It’s sometimes referred to as the ‘one-finger glove’ because it’s made of rubber, just like the rubber gloves used in surgery or cleaning. Mention of the condom almost always triggers sniggers, giggles or uncomfortable squirming.
The reluctance to discuss the use (and usefulness!) of the condom has been the main reason for many unplanned pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases (STIs). Urban Health gets an insight into condoms with Dr Koh Kar Chai, Chairman of AIDS Committee, Malaysian Medical Council:
1) Is it true that in the past people used sheepskin as condoms? What were the problems with traditional/ancient forms of condoms?
Dr Koh: Yes, it has been documented that sheepskin was used as condoms in the past. However, it was more common for animal intestine to be used. The problem was that it decreased the pleasure during sexual intercourse and it was not very effective in the prevention of STIs. Also, as they tend to be reused, hygiene is a big question mark.
You will be surprised to know that condoms made of sheepskin are still available today. However, they are only indicated for the prevention of pregnancy and not for the prevention of STIs.
2) What are the awareness levels of condom usage in Malaysia?
Dr Koh: Awareness of condom usage is present in Malaysia, but it is not enough. Condoms should not only be associated with the prevention of pregnancy, but also as a very effective means of preventing STIs.
3) What are the advantages of using a condom compared to other forms of contraception?
Dr Kor: The main advantage of using a condom is that this humble piece of equipment is able to prevent STIs which the other methods are unable to do, ie. with the exception of the female condom.
4) What are the disadvantages of using condoms?
Dr Kor: The disadvantage is that it reduces the spontaneity of sexual intercourse, meaning that there is interruption while the condom is being put on. Also, there is the need to have the condom available when the occasion arises. There are also people who are allergic to latex, though they may then resort to condoms made of other materials. Condoms need to be used correctly, otherwise it will not work.
5) What is the right way to choose a condom, instead of going by flavour, colour, etc?
Dr Kor: Indeed, there are varieties of condoms being sold. Basically, there are three types of penetrative sex and a person may choose the condoms accordingly. For example, the flavoured condoms are used for oral sex, the regular condoms for vaginal sex, and the thicker condoms with extra lubrication for anal sex.
Apart from this, it is up to the individual to choose whatever variety suits his or her fancy. Condoms are also used as a pleasure device to enhance the sexual experience, hence there are a variety of condoms available.
A note of caution here: Choose condoms that are certified to prevent pregnancy and STIs and not go for the fancy ones which are labelled for sexual play only. There are also various sizes of condoms available, though in Malaysia, we tend to see a single standard size with most condoms brands.
6) Many pregnancies and STIs happen due to wrong usage of condoms. What are most common forms of wrong usage and what is the right way?
Dr Kor: Yes, pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections still do happen despite the best of intentions. Here are some tips:
1) The condom needs to be put on the right way. All condoms come with package inserts detailing the proper way to put on a condom. Failure to do so will result in condom breakage during the sexual act. A common occurrence is the trapping of air in the teat at the top of the condom which can result in the bursting of the condom.
2) There are some who put on the condom for their sexual partner with the use of their mouth. Care should be taken not to damage the condom with their teeth.
3) Lubrication of the condom is a must. Most condoms come lubricated, but there are still unlubricated condoms available. For prolonged sexual act, reapplication of a water-based lubricant is advisable. Alternative would be to change to a fresh condom.
4) During sexual foreplay, there is always the possibility of a precum, ie the clear liquid discharged from the male urethra. It may contain enough of spermatozoa to cause pregnancy, and it may also contain bacteria or viruses to cause infection. Therefore, a condom needs to be used BEFORE penetration occurs. There are people who will use the condom only when they feel that ejaculation is coming and not use it during initial penetration.
5) Change to a new condom after every ejaculation. Having the ejaculate in the condom may cause the condom to break or to slip off during the sexual act. When changing to a new condom after ejaculation, do ensure that the ejaculate is not transferred to the outer surface of the new condom.
6) A condom can only be used if it is available at the time of sex. This may make it necessary for the condoms to be carried around. Condoms made of latex are heat sensitive. Never leave them in the car. Before using, care should be taken to see that the package has not been damaged by objects like keys, coins etc.
Did you know:
- An estimated 15 billion pieces of condoms are produced worldwide annually
- Malaysia is the fifth largest producer of condoms in the world
- Production of condoms are more complicated than gloves because of stringent testing (for leakage or breakage), careful packaging and handling
- There are also non-latex condoms made of Polyurethane for people who are allergic to latex