Tag Archives: condoms

How to Shop for Condoms

Today we’re reposting an oldie, but goodie. Happy condom shopping!

When you’re standing in the condom aisle, seconds seem like hours. Your eyes dart nervously across the colorful packaging, waiting for some clear sign that you should grab one particular box and make a mad dash for the checkout line. Oh yeah, then there’s that pack of gum to grab.

Condom shopping doesn’t have to be difficult or awkward. If you use my three-point condom shopping system, you’ll be outta’ there and gettin’ busy before you know it.

Step #1 – Material

Condoms are made from three different materials – latex, polyurethane and lambskin.

  • Latex: helps prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections; stretchy, yet durable; ring at base; reservoir tip for ejaculate; inexpensive (or free if you get them at the health department or Planned Parenthood)
  • Polyurethane (fancy word for plastic): helps prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, safe for those with a latex allergy; less stretchy than latex, but still durable, ring at base; reservoir tip for ejaculate; transfers heat better than latex; female condoms come in this material
  • Lambskin: helps prevent pregnancy ONLY (because it is made from animal intestinal lining, it has small pores that bacteria and viruses can fit through, but sperm are bigger, therefore contained by the condom); a bit more eco-friendly than latex or polyurethane; safe for those whose culture or religion dictates the use of a “natural” method of birth control or for those not worried about sexually transmitted infections; no ring at base (more like a drawstring); no reservoir tip for ejaculate; distinct odor; fairly expensive

So, decide which material is right for you and, when you’re shopping, let your eyes wander to the bottom right side of the boxes – that’s where the material type is usually printed. I recommend latex or polyurethane.

Step #2 – Expiration Date

Condoms are manufactured about 5 years before they expire so if your condoms expire next month, they’re already 5 years old. Age degrades the material, making condoms more likely to break. The expiration date is usually printed on the back or side flap of the box and on each individual condom, as seen below:


Step #3 – “The Extras”

By “extras” I mean lubricant, spermicide, size, texture, flavoring, etc. Here’s the skinny on the “extras”:

  • Lubricant: unless you have a bottle of safe lubricant (water-based, because oil-based breaks condoms) handy, opt for lubricated condoms for vaginal and/or anal sex. For oral sex, either get a dental dam or cut an unlubricated condom up the side.
  • Spermicide: this is often called nonoxynol-9 and is a chemical that helps to kill sperm. The use of spermicides is debatable on several fronts. Do your research before you decide on this one.
  • Size: condoms are basically one-size-fits-all. There are, however, “slim fit” and “extra large” versions. Just remember, condoms are SUPPOSED TO BE SNUG.
  • Texture: ribbed or studded – truth is, it doesn’t matter much, particulary for penis-in-vagina sex. Why? Because the vaginal walls have very few nerve endings, making it hard to feel tiny ribs or studs. Think about it – women can wear tampons for hours and not feel a thing! Really, ribs and studs and such are just marketing tools.
  • Flavoring: If it tastes like strawberries, that means it has some sugar and flavoring to make it taste like strawberries. These condoms are meant for oral sex only. Sugar can cause a yeast infection because it throws off the pH balance in the vagina.

But what about the brand name!!!??? I get this question a lot. Just pick a trusted brand. You might need to try various types of condoms before you find one that you really like.

If going to the store to purchase condoms or going to the health department or Planned Parenthood to get free ones is just too intimidating for you, do your shopping online.

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Condom Use Among Young African American Men

Today’s guest post was written a sex educator who specializes in peer-to-peer pregnancy prevention programs. He understands the cultural nuances that influence the decisions young people make and works to help youth realize their potential. 

Condom use can be a taboo topic, especially within certain cultures and ethnic communities, including the African American community. When you dissect the African American community into subsets (by age, for example) you see trends in attitudes about condom use. According to the Black Aids Institute, young African American men report a 20.5 percent condom usage rate. It’s alarming to consider that 4 out of 5 young black men are not using condoms during sexual intercourse. Lack of condom use among African-American men can be seen as a direct correlation to higher rates of unplanned pregnancies, HIV, and other STI’s within the African American community.


