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AIDS Watch: In a Nutshell

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Everything you ever wanted to know about condoms.

By Kelly A. McCann

KellyMcCann_WPTN
Kelly McCann

With Valentine’s Day’s arrival and Spring just around the corner, a girl’s (and a guy’s) thoughts turn to love, romance, and—for us baser souls—sex! Many of us are busy making plans for our Day d’ Amour—flowers and a card, dinner for two, dancing, champagne, chocolates in a red satin, heart-shaped box, rose petals sprinkled on the bed, or some variation of those traditional offerings. Since lovemaking is an integral part of this day, we should also be planning for safer sex.

In order to make sex safer, we know what we must do. We must either avoid activities that allow for an exchange of body fluids or utilize a barrier of some sort that will not permit our partners’ semen or vaginal secretions to enter our bodies. Those being the choices, I believe most of us would rather strap on some latex than limit ourselves to frottage (the fancy word for dry humping) or mutual masturbation.

 Latex is the best barrier for protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Latex gloves should be worn if you will be digitally penetrating a partner’s orifice or if you will be engaging in activities like shaving or piercing where blood could be present. But the main use of latex for sexual activity involves condoms.  

 The humble condom has been around in one form or another for more than 600 years. The first condoms were made from oiled silk paper, tortoise shell (ouch!), or linen, and covered only the glans or head of the penis. Though condoms were initially developed for contraception, the 16th-century Italian physician and anatomist, Gabriele Falloppio (the guy for whom fallopian tubes are named), discovered that the use of a linen sheath during sex provided protection from syphilis.

 Since that time, we’ve learned much about the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, and there have been many improvements in the design of condoms.   Thankfully, animal horn and shell condoms eventually fell out of favor, and by the 1800s materials like animal intestines and rubber became the norm. Then in 1920, latex was invented and became the gold standard for condoms.

 Latex condoms (or polyurethane if you are allergic to latex) are still the best choice for safer sex today. Unlike animal skin condoms, latex is non-porous and does not allow bacteria or viruses to pass through. Latex condoms are thin and strong and have a shelf life of about five years. Plus, they are inexpensive, costing less than $1 each.

 Don’t forget that today’s latex condoms come in a variety of colors, sizes, and designs. Some have ridges or bumps while others are pre-lubricated or flavored or glow in the dark. And there’s even a female condom that is designed to be worn inside the vagina or anus. There is truly a condom to suit everyone’s tastes and dimensions.

 All those condom options can be daunting. Which one is right for you? As luck would have it, there are folks who do consumer testing on such products and they have created a list of the top condoms for gay men. Some of the favorites include:

 • Kimono. These jewels are the thinnest latex condoms (20 percent thinner than most) but still provide the same protection and safety. Kimono Micro Thin condoms are even thinner than regular Kimonos and make you feel like you’re not wearing a condom at all.

 • Inspiral. The name says it all. This condom has a unique twisted spiral shape at the tip for increased anal pleasure. Take one for a spin!

 • Beyond Seven Studded. Made by the Japanese manufacturer, Okamoto, these condoms are a little bit narrower than most condoms and fit like a glove. They are made from “Sheerlon,” a thin but strong type of latex, and the studs provide extra pleasure.

 • Durex Warming Pleasures. This latex condom comes with a warming lubricant that is designed to “enhance intimacy.” I don’t know if they will do that, but they will warm your, um, cockles.

 • Trojan Magnum XL. Thirty percent larger than most condoms, this one ranks at the top for tops with ample endowments.

The brand or style of condom you choose doesn’t matter as long as it is latex or polyurethane. Other important tips for effective condom use include proper storage (a cool, dry place, not your wallet!), checking the expiration date (don’t use an out-of-date condom), and avoidance of oil-based lubricants (use water-based ones like Wet or AstroGlide).   Follow these easy recommendations and enjoy worry-free sex.

This year, forget the flowers and candy. Give the Valentine’s Day gift that shows you really care. Give condoms to your loved one and you’ll be giving him the chance for a long, healthy, and HIV-free life.  

 Kelly A. McCann is the chief executive officer of AIDS Foundation Houston. For more information about safer sex and condoms, call AFH’s Prevention Services Department at 713/623-6796 or log on to www.aidshelp.org. AFH’s 20th Annual AIDS Walk Houston takes place Sunday, March 15; sign up at www.AIDSwalkhouston.org.

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