Condoms: personal protection for sexual health

By BethAnn Cameron, Health Educator, U.S. Army Public Health CommandFebruary 1, 2013

"No glove, no love."

"Respect yourself, protect yourself."

These common slogans are used when referring to condom use. Condoms are commonly used to prevent pregnancy. However, proper use of condoms can protect against human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, and sexually transmitted infections, or STIs.

According to the August 2010 issue of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center's Medical Surveillance Monthly Report, STI's continue to occur at relatively high rates in U.S. military populations. STI rates among military members often increase during times of frequent deployments and high operational stresses.

Because many STIs do not have signs or symptoms, people unknowingly pass them to their partners. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 19 million new STIs occur each year in the United States--emphasizing the importance of preventing STIs. One in four Americans will get an STI in their lifetime.

February 14 is National Condom Awareness Day and marks the start of National Condom Week. The goal is to raise awareness and encourage the use of condoms for personal protection. Condoms are an important personal protective measure for Soldiers. Having an STI or an unintended pregnancy can affect readiness and jeopardize a unit's mission. Mental stress can also make it difficult for a Soldier to concentrate on the mission.

Condoms are effective when people use them correctly and consistently. A new condom should be used with each act of vaginal, oral or anal sex. In addition, use water-based lubricants only and apply to the outside of the condom. Oil-based products (such as baby oil, petroleum jelly, hand lotion, mineral oil, margarine or whipped cream) are not ideal lubricants as they weaken condoms causing them to break easily. Use fresh condoms as they are the most effective--check the expiration date on the outside of the wrapper and store them in a cool, dry place. Like oil-based lubricants, out-of-date (old) condoms and heat weaken condoms causing them to break easily.

Condoms are available at grocery markets, convenience stores, military exchanges and some military treatment facilities. They come in a variety of brands, colors, sizes and textures, with or without lubrication. In addition, you can find condoms specially made for either males or females. For the military, condoms can be ordered through your supply chain. Order a box and leave them for your battle buddies by the Staff Duty Officer.

Male condoms are made of natural skin, latex or polyurethane (plastic). Natural-skin condoms made from lambskin do not protect against disease because they contain small pores (holes) that may allow viruses like HIV to pass through. If you or your partner is allergic to latex, use condoms made from polyurethane. When wearing a condom, leave a little space at the tip to catch the sperm.

A female condom is a polyurethane (plastic) pouch with two soft rings on each end and is designed to cover the entire vaginal area and block the cervix. The smaller ring fits on the inside of the vagina to hold the condom in place while the larger ring remains on the outside. Use a water-based lubricant with it. A female condom can be inserted several hours before having intercourse and should be removed right afterwards.

Be responsible. Be in charge and stay in charge of your sexual health. Although it may be uncomfortable, you need to talk with your sexual partner about condoms. They benefit both of you. Protect yourself from STIs and prevent pregnancy by using condoms all the time, every time.

Related Links:

American Sexual Health Association

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Planned Parenthood Federation of America