Research done by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation conducted a qualitative study on condom use behaviors among urban African-American men ages 18-24. That research revealed various reasons for non-condom use:

  • Lack of interest in condom use
  • Lack of immediate access to condoms
  • Inconvenience
  • The mood-killing length of time it takes to put on a condom
  • Partner’s disinterest in condom use

The most commonly expressed rationale for not using condoms among the research participants was their general disinterest in using condoms. It is evident that there may be some cultural perceptions among young African-American men that promote the non-use of condoms during sexual intercourse. Education is a critical component to refute many of the misconceptions that this population has in regards to condom use and it may be highly beneficial for Sexual Health Educators to consider the use of peer-to-peer education.

Some of the perceptions of condom use among young African-American men are driven by peer influence. A literature review of peer-to-peer programs done by Advocates for Youth revealed the following results:

  • Improved reproductive and sexual health outcomes, including reduced incidence of pregnancy, births and STIs
  • Reduced sexual risk behaviors, including delayed initiation of sex, increased contraceptive use and condom use, reduced number of new sexual partners as well as increased abstinence among sexually experienced youth, reduced incidence of unprotected sex, reduced frequency of sex, and increased partner communication
  • Increased incidence of testing and sharing test results, including testing for HIV, for STIs, and sharing positive test results with a partner

Lack of condom use among African-American men has far-reaching public health consequences and effective strategies must be implemented to mitigate the cultural behavioral norms that promote non condom use. Peer education appears to be a promising model to educate young African-American men about the benefits of consistent and appropriate condom use.

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My Pap Came Back Abnormal…Now What?

Pap tests come back abnormal all the time so this re-post from E.G. Hanna still applies…
Pap test

So you got your annual screening and a few weeks later you get a phone call stating your pap test came back “abnormal.” Don’t freak out! This can mean a couple different things. To be clear, infections like chlamydia or yeast do not count as an abnormal pap! An abnormal pap means atypical cells on your cervix, that is, that the cells have begun to change in such a way that may be or become cancerous. This is called dysplasia.

After a pap smear comes back abnormal, what happens next depends upon a couple of factors, including your age and the severity of the dysplasia.

You may only need to repeat your pap smear in a few months, as often a health immune system can fight off the changes itself. Or you and your provider may opt for a colposcopy, which is a better way of looking at the cervix. A speculum is inserted into the vagina, solution is applied to the cervix with a cotton swab to highlight abnormal areas of tissue, and then a special microscope is used to look at the cervix. This allows the provider to see the dysplasia and, if deemed necessary, take one or more small tissue samples. This biopsy may feel like a small pinch and, while slightly uncomfortable for most women, it is usually tolerated very well. This biopsy allows the pathologist (the person who examines the tissue sample at the lab) to get a more detailed and accurate reading of the cervical cellular changes.

Depending on the colposcopy results, you may need to go back to pap smears every 3-6 months or, if the dysplasia is severe, you may need further treatment to fully remove the abnormal tissue. This treatment may consist of cryotherapy or a LEEP (Loop Electricosurgical Excision Procedure). Cryotherapy uses a freezing chemical to remove abnormal cells, allowing healthy cells to grow back in their place. A LEEP cuts away abnormal cells with a thin wire carrying an electrical current. Though both procedures may sound intimidating, in truth they are not very painful (many patients tell me their LEEP was more comfortable than their colposcopy, because of the numbing solution applied).

Cervical dysplasia is most often caused by HPV, a very common virus transmitted through sexual contact. Here are a few tips on how to avoid HPV and cervical changes:

Don’t smoke! Smoking is not good for your immune system, and you need a healthy immune system to fight the virus.

Consider the Gardasil vaccine, which protects you from 4 strands of HPV, 2 of which cause 75% of cervical cancers.

Use condoms. Though they may not fully protect you from HPV, as HPV is passed through skin to skin contact, because condoms cover parts of sexual anatomy they reduce the chance of transmission. Try female condoms too, which cover more skin.

Practicing abstinence or limiting sexual partners is also helpful, but isn’t foolproof. The CDC sums it up really well: “People can also lower their chances of getting HPV by being in a faithful relationship with one partner; limiting their number of sex partners; and choosing a partner who has had no or few prior sex partners. But even people with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV. And it may not be possible to determine if a partner who has been sexually active in the past is currently infected. That’s why the only sure way to prevent HPV is to avoid all sexual activity.”

