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Protection 101 – Types of barriers

Condoms. They are made of many different materials. They come in many colors and textures. They are meant to protect you against pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s). But how effective are they and what kinds give you the best protection?

Condoms are a contraception method, or barrier, that can prevent pregnancy and the exchange of bodily fluids like blood, semen, and body fluids, only when used properly. This is important to consider since the primary routes to STD transmission and pregnancy is the passage and exchange of these bodily fluids. While non-adequate research and misinformation in health classes and education programs has caused debate about the effectiveness of condoms, research continues to show that condoms are effective and one of the best methods available in helping the prevention of pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.

There are many different types of condoms available from male and female to latex and polyurethane. Their uses and effectiveness depend on how they are used, handled, and their material.

The standard “male” condom is a barrier that is placed over the glans and shaft (length) of the phallus. These condoms are available in latex, lambskin, and polyurethane and come in many different textures, colors, flavors, and sizes. Condoms made from latex are the most popular and the most readily available version. Studies conducted on the ability of condoms to prevent the transmission of STDs and HIV, in addition to pregnancy prevention, usually involves latex condoms. Condoms manufactured from lambskin, also known as "natural skin," or "natural membrane," are made from the intestinal lining of lambs. While these condoms can prevent pregnancy, they contain small pores that may permit passage of some STDs, including HIV, the hepatitis B virus, and the herpes simplex virus. Condoms manufactured from polyurethane are thinner and stronger than latex condoms, can provide a less constricting fit, are more resistant to deterioration, and may enhance “sensitivity”. These condoms are recommended for those people who have a latex allergy, no matter which partner is the sensitive person. These condoms are the only condom compatible with oil-based lubricants, whereas the others should be used with water-based lubricants.

The newer type of condom is the “female” condom. Available under the brand name Reality®, the female condom is made of polyurethane and provides protection against pregnancy and STDs, including HIV. It consists of a tube-like sheath with one flexible polyurethane ring at each end. One ring is placed inside the female canal and is closed off by polyurethane, collecting the ejaculate. The other ring remains outside the reproductive organ and the phallus enters the female reproductive organ through this ring. The female condom is coated with a silicone-based lubricant. Additional lubricant can be added as necessary. The female and male condom should not be used together as they can adhere to each other, causing slippage or displacement.

Here you have been presented with the types of condoms. There is much more to learn about condoms, such as proper use, proper handling, effectiveness of condoms, and alternatives to use in a pinch, and we shall look at them more in the future.

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