usually pierce the condom's
tip multiple times before intercourse. As this can result in pregnancies
unwanted by one of the participants, it is generally seen as a
deceitful and unethical act. However, at least one website is
set up to provide advice on sabotage to women who want a child
against their male partner's wishes. Sabotage as a teen prank
has also been portrayed (in passing) in the Japanese film Pikanchi.
Persons involved in sex trade might also use this tactic on unsuspecting
clients to spread STDs purposely, although this is almost unheard
One method of testing condoms for microscopic holes involves placing
the condom being tested over one conducting form with another on
the other side of the condom. If the condom does not prevent an
electric current from flowing between the two conducting forms,
it fails the test. Holes in condoms are unlikely if proper handling
conditions are followed.
The use of male condoms involves the following:
- Condoms should never be stored in hot places like car glove-compartments
or wallets kept in pockets close to the body, as prolonged exposure
to heat damages latex.
- Sharp fingernails can damage condoms.
- Condoms are best put on the erect penis as soon as an erection
is achieved and before any contact with the other person's body,
and should always be put on before contact with a vagina
- Retracting the foreskin before putting on
a condom maximizes mobility and reduces the risk of breakage
- Room needs to be left at the tip of a condom to hold semen.
Most condoms have a reservoir tip that should be pinched while
applying the condom to avoid trapping an air bubble which could
sexual lubricants, such as KY Jelly, are safe for use
with condoms, but oil-based lubricants
weaken latex and may cause it to tear or develop holes. Lubrication
can be used to reduce the abrasion on the condom during vaginal
sex, and is virtually essential for anal sex.
- Some condoms are designed specifically for anal sex. The material
is slightly thicker, making these condoms less likely to tear
than those designed for vaginal sex.
- Condoms should be discarded after the expiration date on the
package. Even ones that seem fine past that date may be more
likely to burst later.
- The penis should be withdrawn immediately after ejaculation,
even if the erection can be maintained; leaving it in leads
to needless risk.
- The base of the condom should be held during withdrawal to
prevent the condom from slipping off.
- One's hands and penis should be washed before further physical
contact with another person (including the sexual partner).
- Condoms are for single use only, and should never be reused.
- Condoms are available in special sizes for people who require
larger or smaller ones.
- Practicing applying condoms alone in a well lighted place
can help a man learn to apply it correctly before using them
General instructions for putting on a male condom are as follows:
- Check the expiry date on the condom wrapper - Condoms have
a printed expiry date and batch number. Do not use out
of date condoms.
- Gently apply pressure to the condom wrapper to make sure it
has a slight pillow-like
quality to it, indicating air inside and proper and unbroken
sealing. Otherwise air may have escaped from tear or punctures
and the condom itself may be damaged as well.
- Exercising caution, open the foil (or plastic) wrapper along
one side. Be careful not to damage the condom with sharp objects.
- If the condom is sticky or brittle, discard it and use another
- Press firmly together the tip of the condom to expel air that
may be trapped inside the condom. Air pockets can cause the
condom to burst. This tip is there to contain the discharge
- Check that the condom is in the right direction to unroll
down the penis and before unrolling put it on the tip of the
penis. If you accidentally try to put it on the wrong way, discard
it and start over with a new condom. Touching the wrong side
of the condom with the penis can transfer bodily fluids, defeating
- Unroll the condom over the shaft of the penis. Unroll it all
the way. If it does not unroll, it is on the wrong way and
you must start over with a new condom.
- Make sure the condom isn't loose or or at risk of coming off.
- Do not allow the penis to go flaccid at any time while wearing
or putting on the condom; You will have to discard the condom
All 12-packs of condoms come with these or similar instructions,
and may contain additional information; be sure to read these
instructions if you have never used a condom before.
Some men who feel a particular size condom is hard to put on
because it is too small have reported that they partly unroll
the condom, stretch it with both index fingers, insert the penis
(asking their partner to expel air from the tip), remove fingers
and unroll. This procedure is not recommended as one's
fingernails can come in contact with the condom. Consider buying
a larger condom, or practising the approved method above.
