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What is generally called a condom is the male condom, a sheath or covering which fits over a man’s penis, and which is closed at one end.
There is also now a female condom, or vaginal sheath, which is used by a woman and fits inside the vagina.
The female condom is a thin sheath or pouch worn by a woman during sex. It entirely lines the vagina and helps to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including HIV.
Condoms are usually made of latex or polyurethane. If possible you should use a latex condom, as they are slightly more reliable and, in most countries, they are most readily available.
Latex condoms can be used only with water-based lubricants, not oil-based products such as Vaseline or cold cream, as these break down the latex.
Polyurethane condoms are made from a type of plastic. They are suitable for the small number of people who are allergic to latex. Polyurethane condoms are thinner than latex condoms, and so can increase sensitivity.
However, they are more expensive than latex condoms and slightly less flexible, so more lubrication may be needed. Both oil and water based lubricants can be used with them.
It’s not clear whether latex or polyurethane condoms are stronger, however, with both types, the likelihood of breakages is very small if used correctly.
The lubrication on condoms varies; some are not lubricated at all, some are lubricated with a silicone substance, and some have a water-based lubricant.
The lubrication on condoms aims to make the condom easier to put on and more comfortable to use — it can also help prevent condom breakage.
Some condoms and lubricants contain spermicides, chemical products that inactivate or kill sperm to prevent pregnancy.
Condoms containing the spermicide nonoxynol-9 were previously thought to help prevent the transmission of HIV and other STIs.
However, nonoxynol-9 sometimes causes adverse effects, which can facilitate the transmission of HIV.
You should, therefore, use only condoms and lubricants containing nonoxynol-9 if you are HIV-negative and know your partner is, too.
However, using a condom (even if it contains nonoxynol-9) is much safer than having unprotected sex.
Condoms are made in different lengths and widths; different manufacturers produce varying sizes.
There is no standard length for condoms; they are increasingly made in a range of sizes.
The width of a condom also varies, some have a slightly smaller width, to give a ”closer” fit, whereas others will be slightly larger.
While condoms are produced in a range of sizes, both length and width, some may not be available in certain countries.
However, condoms made from natural rubber will always stretch, if necessary.

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