What can latex do for you? For most college students, the answer to that question is probably, “A lot.” Whether we wear gloves in chemistry lab, use glue to create artistic masterpieces or have a penchant for kinky boots, various forms of latex are found in a number of common products we use in our everyday lives.
For many college students, one particularly useful manifestation of latex can be the insertive latex condom, available free of charge at several campus locations, including University Health Services, the Campus Women’s Center, the LGBT Campus Center and the Sex Out Loud office in Memorial Union. The insertive latex condom (and the receptive condom, which is made of polyurethane) can greatly reduce our risks of contracting various infections during sexual activity, as well as prevent unwanted pregnancy. When used correctly, latex and polyurethane condoms can provide 95- to 99-percent effective protection against fluid-borne sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea or HIV, and 60- to 70-percent effective protection against infections transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, like human papillomavirus or herpes.
Despite this extremely effective protection, myths and misinformation about condoms abound. Here are a few things to remember when choosing and using condoms.
Latex condoms provide great protection from STIs and unwanted pregnancy only when used consistently and correctly.
“Consistently” means 100 percent of the time, during every sex act. “Correctly” means remembering to examine the condom package for any damage and checking the expiration date before use. Remember that oils degrade latex. Oil-based lubricants and even the oils from our hands can break down condoms; wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before putting it on. When you put the condom on, remember to pinch the tip while rolling it on, and roll it all the way down to the base of the toy or the penis. Finally, after intercourse, pull out right away and take the condom off.
Latex does not have holes large enough for viruses like HIV to pass through.
The idea that HIV can get through tiny pores in condoms is a big, fat myth. While it is true that natural fiber condoms like lambskin do not provide effective protection against HIV, latex condoms sold in the U.S. must meet strict quality standards. One way in which condoms are tested prior to sale uses an underwater metal rod which passes electric current through a condom fitted over it. If any current passes through the condom, the entire lot from which it came is discarded — and if anyone tries to persuade us that HIV is smaller than an electron, he or she is grossly misinformed. Further, one medical study after another has shown that correct use of latex condoms drastically reduces the risk of contracting HIV. Condom failure is almost exclusively due to user error, and by following the steps described above, we can greatly minimize this error.
No one is “too big” for a condom.
Condoms can hold a gallon of water. They can fit over a basketball, an elephant’s penis and a human head (check YouTube if you don’t believe me on this one). While some men may find extra-large condoms (which are longer and have a greater circumference) more comfortable, anyone who tries to convince us that condoms just don’t fit is having some serious delusions of grandeur.
There is little difference between various brands of condoms.
Many of us believe that some brands of condoms are better than others, but the fact is that all condoms sold in the U.S. are required to meet the same quality standards. If we find that we’re having issues with condom breakage, we need to look at ourselves first — are we using oil-based lubes? Have we been carrying that condom around in our pocket for six months? Did we buy that box of condoms back in high school? — before looking at the brand. While some people find different styles of condoms more pleasurable, there is little difference in quality between condoms.
While this article has been almost exclusively devoted to insertive latex condoms, there are a number of other barrier methods we can use to protect ourselves, including sex dams, receptive condoms and latex gloves. For more information on latex condoms or any other barrier methods, visit the Sex Out Loud office in Memorial Union, or check out our website at sexoutloud.com.
Erica Andrist (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Sex Out Loud Facilitator and a senior majoring in biology and Spanish.
*An error that appeared in the printed copy of this article was corrected. The second section heading should read, “Latex does not have holes large enough,” not “small enough.”