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Male condoms are thin sheaths of latex (rubber), polyurethane (plastic), or animal tissue that are rolled onto an erect penis immediately prior to intercourse. They are commonly called "safes" or "rubbers." Female condoms are made of polyurethane and are inserted into the vaginal canal before sexual relations. The open end covers the outside of the vagina, and the closed ring fits over the cervix (opening into the uterus). Both types of condoms collect the male semen at ejaculation, acting as a barrier to fertilization. Condoms also perform as barriers to the exchange of bodily fluids and are subsequently an important tool in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).


Both male and female condoms are used to prevent pregnancy and to protect against STDs such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis. To accomplish these goals, the condom must be applied and removed correctly.


Male and female condoms should not be used together as there is a risk that one of them may come off. The male condom should not be snug on the tip of the penis. A space of about 0.5 in should be left at the end to avoid the possibility of it breaking during sexual intercourse. The penis must be withdrawn quickly after ejaculation to prevent the condom from falling off as the penis softens. The condom should therefore always be removed while the penis is still erect to prevent the sperm from spilling into the vagina.


Male condoms made from animal tissue and linen have been in use for centuries. Latex condoms were introduced in the late 1800s and gained immediate popularity because they were inexpensive and effective. At that time, they were primarily used to protect against STDs. A common complaint made by many consumers is that condoms reduce penis sensitivity and impair orgasm. Both men and women may develop allergies to the latex. Consumer interest in female condoms has been slight.
Male condoms may be purchased lubricated, ribbed, or treated with spermicide (a chemical that kills sperm). To be effective, condoms must be removed carefully so as not to "spill" the contents into the vaginal canal. Condoms that leak or break do not provide protection against pregnancy or disease.
If used correctly, male condoms have an effectiveness rate of about 90% for preventing pregnancy, but this rate can be increased to about 99% if used with a spermicide. (Several types of spermicides are available; they can be purchased in the form of contraceptive creams and jellies, foams, or films.) Benefits associated with this type of contraceptive device include easy availability (no prescription is required), convenience of use, and lack of serious side effects. The primary disadvantage is that sexual activity must be interrupted in order to put the condom on.
Female condoms, when used correctly and at every instance of intercourse, were shown to prevent pregnancy in over 95% of women surveyed over the course of six months. When used inconsistently, the female condom was shown to have a failure rate of 21% in the same study. One benefit of the female condom is that it may be inserted immediately before sexual intercourse or up to eight hours prior, so that sexual activity does not need to be interrupted for its insertion. One study performed by a manufacturer of
A condom is most effective when it is placed on the penis correctly without trapping air between the penis and the condom.
A condom is most effective when it is placed on the penis correctly without trapping air between the penis and the condom.
(Illustration by Argosy, Inc.)
the female condom indicated that 50-75% of couples in numerous countries found the barrier acceptable for use.

Key terms

Ejaculate — To expel semen.
Semen — The thick whitish liquid released from the penis during sexual intercourse. It contains sperm and other secretions.
Sperm or spermatozoa — The part of the semen that is generative—can cause fertilization of the female ovum.
Spermicide — An agent that is destructive to sperm.
Vagina — The genital canal in the female, leading from the vulva to the uterus.
Condoms provide better protection against STDs than any other contraceptive method. One study conducted in the 1990s indicated that out of 123 couples with one HIV-positive partner, not one healthy individual contracted the disease when condoms were used with every instance of sexual intercourse. A similar 1993 study showed that out of 171 couples with one HIV-positive partner, all but two individuals were protected against HIV transmission with condom use. In addition to HIV, condoms provide effective transmission against gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, chancroid, and trichomoniasis. A measure of protection is also provided against hepatitis B virus (HBV), human papillomavirus (HPV), and herpes simplex virus (HSV).
Before purchasing a condom, check the expiration date. Prior to use, examine the condom for holes. If a lubricant is going to be used, it should be water soluble because petroleum jellies, such as Vaseline, and other oil based lubricants can weaken latex. It is also important to note that condoms made from animal tissue or plastic are not recommended as a protection against STDs.



