For many growing up, our understanding of sex came from a mixture of what we saw on TV and in the movies, what we heard from friends and a few awkward conversations with our parents. During this time, you probably heard a lot of myths, especially myths about contraception like IUDs and condoms.
When you become sexually active, whether it’s the first time or the first time with a new partner, it’s important to have the contraception talk. After the birth control pill, male condoms are one of the most commonly used contraceptive methods. Not only can you find them at virtually any corner pharmacy, you can also pick up condoms for free at family planning and other medical clinics and at LGBTQ-friendly bars. Yet, many people hesitate to use them.
The truth is condoms, when used correctly, are a great choice if you want to prevent pregnancy, avoid STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and take control of your sexual and reproductive health.
Randy S. Gelow, MD, a family medicine physician at Banner Health Center in Phoenix, AZ, is here to debunk some of the common myths that circulate about condoms, so you can make an informed decision.
Myth #1: Sex isn’t as good with a condom.
Fact: When both partners are on board regarding contraception, sex is actually better! You can focus on this shared pleasurable experience rather than worrying about things like STIs or an unintended pregnancy. If you or your partner feel any discomfort, it’s likely due to an issue with the size or type of condom, wearing it incorrectly or lack of lubrication—something we’ll touch on in a minute.
Myth #2: Condoms are one-size-fits-all.
Fact: No condom is one-size-fits-all, but they do come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and textures. And, before you say you’re “too big” to use them, note that standard-sized condoms can stretch to quite surprising sizes.
“However, you must properly size a condom,” Dr. Gelow said. “Too small, and you risk breakage and uncomfortable experience. Too large, and you risk slippage and lack of protection as well as the potential for breakage.”
When it comes to condom shopping, research which size and brand will work best for you. Worst case, get a variety pack, so you can test out various sizes to find a good fit.
Myth #3: Two condoms are better than one.
Fact: No, nope, nada. Two heads may be better than one when making decisions, but this is not true when it comes to condoms. “Using one condom correctly is the best way to reduce your risk of STIs and pregnancy,” Dr. Gelow said. “Using two can increase the risk of breakage due to increased rubbing and improper fit.”
Myth #4: Condoms don’t protect against STIs.
Fact: When condoms are used correctly, which includes properly opening and placing the condom and having appropriate lubrication, they can effectively prevent and reduce the risk for STIs, HPV and pregnancy 98% of the time. Using a condom is an easy way to protect your health.
“Condoms act as a barrier which doesn’t allow mixing of bodily fluids and decreases exposure of one partner’s fluids from another,” Dr. Gelow said. To be most effective, condoms should be worn during the entire penetrative act (sex), not only during climax, as there are times that you can still share fluid prior climax.
“Condoms are the most effective way to prevent STIs, which have been increasing every single year since 2012,” Dr. Gelow said. “Remember, between 50% to 80% of STIs have ZERO symptoms, so, even if partner states they have no symptoms or don’t show any symptoms, this doesn’t mean that they don’t have an STI.”
Myth #5: I’m allergic to latex, so I can’t use condoms.
Fact: Latex allergy? No problem! You can still have an amazing (and safe!) sex life with a latex allergy by using latex-free condoms.
“There are many condoms that are made from polyurethane or polyisoprene (SKYN brand) that offer the same pregnancy and STI prevention efficacy as latex,” Dr. Gelow said. “These condoms are often thinner and looser and offer a more comfortable experience for those who feel a condom.”
But be aware of some natural condoms, like lambskin condoms. These types of natural condoms should be avoided as they don’t offer STI and HIV prevention. Stick with other options, like polyurethane or polyisoprene.
[Read “I Have a Sexually Transmitted Infection, Now What?”]
Myth #6: Condoms are only for PIV (penis in vagina) sex.
Fact: People of all genders and sexual orientation can use condoms for vaginal, oral and anal sex. In addition to external condoms that are placed on a penis, there are internal condoms, commonly called female condoms, which can be inserted in the vagina or rectum. According to the National Health Service, if used correctly, female condoms are 95% effective.
Myth #7: If you need extra lube, Vaseline is good.
Fact: No, it’s not. “It’s true lubricated condoms are more effective than unlubricated condoms, as these can cause breakage, but make sure the lubricant is condom safe,” Dr. Gelow said. “Petroleum-based products, like Vaseline, cause condoms to break.”
Never use lubricants that contain oils, fats or grease, which includes hand lotions, baby oil and cooking oil. Instead use a water-based or silicone-based lubricant.
Myth #8: Condoms are the only form of contraception I need.
Fact: Using condoms plus another form of birth control, such as the pill, IUD or shot, is a great way to best protect against pregnancy and STIs. And remember, if you’re on birth control, this only protects against pregnancy, not STIs. It’s safe and smart to use condoms every time you have sex.
[Explore your birth control options here.]
Wrap it up
Despite misunderstanding about condoms, they are safe, effective, readily available and give you options regarding your sexual and reproductive health. They don’t require a prescription and are the only way sexually active people can prevent STIs like HIV, gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia.
If you have questions, don’t hesitate to talk to your health care provider during your next well check – which should be scheduled once a year.