Condoms 101: Your guide to National Condom Week

It’s National Condom Week, so here’s your guide to condoms, just in time for the holiday that celebrates love: Valentine’s Day.

It’s National Condom Week, so here’s your guide to condoms, just in time for the holiday that celebrates love: Valentine’s Day.

History buffs claim linen sheath condoms date back to 1000 B.C. Latex condoms weren’t introduced until the 1880’s; however, the controversy over their use has been around as long as they have.

All birth control methods were defined as “obscene and illicit” and prohibited in the U.S. in 1873 when the Comstock Act passed.

Following that, the campaign by social hygienists during World War I to prohibit the use of condoms resulted in U.S. troops having a 70 percent rate of sexually transmitted diseases. Whoops …

By World War II, attitudes had changed, and condom use by troops was actively encouraged. Free love in the 1960’s and the discovery of HIV being the cause of AIDS in the 1980’s led to even more education about condom use to prevent disease transmission.

We seem to have come a long way – unless one considers some legislators’ current attempts to restrict access to contraception, restrict sexuality education in schools and legislate who can have contraceptive coverage as part of health care. Then it would seem history, circa the late 19th century, is trying to repeat itself.

Although not 100 percent effective, latex or polyurethane condoms remain the best defense against sexually transmitted infections for people who choose to be sexually active.

Last October, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement recommending high schools have condoms available and institute comprehensive sex education for students, as the combination of these is effective in increasing condom use, and reducing sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy among teens.

And since the Federal Way teen birth rate is four times the national average, it would seem we have nothing to lose by having condoms readily available in local high schools.

With all this controversy, what’s a well-meaning person to do this Valentine’s Day? Here’s your guide to successful condom use:

1) Determine if you and your partner both want to be sexually intimate. Consent is sexy, and imperative.  There are many ways to be intimate that do not include intercourse, so talk about it. This is true whether you are 16 or 66.

2) If you and your partner choose to engage in oral, anal, or vaginal sex, use a latex or polyurethane condom. They come in all sorts of colors, textures, flavors, and even sizes and are available at local grocery and drug stores.

3) Fit is important, so the condom is as comfortable as possible and doesn’t slip off. Hint: width is more important than length in determining correct size, so put your ego aside, guys, and get the right size for you.

4) If pregnancy prevention is a goal, as well as infection prevention, partners should use another method with the condom, such as birth control pills, patch, ring, shot, or implant. Talk to your health care provider about the right options for you.

5) Remember to check the expiration date before using, and don’t keep a condom in a wallet, or hot or cold location (like a glove compartment in a car) for very long, as these can affect the strength of the latex and cause the condom to fail.

While that’s not everything you need to know about condoms, it’s a start. Wishing you a safe and happy Valentine’s Day.

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a trainer, educator and coach in the Pacific Northwest. She is co-author of the books “Parenting by Strengths: A Parent’s Guide for Challenging Situations” and “Homegrown Faith and Justice.” Amy facilitates classes and workshops in the Puget Sound area and online. She specializes in working with parents and in sexuality education. Contact Amy at