Condoms are the surest method of STD prevention available to you (other than not engaging in sexual contact at all). It may seem unfair that with all the different types of contraception out there (the pill, the IUD, the diaphragm, to name but a few) there is still only one way to protect your sexual health AND prevent pregnancy - but that's the way it is. Only condoms can stop you getting pregnant AND protect you against sexually transmitted viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis B, and other STDs.

Condoms are widely available these days and very easy to carry and conceal in pockets or wallets or handbags, which makes them ideal for anyone having unplanned sex with a new partner, or for anyone in any relationship. In any new relationship, you should use condoms carefully and correctly every single time you have sex, until both you and your partner have gone for STD testing and have been given the all clear. It goes without saying that if your relationship is not monogamous, you should not stop using condoms.

Condom Types

Latex - sometimes referred to as "natural latex" condoms, these are the conventional form of protection against STDs. Tests have proved that latex condoms can be stretched 800% without breaking. Different types of latex condoms are available. (Don't forget that sexually transmitted infections can be spread through anal and oral sex too.) Only water-based lubricants should be used with latex condoms, as oil-based lubricants can damage the material and cause the condom to break. Some people are allergic to latex - they might want to try polyurethane condoms (see below).

Polyurethane - sometimes referred to as "plastic" condoms, polyurethane condoms are a safe alternative to latex. In the United States, polyurethane condoms have been approved by the FDA as form of contraception and protection against HIV. Some users find that polyurethane transmits body heat better than latex and that polyurethane condoms help create a more "natural" sexual experience. Polyurethane condoms are usually of the same thickness and width as latex condoms, but unlike latex condoms, they are safe to use with oil-based lubricants. (Always check type of condom material on the condom packet before using an oil-based lubricant). Some users find that polyurethane condoms have a more neutral odor than latex condoms.

Lambskin - lambskin condoms protect only against pregnancy and not at all against STDs. In contrast to latex and polyurethane condoms (described above), lambskin condoms are recommended only for couples (who have already passed an STD test) in monogamous relationships. These condoms are made from one of the oldest condom materials - lamb intestines. The material is porous enough to let infections through, but solid enough to block sperm.

Female condom - the female condom is made of either latex or polyurethane and it fits securely into the vagina. It is larger and wider than the male condom but usually has the same length.

Correct Use

Whichever type of condom you go for, correct and consistent usage is essential. All condom packets come with instructions inside for putting on and removing the condom. Buy one or two packets and practice if the condom doesn't go on easily! Many sex therapists recommend incorporating the act of putting on the condom into foreplay. Remember that a condom must never be used more than once and it should be removed and disposed of as soon as possible after the man ejaculates.

Lastly, be aware that not even condoms can give you 100% protection if you have sex with someone who's experiencing an outbreak of herpes or HPV-related warts. In this case, just say no.

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