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Safer sex advocates as well as family planning associations strongly encourage sexually active people to use condoms, a method of barrier protection which is 98% effective at preventing pregnancy, and also provides protection from many sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Like other methods of sexual protection, condoms work best when they are used properly and stored in conditions which will maintain their integrity. Condoms can also be combined with another method, such as hormonal birth control, to ensure double protection from pregnancy and STDs simultaneously. In addition, sexually active individuals should be tested regularly for AIDS and other STDs to ensure that they are not putting partners at risk.
A condom is a sheath made from latex, polyurethane, or lamb intestines which is designed to cover the penis, preventing the exchange of bodily fluids between two sexual partners. Some companies also manufacture insertable female condoms that can be worn by female sexual partners. Because a condom creates a barrier between the sexual partners, STDs carried in body fluids cannot be passed between them, and in the case of heterosexual partners, semen cannot impregnate the female partner. Many condoms also include spermicide, to ensure that any semen which may escape will perish before it reaches an egg.
To use a condom properly, it must be put on in the beginning stages of sexual intercourse, because pre-ejaculate can still infect a partner or cause pregnancy. The condom should be rolled on with the right side out, and uncircumcised males should pull back their foreskins before putting on a condom. Roll the condom all the way down the shaft of the penis, adding lubricant to the outside if necessary. Some men say that putting a small drop of lubricant inside the condom before putting it on also increases sensitivity: in either case, make sure to use a water based, latex friendly lubricant. After ejaculation, the condom should be disposed of properly; never flush condoms down the toilet.
In addition to using condoms correctly for maximum efficiency, it is also important to never use expired condoms. Check the expiration date on your condoms, and keep them in a cool dry place to prevent heat damage. If condoms have been exposed to heat or the packages look abused, throw them out rather than taking a risk. Should a condom fail during sexual activity, both partners may want to consider getting STI testing. Heterosexual partners who are not using a backup method of birth control should obtain emergency contraception if they want to avoid pregnancy.