HIV/AIDS

30 April 2003

Safer sex - the male condom

The consistent and correct use of latex condoms is one of the most effective ways for combating the spread of HIV. Laboratory tests have shown that the virus cannot pass through latex condoms (the holes or pores in the latex condom is smaller than the virus!). This means that the virus stays inside the condom after ejaculation and cannot enter the partner's body.

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The consistent and correct use of latex condoms is one of the most effective ways for combating the spread of HIV. Laboratory tests have shown that the virus cannot pass through latex condoms (the holes or pores in the latex condom is smaller than the virus!). This means that the virus stays inside the condom after ejaculation and cannot enter the partner's body.

Various researchers have reported a significantly lower incidence of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases among people who insist on using a condom. Note, however, that condoms are never 100% safe because they can leak or tear. Condoms tear easily if they are used incorrectly.

Are condoms really safe and effective?
Yes. Scientific evidence shows that latex condoms are highly effective in preventing the transmission of HIV and other STDs when they are used consistently and correctly. All high-quality condoms are tested by the manufacturers (and by the SABS) and condoms are 98% defect-free (or safe). The latex condoms issued by the SA government are also tested and proved to be safe!

Research: The effectiveness of condoms was tested in a two-year study of “discordant couples” (couples where one partner is infected and the other is not) in Europe. It was found that, among the 124 couples who reported consistent use of latex condoms, none of the uninfected partners became infected. However, among the 121 couples who used condoms inconsistently, 10% of the uninfected partners became infected.

In those cases where condoms break or slip off, this is almost always caused by user errors such as using a petroleum-based lubricant, the use of deteriorated or out-of-date condoms, or storing condoms at a high temperature over a long period of time in places such as a car glove compartment or a wallet.

Only tested, high-quality condoms should ever be used. As people’s knowledge about using condoms increases, breakage and slippage decreases.

It should be noted that some people are allergic to latex and cannot therefore use latex condoms. Male condoms made of polyurethane (a type of plastic also used to make female condoms) are available for people who are allergic to latex. Unfortunately, however, these are not readily available. Some men who are allergic to latex, use the femidome (or female condom)

Condoms made of other substances such as natural membranes (e.g. lambskin) should not be used. While lambskin condoms prevent pregnancy because they do not allow sperm to pass through, HIV and other viruses are so small that they can easily pass through the pores of natural-skin condoms.

Note: If the female condom (femidome) is used for anal sex, please note that the inside ring should be removed!!)

How to use a male condom
Note: It is important to note that pre-ejaculate (or “pre-cum”) also contains the virus. The condom should be put on before entry into the vagina/anus, and should be removed before the penis loses its erection afterwards.

  • Use a new, unused condom every time you have sexual intercourse.
  • Always use a condom from start to finish during any type of sex (vaginal, anal and oral).
  • Always put the condom on the penis before intercourse begins.
  • Put the condom on only after the penis is erect.
  • Make sure the condom is the right way around. First unroll it a little bit to ascertain the direction in which it unrolls. It should roll down easily when you got it right.
  • If the male is not circumcised, pull the foreskin of the penis back (gently) before putting on the condom.
  • In putting on the condom, squeeze the nipple or empty space at the end of the condom to remove the air. Do not put the condom tightly against the tip of the penis; leave the small empty space at the end of the condom to hold the semen (if this isn't done correctly, the condom might break).
  • Unroll the condom all the way to the base of the penis, to a point as close as possible to the testicles.
  • If the condom tears during sex, withdraw the penis immediately and put on a new condom.
  • After ejaculation, withdraw the penis while it is still erect. Hold the rim of the condom as you withdraw so that the condom does not slip off and spill seminal fluid on your partner.
  • Remove the condom carefully before the penis loses its erection so that seminal fluid does not spill out.
  • Knot the used condom and wrap it in paper (such as tissue, toilet paper or newspaper) until you can dispose of it in a safe place such as a toilet, pit latrine, a closed garbage bag, or until you can bury or burn it.

Tips to prevent condoms from breaking or leaking
The following tips are helpful for preventing condoms from breaking or leaking:

  • Choose pre-lubricated condoms that are specially packed in wrappers that keep light out.
  • Use a brand of condom which shows it has been tested for reliability. Always check the information on the packet before buying condoms.
  • Store condoms away from excessive heat, light, and moisture, as these cause them to deteriorate and perhaps break. Store condoms in a cool, dark, dry place if possible. Don’t store condoms in the glove department of a car where they will be damaged by excessive heat. Condoms can also easily become damaged in a wallet.
  • Check the expiry date on the condom wrapper. Don’t use condoms after the expiry date or more than five years after the manufacturing date because they may break.
  • Do not use condoms that are sticky, brittle, discoloured or otherwise damaged. Open the wrapper carefully so that the condom does not tear. Be careful not to tear condoms with long nails, teeth, other sharp objects or jewellery.
  • Make sure that the type of condom you use is strong enough for the type of sexual practice you engage in. Use extra strong condoms (e.g. Durex Extra Strong) for anal penetration. Ordinary condoms are generally made for vaginal intercourse, and these may break because of the increased friction and strain placed on the latex by the narrow, less flexible anus.
  • Don’t ever use two condoms (i.e. one pulled over the other) as the friction will tear the condoms.

Lubrication
Ensure adequate lubrication during intercourse to avoid discomfort and friction. If extra lubrication is needed with latex condoms, use only lubricants with a water-base such as KY Jelly, glycerine or lubricants specially made for use with condoms.

Lubricants with an oil base should never be used, because they weaken, dissolve and break latex condoms. Never use Vaseline or petroleum jelly, baby oil, massage oil, body lotions with an oil base, cooking or vegetable oil, butter or fats as lubricants with latex condoms. Saliva should also not be used because it is not very effective as lubricant. KY Jelly or other water-based lubricants can be bought at any pharmacy or at some supermarkets.

Women: Are your hands clean before helping your man to put on his condom? Or is it still full of Vaseline after bathing and rubbing-in the baby?

Note: Vaseline and condom breakage due to the use of Vaseline is one of the major reasons why people believe that condoms are not safe!

Activity
Do the following for fun: Inflate two condoms (like balloons) and tie with a knot. Apply a lubricant with a water base to one condom (eg KY Gel), and a lubricant with an oil base to the other condom (e.g. Vaseline, or cooking oil, or baby oil). What happens? (Condom with Vaseline or other oil-based basis burst or break after seconds.)

 

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HIV/Aids expert

Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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