Most of all, if you have a pap come back abnormal, keep these two things in mind: 1) Don’t panic. 2) Don’t ignore it. Cervical dysplasia is treatable and it does not necessarily mean you have or will get cancer. The keyword there is “treatable,” meaning you must see your provider for treatment to avoid detrimental effects to your health!

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The Challenges with a Cure for HIV

Today’s post is by “Obi,” a Nigerian doctor conducting his field experience at Planned Parenthood as part of his MPH program. He was a general practitioner in his home country with main interest and expertise in maternal and child health.

Since the discovery of Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as the cause of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in 1983, it continues to pose a huge threat worldwide to the health of millions of people. Data from the World Health Organization (in 2013) revealed that worldwide 35 million people were living with HIV, there were 2.1 million new cases and 1.5 million deaths.

hivThe development of multi-drug combination therapy known as Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) for treatment of HIV/AIDS in 1996 was one of the major successes of modern medicine leading to a dramatic drop in the death rate by 50 to 80% between 1996 and 2006. This period is known as “the decade of HAART.” This changed the view of HIV/AIDS from a fatal and catastrophic disease to what is now a manageable chronic illness.

After this initial success, the next step was to find a cure and/or an effective preventive method. Currently the best way to avoid HIV/AIDS is to take conscious steps to avoid contracting the virus in the first place. This has been the aim of a lot of efforts all around the world teaching safe sexual health practices and healthy lifestyle behaviors. However, changing human behavior is quite difficult.

Due to the rapid and constant mutation of HIV, the human immune system finds it very difficult to defend against it and scientists have found developing an effective vaccine very problematic. Also, HIV is able to create reservoirs in its hosts leading to latency of the disease, which is the main reason HAART can’t eliminate the virus but only reduce its load in the human body to very low levels. For this reason HIV positive patients are unable to stop HAART therapy to avoid dramatic increase in their viral load.

Despite all these issues, promising advances in therapy are being made. Drugs like Prostratin, which are able to reactivate latent HIV and therefore increase the effectiveness of HAART therapy, are being developed. There are also a small group of people who are known to be immune to HIV due to the absence of the cell receptor necessary for HIV to infect cells known CCR5. This knowledge was used in the case of Timothy Ray Brown, the first case of a cured HIV positive patient. Although the therapy used on Timothy is very risky and expensive and therefore can’t be applied on a large scale, it has given researchers ideas on how to modify a patient’s immune system to resist HIV.

Continuing research in this field, including various promising results from numerous clinical trials show that there is hope for an effective cure for HIV. Tests in the lab have shown promise at a cellular level and the aim is to replicate these results at the macro level. This process may take years but with each passing year we get a better understanding of the virus and the disease mechanisms which would bring us closer to developing a cure and possibly a vaccine. Until then, maintaining a healthy lifestyle approach and engaging in healthy sexual behaviors (using condoms) will be the mainstay of HIV prevention.

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Getting it up to 5 Stars – where to find good condom reviews

I’m a sucker for online reviews. I love them for restaurants, hotels, and all the random things on Amazon that I find myself searching for. And they’re especially great for  things that are a little farther off the beaten path, like menstrual cups. I don’t have the patience – or the budget – to go through a lot of options using trial-and-error, so narrowing down the field is wonderful.

But until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t thought about reviews for condoms. I’ve been lucky to work in places that offer free condoms for ages (you can pick them up at any of our health centers!), and I hadn’t explored very far beyond that.

Now, anyone who’s spent time reading online reviews knows that not all reviews are created equal. Some information is useful across the board – Consumer Reports has a very analytical approach to things that’s helpful in determining what ‘ultrathin’ and other terms actually mean when you’re comparing across different brands. (And their reliability testing is very reassuring, too – none of the samples they tested in their ‘smart picks’ category had any holes or tears.) And size charts are very helpful in figuring out what to try, and what to avoid. Finally, no matter how awesome reviews are for flavored condoms, make sure that you’re not using them for vaginal or anal intercourse. A yeast infection caused by a 5-star condom is still a yeast infection.

