By JUSTIN GOFORTH
February is National Condom Month. Appropriate for the same month as Valentine’s Day when all that talk of love can make one amorous.
But, when the mood strikes, are you taking precautions to protect yourself? Based on reports from here in D.C. and around the nation, many people aren’t.
More than three decades into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we’re still telling people about the importance of condoms. Even with recent advancements in HIV prevention, there are still STDs that can change your life.
Watched the news lately? A drug-resistant strain of gonorrhea has just been found in North America. And untreated gonorrhea could have some really nasty effects on your body.
Condoms aren’t a 100 percent guarantee against STDs and won’t protect against everything. But using them correctly and consistently will dramatically reduce your chances of catching an infection.
Most condom failures are due to user mistakes, including damaging the condom when opening it or – and we’re not kidding here – putting it on wrong. You may think that using a condom is simple. But many people still don’t understand how to use them properly.
So how do you use a condom correctly? Let’s take this step by step:
• Use a new condom for each sex act. Recycling is not good here.
• Use only latex or polyurethane condoms. Lambskin condoms do not protect against HIV.
• Open the package carefully.
• Put on the condom after erection but before insertion. For someone who’s uncut, pull the foreskin back before you put the condom on.
• Pinch the tip to leave a little bit of room. Even if there isn’t a “reservoir end,” squeeze the tip.
• Hold the tip and unroll the condom all the way down.
• Once they’ve…finished…hold the condom close to the base of the penis and pull out.
• Throw it away immediately.
If you feel a condom break during sex, stop, pull out immediately and use a new one. Most condom breakage is due to lack of lubrication, so lube it up.
Now, a few other points you need to remember:
• Only use water-based or silicone lubricant. Anything else will damage the latex and could cause the condom to break. Leave the flavored lubricants to make oral sex yummier, as they are not made for intercourse.
• Condoms have a shelf life — they aren’t Twinkies. Check the expiration date on the package and throw out expired condoms.
• Don’t carry condoms in your back pocket or wallet. Prolonged exposure to body heat and moisture can weaken them. Use a shirt pocket or protective case.
If you use condoms consistently and correctly, you can greatly reduce your risk of catching many STDs, including HIV, gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Condoms are less effective against STDs like herpes, syphilis or human papillomavirus, which are spread by skin-to-skin contact instead of through body fluids. But, if the condom covers the infected area or site of possible exposure, it can sometimes reduce the risk of infection.
If you want to reduce your risk of STDs, condoms should be just one tool in your toolkit, including:
• Talk with your partner(s) about your sexual history and HIV/STD status.
• Frequent HIV/STD testing if you have more than one partner.
• Reducing the number of sexual partners you may have.
• Checking each other for signs and symptoms of STDs before sex.
• Exploring other sexual interests besides penetrative sex.
• Learning about Post Exposure and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP and PrEP), which use medications to stop HIV infection if exposed.
Whitman-Walker can help you with everything here: access to condoms, education about proper use, and free STD testing. We’re here to help and to make sure that you live a long, happy and healthy life.
Justin Goforth is director of medical adherence for Whitman-Walker Health. Reach him via whitman-walker.org.