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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 the female condom indicated that 50-75% of couples in numerous countries found the barrier acceptable for use.

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.

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