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Beyond Condoms Part 4: Actually, We’re Back to Male Condoms

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When I introduced the "Beyond Condoms" series, it was with the notion that "everyone already knows about male condoms." They're passed out in universities, in vending machines, in bars, they fill bowls at all sorts of tabling events, people put them on bananas, stuff them inside of adult themed piñatas, etc. And so I thought it would be a service to provide some airplay for other forms of safer sex methods. However, just because male condoms are at the forefront of our consciousnesses when it comes to barrier method contraceptives, this does not mean that we all know all the important things there are to know about them.

Most condom effectiveness studies are based on observational data rather than controlled clinical trials because it's not exactly ethical to tell a group of people to have unprotected sex for research purposes. Additionally, "condom effectiveness" may refer to any number of things including, but not limited to, pregnancy, HIV, gonorrhea, syphilis, Herpes, and HPV rates. Nevertheless, combining lab studies of the permeability of materials and actual facts on the ground have shown that natural latex and various synthetic condoms are overwhelmingly effective safer sex barriers. According to the National Institute of Health's condom effectiveness report, it's estimated that condom breakage and slippage occurs only 1.6 to 3.6 percent of penetrative sexual intercourse, and this is usually due to user error. Many "condom effectiveness" statistics actually count the decision to not use a condom as a condom "failure." That is, if you don't use a condom, it won't work the way it's supposed to. Can you believe it? But condoms might not protect one from skin to skin transmission of active skin infections that manifest on an area that is not covered by the condom.

Here are some tips to lower the risk of condom slippage and breakage:

• If the condom wearer is producing a large amount of pre-cum, wipe down the penis and put on a new condom more frequently.

•Don't lubricate the penis before applying the condom.

•Don't continue penetration after ejaculation.

•When pulling out, hold the base of the condom so that it doesn't remain inside your partner.

•Make sure the condom is not loose. This includes any slack that is created with any erection fluctuations.

•Do not use any oil-based products with latex or polyisoprene condoms. This includes hand lotion, massage oil, butter, etc.

The most popular material is natural rubber latex due to it's effectiveness, softness, ubiquitousness, and stretchiness. It can be stretched 800 percent before breaking. So technically, there is no dick too big for any size latex condom. The downsides? It is incompatible with any oil-based products. It WILL cause it to break. Also, many folks have latex allergies. This is usually an acquired allergy as a result of regular exposure to latex. If that is the case, using latex condoms can cause irritation, pain, and if the allergy is of a very severe (but much rarer) type, perhaps even death. But don't fret. There are synthetic alternatives!

Polyurethane and polyisoprene are both popular latex-free alternatives. The advantage of polyurethane is that it is compatible with oil based products, not as easily comprised by heat and UV light so that it has a longer shelf life and can be left in your car, and conducts temperature better than latex. The downsides? Lower elasticity and therefore not as comfortable as latex with a slighter increased risk of breakage. Polyisoprene, however, has all the advantages of latex (softness and elasticity) without the allergenic proteins. Not too much downside other than the incompatibility with oil-based products. However, there are many reasons not to use oil-based lubes in addition to condom incompatibility.

Lambskin condoms are usually not recommended as a general use condom because while it effectively prevents pregnancies, there is highly inconclusive data to show that it can serve as a barrier to anything else. In fact, it is presumed that viruses can sneak through because it is made of sheep intestine—technically a permeable material. Upsides? It feels really nice and may be a good option for fluid-bonded partners who don't want to get pregnant. Other downsides? It's much more expensive that other male condoms, and it's made out of a dead animal. A quick note regarding spermicide: don't use it!

Nonoxynal-9 is a chemical that kills sperm. However, various studies have shown that they don't actually provide additional protection against pregnancy compared to other non-spermicidal male condoms. Also, they have a shorter shelf life, can cause UTI's and other infections in women, and actually increase the risk of contracting HIV with frequent use because the harsh chemicals can irritate sensitive skin that can lead to micro tearing which increases susceptibility to infections. If there is a good case to use spermicidal condoms, I have yet to hear it.

Ally Booker is a pleasure activist. You can often find her at her Tucson shop, Jellywink Boutique, 418 E. 7th St. You can reach her at 777-9434 or AllyBooker@Jellywink.com.

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