Common problems with condoms
If you notice irritation, redness or itching after using a condom, you may wonder if you are allergic to the condom. In fact, allergy to rubber (latex) condoms is very unusual, but it would be sensible to switch to a polyurethane type such as Durex Avanti. There have been no reports of allergic responses to the polyurethane material.
Putting it on and taking it off
Splitting or breaking
- A few surveys have tried to find out how often condoms split, but have given wildly differing results. Here are some figures.
- The University of Sydney, Australia, ran a study of condom breakage in three brothels. They supplied the fresh condoms, together with forms to fill in if there was an accident and little plastic bags to put the torn condoms in so the researchers could analyse in the laboratory how and why they tore. Of the 1,269 condoms the sex workers used, only 6 were broken. Next, they did a survey of ordinary men, and found that their breakage rates were far higher – about 7%, including breakages while putting the condoms on (Lancet 1989; :1487–88)
- A USA study asked 92 couples to keep a sex diary, totalling 4,637 condom usages. Six condoms split while being put on, and 13 split during sex – a total breakage rate of 0.41% (Contraception 1997;56:3–12)
- French researchers did a telephone survey of 20,000 people, asking about condom breakages. The breakage rate seemed to be 3.4% (American Journal of Public Health 1997;87:421–4)
- A US survey found a breakage rate of 3.1%, The chance of breakage decreased with experience in using condoms (Sexually Transmitted Diseases 2005;32:35–43)
Why condoms split
Damage from ripping the packet open with teeth, scissors, knives or pencils is a common cause of tears.
- If a condom slips off during intercourse, or if it breaks, the woman should visit her doctor or a family planning clinic as soon as possible for emergency contraception.
- Emergency contraception – used to be called the morning-after pill.
- Emergency contraception prevents pregnancy after intercourse has occurred - so it is a back-up if another method fails (such as when a condom breaks or slips off, or you forget a pill)
- In fact it can be taken up to 72 hours after intercourse – not just on the morning after, but the earlier the better
- The main side-effect is nausea (in 50%) and vomiting (in 20%)
- It usually consists of a single dose, or two smaller doses taken 12 hours apart
- In the UK (not in Ireland), you can buy it from a chemist for about £20, but only if you are aged 16 or above. It can only be given to you by a trained pharmacist, who will try to check that you are 16 or over. You cannot simply pick it up from the shelf
- You can also obtain it from your doctor, from a family planning clinic or from an NHS walk-in centre (see Useful contacts). If you are a college student, your college website may give advice about getting emergency contraception from the Student Health Centre. As a last resort, you could try your Accident and Emergency (casualty) department
- The next period is unpredictable – it might be earlier or later than usual
- Emergency contraception doesn't always work, so if your next period is late you might be pregnant. Have a pregnancy test to check
Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Wednesday, May 4th 2011
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Common problems with condoms
Early condoms were made of linen or pig or sheep's gut, tied at the end with ribbon. After sex, they were rinsed out and reused!
An 18th-century illustrated condom, featuring three naughty nuns, was sold at a Christie's auction for £3,300
There is no truth in the story that condoms were invented by a Dr Condom, physician to Charles II
Although it has been suggested that condoms were used by the Ancient Egyptians, the earliest actual report of a condom was by the Italian anatomist, Fallapio in 1564. He claimed to have invented a linen sheath, made to fit the penis, as protection against syphilis
In England, condoms are known as 'French Letters'. In Italy, they used to be called 'English Overcoats'