Prevalence of condoms
Condoms are most accessible in developed countries.
In various cultures, a number of social or economic factors make
access to condoms prohibitive. In some cases, cultural beliefs
may cause some persons to shun condoms deliberately even when
they are available.
Furthermore, regardless of culture and availability, many men
shun condoms simply because they dislike using them. This dislike
may be due either to a belief that condoms reduce sexual pleasure
or to practical problems, e.g. difficulty in sustaining an erection
hard enough for effective condom use. Embarrassed about actually
purchasing condoms in the first place also occurs, but such privacy
concernes are answered when condoms can be sold in vending machines in public toilets, and
later through the Internet.
Recently "female condoms" or "femidoms" (not to
be confused with femdoms)
have become available. They are larger than male condoms and have
a stiffened ring-shaped opening, and are designed to be inserted
into the vagina. The female condom also
contains an inner ring which keeps the condom in place inside
the vagina - inserting the female condom requires squeezing this
ring. Sales of these have been disappointing, however, so they
are not as widely available as they were at first. Probable causes
for poor sales are that inserting the female condom is a skill
that has to be learned and which solitary males cannot practice
in advance; and that female condoms can be significantly more
expensive than male condoms. Also, reported "rustling" sounds
during intercourse turn off some potential users, as does the
visibility of the outer ring which remains outside the vagina.
This type of condom is made from polyurethane.
These condoms have the advantage of being compatible with oil-based
lubricants as they are not made of latex. The external genitals
of the wearer and the base of the penis of the inserting partner
are more protected than when the male condom is used. Inserting
a female condom does not require male erection.
The instructions for use of female condoms are of necessity different
from those of male condoms, since they are inserted rather than
worn, and designed to drape around the penis, rather than to fit
tightly over it. They are as follows:
- The condom should be removed carefully from the packaging;
- The small inner ring should be squeezed closed;
- The inner ring should be pushed into the vagina, the outer
ring remaining outside;
- The penis should be guided through the outer ring to ensure
that it is not pushed aside.
- Before removing the condom, the outer ring should be squeezed
and twisted (while the wearer is still lying down, if applicable)
to ensure that semen does not leak out of the pouch. Pull to
remove the condom.
- Any "rustling" can be counteracted by applying extra lubricant
to the inside of the condom; this is also the course of
action to take if the outer ring is pulled into the vagina during
A new, updated female condom is being developed by PATH, a medical
technologies NGO, that would be easier to put in as well as less
awkward to use. A second iteration of the original female condom
is also in development by the Female Health Company that would be
cheaper and easier to use.
Religious attitudes towards use of condoms
Condoms and other mechanisms of contraception, along with abortion, are prohibited by the
Roman Catholic Church
for Catholic couples in canonically valid marriages, and condemned
by some conservative Protestants for moral reasons.
Opinions of Orthodox Christian
bishops vary on the matter. Some other religious authorities,
however, view contraception from the angle of stewardship of Earth.
Overpopulation abatement is part of good stewardship and contraception
(including limiting sexual activity) serves this purpose.
Teens participating in sexual activities contribute to the vast
majority of condom failures. Those who assert that teens should
be taught to use condoms properly often face opposition by religious
and other groups that oppose any sex outside marriage. They consider
teaching contraception to youth tantamount to encouraging teen sex.
However, some studies suggest sexual abstinence-only programmes
actually increase instances of teen pregnancy.
One quote about contraception from a religious source that specifically
mentions condoms is as follows:
- "It is permissible to use condoms so long as this does
not cause any harm and so long as both husband and wife consent
to their use, because this is similar to 'azl (coitus
interruptus or "withdrawal"). But it reduces the sensation
of pleasure, which is the right of both partners, and reduces
the chance of conception, which is also the right of both partners.
Neither one of them is allowed to deprive the other of these
rights. And Allaah is the course of strength." - islamic-paths.org,
Sex and Sexuality in Islam - Condoms (2005)
Likewise, others have criticized opponents of condom use as being
to some degree responsible for overpopulation and the proliferation
of sexually transmitted diseases.