Conventional Male Condoms
Most sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are spread through contact with infected body fluids such as blood, vaginal fluids, or semen during oral, vaginal or anal sex. STDs can also be contracted via mucous membranes such as mouth sores or open cuts and wounds.
One of the best protective measures against STDs is the correct use of condoms. In conventional condom use, the man places a latex or polyurethane condom over his penis in order to act as a barrier by preventing the exchange of bodily fluids between the two sexual partners. While not 100% guaranteed, male condom use considerably reduces the risk of contracting STDs.
A newer innovation designed to prevent the transmission of STDs and to act as a birth control device is the female condom. Made from polyurethane, female condoms are long structures with a closed ring at one end and an open ring at the other end. The closed ring is placed inside the vagina, and the open ring covers the outer area of the vagina.
Female condoms can be lubricated and can be placed in position up to eight hours before sexual activity. Some couples cite the latter as a distinct benefit of female condoms as it increases the spontaneity factor of having sex.
Proper Use of Female Condoms
If used or placed incorrectly, female condoms will not be effective. Therefore women are advised to ask their healthcare providers for instruction or training on how to insert the condom correctly so that it will protect them against STDs and pregnancy. As with male condoms, it is important to check the expiry date and to never use expired female condoms. Condoms should be stored in a cool, dry place, and female condoms are never to be used more than once. After each use, condoms should be carefully discarded. Finally, should a female condom break or tear or appear to be damaged in way before or during sex, the couple should abstain from sexual contact until a new condom is securely in place.
Female condoms are said to be equally as effective as male condoms in the prevention of STDs, although female condoms have proven to be less effective than male condoms or other birth control methods in preventing pregnancy.
However, remember that neither female or male condoms offer 100% protection against STDs or pregnancy and that the only foolproof way to prevent these occurrences is abstinence.
Interestingly, while many couples logically consider 'doubling up' on protection by using both a male and a female condom, in fact this practice increases risk since the friction between the material of the two condoms can cause one or both of them to break. Therefore couples must decide which partner will use a condom.
Female condoms are becoming more widespread; however they are more expensive than their male counterparts. Women who are having trouble locating female condoms to purchase are advised to seek a family planning organization, which often distribute female condoms for free as part of their promotion of safe sex measures. Especially in third world countries, female condoms are becoming a popular favorite among women who often cannot rely upon their men to agree to use a condom.