Once you’re looking at more specific details, though, you can feel adrift in a sea of information. I can recommend Condom MonologuesBabeland and Good Vibrations’ reviews as sex-positive spaces. Additionally, the staff at Babeland and Good Vibes will always be willing to help you out if you have any specific questions on fit. Amazon is pretty comprehensive when it comes to what they carry, but the reviews can be a bit more hit-and-miss in their approach.

Once you’ve gathered the information you want, some pieces do come down to personal preference and experimentation – finding out what feels good will depend on the bodies in question. You’ll learn very quickly if you’ve got to take a latex allergy into account, but you might also have reactions to the lubricants included in condoms. Some condoms include nonoxynol-9 as a spermicide, which can cause skin irritation on your genitals. Aside from not feeling great, that irritation can make it easier to contract STIs such as HIV; if you’re wanting to add another layer of protection against pregnancy, you can consider some other forms of birth control.

Have a great time taking your new brands out for a test drive!


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Size doesn’t matter to a condom

Pop stars have a lot of power – kudos to Sweden’s Zara Larsson, who’s used her platform to help put the lie to the old saw that condoms ‘just won’t fit.’

To all the guys saying "my dick is too big for condoms" TAKE A SEAT

A post shared by Zara Larsson (@zaralarsson) on

Here’s to condoms in all their glory!


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3 Things Everyone Can Do to Prevent HIV

December 1st was World AIDS Day so we are reposting this one from a couple of years ago to highlight that not much changes in terms of HIV prevention… 

Although HIV has been a part of our lives for over 25 years, people in this country are still getting infected at about the same rate they have been for several years. Many people still have misinformation about the virus or don’t feel they are at risk. Here are a few things everyone can do:

• Encourage people to get tested and get tested yourself
Planned Parenthood of Southwest & Central Florida offers 3 types of HIV testing: a rapid test (results in 20 minutes), blood draw sent to a local lab (results in 2-3 days) or the free state test (results in about 3 weeks).

• Learn the facts about HIV so you can educate yourself and others
There are still many myths about how HIV is spread, who’s at risk, and how it’s prevented.

• Promote condom use
Many people worry more about becoming pregnant than becoming infected with a STI. If they or their partner are using contraception, they may believe they have taken care of all their reproductive needs. If they have a same sex partner or are past childbearing years, they may figure they have nothing to worry about.

Out of all the STIs, HIV is the most difficult to acquire, and it has a dramatic impact on someone’s life as well as the lives of those who love them. Despite fears of many to the contrary, a positive HIV test isn’t a death sentence; with medical attention, proper medication, and taking control of their health, someone can live a long and healthy life with HIV.

The best medication for HIV, though? Not getting the virus at all. Let’s all do our part to reduce the spread of HIV.

For the most current information on the virus, check out the CDC website on HIV.

For living with HIV, read this CDC brochure on HIVas well as Avert, the international HIV & AIDS charity, to answer common questions about living with HIV.

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Fun Friday: Cooking with Condoms

Just when we thought we’d seen it all, a Japanese cookbook called Condom Meals I Want to Make For You shows you how to cook with condoms! Japanese manga writer Kyosuke Kagami hopes to promote safer sex by showing the versatility and durability of condoms, which isn’t a bad idea since “Japanese men are the third worst condom users in the world.” So, if you’re tired of all those delicious latex-free cookie recipes on Pinterest, be sure to check out Condom Cookies, or if you’re really brave, how about Condom Meat Stuffing? Umm, no.


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Fun Friday: By the Numbers

percentI’m always reading articles, blogs, books about health, especially sexual health. I’m not sure why, but it seems that more people pay attention to percentages or statistics than to words explaining the same thing. SO I’ll keep it sweet and simple and see if this is true for you!

  • 60% of women have had unprotected sex during their period (a bad idea if you really don’t want to take a chance on getting pregnant)
  • 47% of women have called in sick to work because of cramps (see a gynecologist about hormonal relief)
  • 67% of women have been too embarrassed to talk to a health care provider about a concern (honestly, they have heard and see it all before)
  • 60% of women have worried about one breast looking different from another (perfectly normal to have different shapes and sizes)
  • 43% of women have had a condom come off during sex (you have 72 hours to get emergency contraception)
  • 65% of women say they don’t need to have an orgasm to be satisfied
  • 87% of women have looked at their genitals with a mirror

*Stats above from What the Yuck?: The Freaky and Truth About Your Body

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