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FAQ on Condom---How to Choose and Use Condoms

A condom can be summed up as a rubber passport to warm places -- but there is responsibility involved. Here are a few tips to help keep you safe from HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which you can get from a broken, misused or flimsy condom.

What kind of condoms are best for men who have sex with men?

There are no condoms specifically made for man-to-man sex, but some are better than others. The lambskin condom, usually made from lamb intestine, is about the worst choice you can make. Not only does it sound gross (especially to you vegetarians), but this condom's membrane is so porous that it can't stop HIV from passing through it! Straight couples may use it as an effective birth control method, but gay men should leave lambskin on the store shelf (or better yet, in the lamb).

Don't use condoms or lubes containing nonoxynol-9(N-9), because studies have shown that N-9 may actually increase your risk for HIV, and irritate the lining of the anus. However, if your choice is between no condom or a condom containing N-9, use the condom.

Latex condoms, on the other hand, are made from a synthetic rubber material that HIV can't penetrate. According to the June, 1999 issue of Consumer Reports, which tested 30 brands of condoms, only two failed the standard test that measures condom strength: Trojan Plus 2 Spermicidal and Durex Pure Protection Spermicidally Lubricated. The magazine also reported that "extra sensitive" condoms are indeed thinner but not weaker than the standard condom. (To order the June, 1999 issue of Consumer Reports, call 1-800-234-1645, or visit www.consumerreports.org. Request article #9411).

How should a condom feel when I put it on? Good, darling, the condom should feel good. Be sure it fits tightly enough so it won't slip off your penis during sex -- though you don't want it to squeeze too tightly either. If regular condoms feel too constrictive, try the wider and longer size large.

Can I keep a condom from breaking?

There's always a chance that a perfectly fine condom will break during sex. There are, however, things you can do to help steer clear of trouble. Never use a worn-looking, brittle, stiff condom, or one that has expired or was not properly stored (see the box for storage instructions). Don't carry condoms in your wallet or pant pocket, because your body heat can weaken them. And when you open a condom wrapper, don't cut it -- you don't want to make tiny holes in the latex that could cause the condom to tear.

Unlike a vagina, an anus does not make it's own lubrication -- you must go out and buy it yourself. Use only the water-based kind (an oil-based lube will damage the condom!). Even if you buy a condom that comes with lubrication, you'll want to add more.

Can I have an allergy to condoms or lube?

You can. Signs of an allergy are redness and irritation on your penis or rectum (if you're the receptive partner). If you notice these signs, try other brands. If you have an allergy to latex, you can try the Avanti brand, which makes condoms from polyurethane. Spermicide has also been known to cause irritation. If you suspect it's causing a problem, switch to a non-spermicidal brand.

How effectively do spermicidal condoms kill HIV?

Here's where you get into trouble. It sounds great to use a condom with an added bonus of killing HIV, but in reality most of the spermicide stays in the condom wrapper, and what remains on the condom itself will not give you any meaningful protection. What's worse, spermicide can irritate a receptive partner's rectum, making him or her more susceptible to HIV infection. Remember, don't use spermicides containing N-9 -- this is not recommended for gay and bisexual men.

What about piercings?

A condom placed over a pierced penis has an increased chance of breaking. To be on the safe side, stick with the thick brands and avoid the thinner, "extra sensitive" ones. Also, you may find that a large size condom fits you and your piercing more comfortably.

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