"The Condom." Sexual Health InfoCenter. 〈〉.
"Condoms." Planned Parenthood Page. 〈〉.
"The Female Condom." Fronske Health Center. 2001. 〈∼fronske/fcondom.html〉.
"Spermicides, Condoms and Other Barrier Methods." Epigee Birth Control Guide. 〈〉.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a sheath or cover worn over the penis during sexual intercourse for contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.
female condom a long polyurethane sheath that is inserted into the vagina as a contraceptive; it has a flexible ring that fits over the cervix like a diaphragm and another ring that extends outside the vagina. See also contraception.
 Female condom. When correctly in place, the female condom covers the cervix and lines the vaginal canal with the open end outside the vagina. From Nichols and Zwelling, 1997.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


Sheath or cover for the penis or vagina for use in the prevention of conception or infection during coitus.
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


1. A flexible sheath, usually made of latex or polyurethane, designed to cover the penis during sexual intercourse for contraceptive purposes or as a means of preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
2. A similar device, consisting of a loose-fitting polyurethane or synthetic rubber sheath closed at one end, that is inserted into the vagina before sexual intercourse. Also called female condom.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


Reproduction medicine A diaphanous sleeve, often produced from latex, which fits snugly over the penis and is used to prevent pregnancy and STDs. See Contraception, Natural family planning, Pearl index. Cf Female condom.
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


Sheath or cover for the penis or vagina, for use in the prevention of conception or infection during coitus.
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


(kon'dom) [origin uncertain]
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A thin, flexible penile sheath made of synthetic or natural materials. Condom typically refers to a male condom. Condoms are used commonly during sexual intercourse to prevent conception by capturing ejaculated semen. Latex condoms also shield against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Their effectiveness is affected by careful handling (to avoid punctures, tears, or slippage), usage before sexual contact (to prevent inadvertent transmission of sperm or germs), and allowing sufficient space for ejaculation (to prevent condom rupture). To avoid damage to condoms, only water-soluble lubricants should be used to facilitate vaginal entry. Condoms should not be reused. See: contraception; female condom; sexually transmitted disease; illustration


Only a water-based lubricant such as K-Y Jelly should be used with a condom. Oil-based products begin to deteriorate latex in less than 1 min.
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female condom

An intravaginal device, similar to the male condom, designed to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STDs. It consists of a soft loose-fitting polyurethane sheath closed at one end. A flexible polyurethane ring is inside the closed end, and another sheath is at the open end. The inner ring is used for insertion, covering the cervix as a contraceptive diaphragm does and also for anchoring and positioning the condom well inside the vagina. During use the external ring remains outside the vagina and covers the area around the vaginal opening. This prevents contact between the labia and the base of the penis. The female condom is prelubricated; additional lubrication is provided in the package. It is designed for one-time use. As a contraceptive, it is as effective as other barrier methods.
See: illustration

lambskin condom

Natural membrane condom.

membrane condom

Natural membrane condom.

natural membrane condom

A penile condom made from lamb cecum.


Unlike condoms made from latex or polyurethane, natural membrane condoms may be porous to HIV and hepatitis B virus (HBV).
Synonym: lambskin condom; membrane condom
Medical Dictionary, © 2009 Farlex and Partners


A barrier contraceptive of thin rubber worn on the erect penis. The condom also offers significant protection, in either direction, against sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. Research has shown that condom failure is on the increase. The female condom was an excellent idea that, for inscrutable reasons, seems never to have caught on. See also CONTRACEPTION.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005

Patient discussion about condom

Q. What are the chances of pregnancy even when a man uses a condom? i'm not sexually active, just sexually curious if you will. is there a statistic any where? what are the chances of pregnancy even if a man uses a condom, and what factors affect those chances? thanks.

A. condoms/pills are the best way to go now that i no of;the bigger question is are you ready for baby if these methods do not work--preg is a life changing dicision/your life will change/you will have to worry about baby 24/7 MAKE SURE YOU ARE READY FOR MOTHERHOOD BEFORE YOU HAVE SEX.

Q. How bad can a infection get in your body? Like if you react to something like condoms and dont get it treated. I had a reaction a year ago to 3 condoms that were used and I didnt get it treated,not everything is weird in my area. Like, im all papery down there and stuff like that. And please dont say go to the doctor because that doesnt help me at the moment, because right now, thats impossible to do and please dont ask why. Thank you.

A. what you describes sounds like you had an allergic reaction to latex. an infection might be caused afterwards- if the skin ruptured. because i can't look (and please refrain adding or sending a picture- my wife can understand it the wrong way :) ) i can't really tell you if it looked you see puss? in not- get a moisturizer and use frequently. if there is an infection- there are antibiotic creams but they need a Dr. prescription if i'm not mistaken.

Q. Is it safe to have sex with a woman with cancer of the uterus? My 45-years old wife was told she have cancer in the uterus, and will have an operation soon. Meanwhile, should we use a condom during sex? Can the tumor pass from her to me (like AIDS or HPV)?

A. unless the cancer has lots of bleeding, you don't need to use condoms.
but if your wife would undergo an operation, maybe you need to be off-of-that-sex 1-2 days prior to operation day, just to make sure there's no super infection that will bother the operation plan.

More discussions about condom
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