As an OBGYN, I discuss birth control and STD prevention on a regular basis, sometimes multiple times a day, and sometimes even multiple times with a single patient. With all the different types of birth control out there we often forget about condoms as an option. While it is true that condoms are not as effective at preventing pregnancy as other birth control methods like IUDs, implants, pills, patches, and injections, there are still benefits to using condoms including their practicality and effectiveness in protecting against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Condoms are the oldest form of protection whose origin dates back many centuries. In ancient Egypt and Rome, people would actually use linen sheaths to protect themselves from venereal diseases. Nowadays with advances in manufacturing and mass production, condom production has evolved greatly and continues to this day. Condom use and demand has also been a result of the changing times with several major world events including World War I and the free spirit of the 1960s and 70s and with the social awareness of new diseases like HIV in the 1980s and human papillomavirus (HPV) more recently. Condom companies have made millions of dollars producing and selling condoms. For example, Trojan, who makes over 70% of all U.S. condoms, brings in revenues of approximately $270 million annually.
Condoms are a type of barrier contraception that physically blocks sperm, semen, and other genital lesions from making contact with one’s partner. Condoms serve two main purposes. They can prevent pregnancy, although not as reliably as other birth control options (condoms are 85% effective with typical use as compared with >95% with other forms), and more importantly, protect against STDs including HIV, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Trichomonas, Syphilis, Hepatitis B, and even HPV. In fact, the U.S. has the highest rate of STDs of any nation in the industrialized world with our youngest adults (ages 15-24) being hit the hardest. These teens and young adults account for only 25% of the sexually active individuals in our country but amount to just under 50% of all STD cases in the U.S.! Condoms are made of various materials including latex, polyurethane, and natural animal skin with latex being the most effective against STDs and therefore the most commonly used condom (over 80%).
Here are some benefits unique to condoms.
- Condoms prevent STDs. I can’t say this enough times as this is their greatest utility. There is overwhelming evidence that condoms drastically decrease the transmission rates of STDs. In fact, there is only one way that is more effective at preventing STDs and that is abstinence (not having sex).
- Condoms are inexpensive. Condoms do not cost much if anything. Most come in packs which usually cost less than $20. Some programs or clinics supply them at no cost at all.
- Condoms are readily accessible. They do not require any doctor appointments or prescriptions and can be purchased over the counter at any grocery store, pharmacy, or even gas stations.
- Condoms are convenient. Condoms are small in size, easily concealed, and ready for immediate use. They require no preparation prior to use.
- There is no delay in fertility after their use. Condoms are a good option for those couples who are not wanting to get pregnant right away but may want a family very soon. They are a highly reversible birth control option.
Again, am I saying that condoms are a better alternative to other forms of birth control? Absolutely not. But they do carry some added benefits, most importantly STD prevention. In fact, I encourage all of my patients using contraception to use one form of reliable birth control (implant, IUD, pills, etc.) and to also use condoms concurrently to prevent STDs.